Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Slow down to Royal Enfield speed Friday
and remember those who sacrificed

The greatest advantage of a Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle is that it affords you a view of the world around you. There is very little danger, on a Royal Enfield, that you will be going too fast to take in your surroundings.

As a commuter taking the same route at the same time day after day, I took note of changes I otherwise would have missed: changes in the hour of sunrise and sunset, royal poinciana trees blossoming, flocks of ibis nesting and then moving on when their young had grown.

Sadly, as a Floridian, I also watched our late construction boom displacing fields of cows with tracts of homes. The false front  of an old building was ripped off, revealing that it had once been the little store for the area. You could still read the old signs on the walls. The entire building was then ripped down, leaving a vacant lot when the building bubble burst. Such is "progress."

In the UK, a remnant of the Small Heath factory where BSA motorcycles were built is in danger of being hidden behind a false front. Jorge Pullin's recent item in My Royal Enfields on the effort to save the building was both inspirational and sad. Sad, because so many of the motorcycle plants in Britain have been lost.

It's a cliche to say this, but it's true: what the Luftwaffe could not manage in 1940, progress has accomplished.

Friday, Nov. 19, is the 70th anniversary of an air raid that killed 53 BSA workers and injured 89. The workers had remained at their machines "until the last moment." Fire crews pumped a nearby canal dry in an effort to put out the fire. Fourteen rescuers were decorated for their courageous efforts.

I count the names of at least 10 women among the dead.

Four acres of the factory were destroyed. But BSA would produce 126,000 military motorcycles in World War II, along with immense volumes of weapons (including many anti-aircraft guns). There is no marker at Small Heath to take note of that accomplishment, or its cost in lives.

It's worth taking a look at the website of the BSA Trust, which wants to save a bit of what remains, not by forbidding its use but simply by preserving its outward appearance.

The old factory would be worth a nod, every morning, from passing commuters — even those on Royal Enfields.

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