Tuesday, February 14, 2017

World War II Royal Enfield is a Chinese Puzzle

What was a World War II Royal Enfield motorcycle doing in China in 1944?
It's probably every motorcyclist's dream to come across a vintage bike in a barn or even buried in a barn yard. Aside from its (possible) value, there's the fascination of wondering how the machine got there.

There's an intriguing mystery entitled "Chinese Puzzle" in the just released February/March issue of The Gun, magazine of the Royal Enfield Owners Club UK.

Brian Barr tells of riding across China in 1990 with friend Geoff. I won't spoil the wonderful story but, along the way, Geoff acquires a very used but still operating Royal Enfield Model WD/CO.

Brian's question is "how did it end up in China?" Is it possible the military machine, delivered by Royal Enfield to the War Office in 1944, was sent as military assistance to Chiang Kai-shek?

Could be. But surely you can imagine something more interesting, combining danger, adventure, romance and, of course, the Royal Enfield. You should write a novel about it.

Over the years novelists have contacted me for advice regarding a Royal Enfield motorcycle they want to use in their stories.

The late mystery novelist Paul Sussman kindly included an acknowledgement for me in his final book, "The Labyrinth of Osiris." I hadn't done much except put him in touch with blogger Jorge Pullin who provided information about the Royal Enfield Model J that plays a role in the book.

On another occasion a romance novelist contacted me to ask if a Royal Enfield Flying Flea, discovered long abandoned in a tunnel, would be a logical vehicle for an escape by her hero and heroine.

I had to point out that the Flying Flea was a single-seater, could not have outrun any pursuers unless they were on foot, and that any gasoline in the long neglected motorcycle would have evaporated over time.

It would be exciting to find a World War II motorcycle in an old tunnel. But you couldn't realistically expect it to start.

So, what is the best fictional explanation for the "Chinese Puzzle" posed by Brian Barr? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.


  1. I would build my story around the hunt for the lost Spitfires supposedly buried in Burma to hide them from the Japanese. Of course, the Royal Enfield somehow holds the key to the mystery.

  2. Even amid the chaos of civil war and the Japanese incursion, China in the 1930s and ’40s served as a haven for refugees from Europe. I’d use the Royal Enfield as the vehicle of flight for a Jewish doctor who risks his life repeatedly to treat patients in far-off provinces. I’m not reaching all that far: the next book from my friend Joanie Holzer Schirm (joanieschirm.com/), My Dear Boy, tells the true story of her father’s very similar experience after fleeing from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Alas, he drove a Ford.

  3. "It would be exciting to find a World War II motorcycle in an old tunnel. But you couldn't realistically expect it to start."
    Well, Woody Allen did a film in 1973 called 'Sleeper' where they find an ancient Citroen 2CV in a hillside cave and strangely... That started!


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