Friday, October 10, 2014

Royal Enfield remembers World War II dispatch riders

Are these Royal Enfield motorcycles? Click here to see the video clip.
Royal Enfield's recent preview of its new line of clothing and accessories inspired by Britain's military dispatch riders of World War II is indeed inspired. What could be more appropriate wear for riding motorcycles that look as though they were conceived in the 1940s (because, by and large, they were)?

With that in mind, I noticed the brief appearance of women dispatch riders in the 1943 documentary "The Battle of Britain." It's one of the "Why We Fight" wartime movies produced by the U.S. War Department. This one was clearly meant to create sympathy for the British in the struggle against Hitler.

Judging from the uniforms, the women riders in the film clip are Wrens — as they were popularly known — members of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS). Created for World War I, the WRNS was revived in 1939 and continued until 1993 when it was integrated into the regular Navy. "Jenny Wrens" remains the slang term for women sailors in the Royal Navy.

There were 75,000 Wrens in 1944 (100 died in the war). Some obviously served as dispatch riders, and their usefulness in propaganda films was also obvious. Here were healthy young women doing their bit in the risky and sometimes uncomfortable job of riding motorcycles.

They were often photographed for inspirational propaganda, sometimes in bulky fatigue uniforms and bad weather, but rarely without fresh lipstick.

Of course I wondered if the motorcycles in the clip are Royal Enfields.

Wren dispatch riders on their Triumph motorcycles.
Apparently not. Front fender registration numbers PMP 199 and PMP 197 are clearly seen in the film clip above and these same motorcycles, described as "Triumph motorcycles" are visible in this wartime shot of Wren riders. Perhaps the same women are riding them!

Royal Enfields were used, of course, as this other still photo of women dispatch riders, in different uniforms, clearly shows. Note the different appearance of registration numbers in this photo.

A Royal Enfield and a Velocette appear in this photo.
Regardless of make, many of the motorcycles in the still photos and film clip are in civilian markings. Perhaps they were among the many pressed into service to replenish the motor pool after so many motorcycles and other vehicles were abandoned at Dunkirk.

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