At the tender age of 17 and as the proud owner of a 125cc 2 Stroke BSA Bantam motor bike, I thought it would be fun to ride on a bigger and more powerful bike. But as I lacked the financial means to do anything about this dream of mine, I cast around to see […]
At the tender age of 17 and as the proud owner of a 125 cc 2 Stroke BSA Bantam motor bike, I thought it would be fun to ride on a bigger and more powerful bike. But as I lacked the financial means to do anything about this dream of mine, I cast around to see if I could come up with a workable solution.
Happily for me, a friend suggested I had a look at the local Territorial Army Regiment (sort of like the National Guard, but much older and certainly much more traditional) as my friend thought they used dispatch riders, who obviously rode on motor bikes of a rather larger type than the miniscule bike I rode.
So I tracked them down, and went along on the evening that they all got together to do military type things at their depot in Reigate, and before I knew it, I was signed on as a Gunner (artillery talk for a Private) in the Surrey Yeomanry, Queen Mary’s Field Regiment, Royal Artillery as what was called a Don R, or Dispatch Rider.
I rather assume that this meant that I would be dashing hither and thither all over the battle field, carrying enormously important dispatches from HQ to the Field Artillery battery to which I belonged. In fact it turned out that whilst occasionally I did indeed carry dispatches about ration strength and similar housekeeping stuff, for the greater part I was used to pick up bedrolls and similar that the rather silly officers in my battery had forgotten to bung into their jeeps when leaving the camp in the morning.
I was far and away the youngest person there, as most of the rest were old warriors from the Second World War (this was about 1959) who were only members of the T.A (Territorial Army) as a sort of social club for old men, and who had very little interest in being military – which suited me fine, as I was (and am) a convinced pacifist, and if there had been any other way to get hold of a large motor bike I wouldnt have been anywhere near this mob.
Many moons ago, back when I was about 17 years old (I am now 73 to put this in context), I had joined something called the Territorial Army, which was a sort of British version of the National Guard, or to put it another way, a weekend soldier. The Territorial Army, or TA as it is better known, is an ancient and noble British Military Establishment, going back quite a few hundred years I believe and as such is a valiant and important part of the protection of the British Isles against any and all foreign invaders. Well at least that is the idea.
The reality – as is often the case – is rather different. Or at least back then in the 60’s of the last century that was the case. We were supposed to be valiant warriors standing ready to defend Britain with our field artillery pieces (25 pounders for those among you who know about these things) but in fact we were a rather shambolic bunch of very elderly veterans of the second word war, and me, a 17 year old, bearded and long haired kid who had joined simply to be able to ride a military motorbike around the place.
Remarkably reminiscent of the British TV series Dad’s Army….. If you have seen that program, I was definitely the one called Pike!
The regiment I belonged to was called, wait for it… Queen Mary’s Surrey Yeomanry, and had been in existence ever since (logically enough) the reign of Queen Mary sometime in the 17th Century, and had a long and illustrious history of killing people on behalf of the British Royal Family.
Every so often we all headed off in an enormous convoy of guns, trucks and other military things to the nearest artillery range to get in a bit of practise with our guns. This was of course our whole reason for existing, and was also a high point in our otherwise drab and dreary lives.
For some reason, I always wanted to ride on motor bikes when I was a kid. No idea why this was so, as to be honest, they are in so many ways vastly inferior to cars, but they do have something about them.
My First Bike
For me it started when I was 16 – which in those days was the earliest age you could ride a motorbike in the UK. So with the reluctant agreement of my parents, shortly after my 16th birthday I found myself the proud owner of about the smallest motorbike you could buy in those days, a BSA Bantam.
It cost all of £50, by the way.
Me on my Bantam ( No idea why the fancy costume), and David on his Tiger Cub…..
This thing with its 2 stroke 150cc engine could just about manage to achieve 70 mph downhill with a following wind.
It had a headlight that would have shamed a firefly, so at night I had to try and keep up with cars going in the same direction as I was, in order to be able to see where I was going…. Otherwise the feeble glimmer from that headlight just about allowed me to see my front mudguard. And given that she could could only just keep up with very slow cars, night-time driving was awful.
At about the same time, a good friend of mine David acquired a “real” bike, a 200 cc Triumph Tiger Cub…. Ahh.. the name alone… Tiger Cub versus Bantam…. Not happy about that.