‘Baby boomers’ and motorbikes

Peter Morley brings a heartwarming story about his late dad’s determination to return to a decent civilian life after the war, and the motorcycles that helped him to do it.

Motorbikes first came into my life in the early 1950s when my dad bought a 175cc Excelsior to get to and from his first proper job, which was 25 miles away from home.

Just like many other OBM readers, I’m a ‘baby-boomer’, having been born the year after Dad came home, got his de-mob suit and started to rebuild a life. He’d been a professional ice skater before the war, but there wasn’t much call for that in 1945 and he took whatever work he could get – hotel porter, labourer or handyman.

Peter sends us this treasured photograph of his late father’s wartime dispatch riders’ unit, ‘Satan’s Cavalry’ – and how apt that title was.

We lived in an old tin hut on a wartime airfield at Holmsley, in the New Forest, and other makeshift accommodation, including a converted bus that had been used as a mobile morgue during the war.

Eventually, the Government’s social programme brought us a council flat and Dad got a job in
the oil refinery, and hence the bike. Things were really looking up, and it wasn’t long before we graduated to a sidecar outfit – a 1952 AJS Model 18 and an open plywood sidecar.

“Here we are, we’re 88DR. Rain or shine, we’re always there on time…” This treasured photo portrays the essence of wartime dispatch riding.

We visited family and even went on holiday to Dorset with an ex-WD duck canvas tent. The sun always shone during those years.

Flat cap

I generally rode pillion. The bike had a rigid rear-end and, inexplicably, a dual seat which wasn’t comfortable at all. Dad kitted us out with ex-WD tank suits. I had a second-hand Corker, but Dad always rode in a flat cap. We picked up other wonders in the ex-Army shop, including tank aerials to make 12ft-long fishing rods, and also acquired a pair of ex-RAF flying boots. They were sheepskin-lined but made of a sort of suede that acted as a sponge when it rained. They were discarded in favour of wellies and seaman’s socks.

Read more in the June 2018 issue of OBM – on sale now!

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