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Friday, February 19, 2016

1937 Royal Enfield motor has a wartime history

This 1937 Royal Enfield Model J motor has a wartime history.
A particular 1937 Royal Enfield motorcycle motor turns up for sale on eBay in Spain from time to time.

Far from being an inarticulate lump of metal, this motor, marked number J5921, turns out to be a chilling reminder of a war that tore Spain apart and, many believe, paved the way toward World War II in Europe.

1937 Royal Enfield
Model J motor.
The Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939 pit the left-leaning Republicans who ruled in Madrid against the military forces of General Francisco Franco. Bitter fighting drew arms and men from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy to support Franco.

The USSR and individual volunteers from around the world supported the Republicans. Journalist Ernest Hemingway, who would write the novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls" about the war, was there, too.

Defeat for the Republicans eventually left Spain a Franco dictatorship.

Interestingly, there had been one other source of support for the Republicans. The French government signed a "non-intervention" agreement, but covertly sent planes and pilots to fight Franco.

Whether directly or indirectly, the French also funneled Royal Enfield motorcycles to the Republicans.

Graham Scarth, chairman of the Royal Enfield Owners Club of the UK "dates" Royal Enfields for owners who contact him trying to find out what year Royal Enfield they own.

The club has the factory records from when Royal Enfields were made in England, and Graham has deciphered the numbers used on Royal Enfield motorcycles made in India. He provides a very useful service.

When I asked Graham about motor J5921 the response startled me.

Royal Enfield Model J (right) in service
during the Spanish Civil War
"It is one of circa 1,000 Model J machines supplied to the French distributor Psalty of Paris in 1937," he replied. The motorcycles were bound for the Republican army in Spain.

Jorge Pullin has documented the Royal Enfields in Spain and even has a dramatic photo of one on his blog My Royal Enfields.

Royal Enfields were so widely used in the war, Jorge writes, that they were referred to afterwards as "Royal Guerra" (Royal War).

1937 Royal Enfield Model J, French version.
Jorge even has an item about Royal Enfield's longtime distributor in Paris, Pierre Psalty.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific article! Glad someone took the time to write this.

    ReplyDelete

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