On the 102nd anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli this Anzac Day, riders should take note the significant role played by military motorcycles and their riders in many wartime.
As the above image shows, motorcycles were present on the famed beaches of Gallipoli. This Admiralty official photo shows members of the Royal Engineers (Signal Service).
Military motorcycles have played a number of vital roles in times of war and peace and are a significant feature in many motorcycle, and military and war museums around the world, including the Harley museum in Milwaukee, the Indian Motorcycle museum in Brisbane and the Australian War Memorial. We have included photos from museums we’ve visited as well as images from the Australian War Memorial on the Motorbike Writer Pinterest page.
Most motorcycle manufacturers have, at some time, produced military models. They include Harley-Davidson, Indian, Norton, BMW, Moto Guzzi, Royal Enfield, Honda and Velocette. In fact, some of them started life because of their military use. For example, BSA stands for Birmingham Small Arms company, a manufacturer of military firearms.
Military motorcycle uses have been many and varied over the years. Apart from use in the cavalry as a rapid and manoeuvrable machine to mobilise troops, they have also played vital roles in signals regiments, for mail despatch, medical use and chaplaincy.
Despatch male and female riders were brave and highly skilled.
They had one of the most dangerous tasks delivering maps, orders, intelligence and situational updates in frontline situations.
They also had to be highly skilled riders as the roads were often bombed out and the terrain worse than a motocross course!
While the motorcycle’s various uses have been replaced by modern communications and helicopters, there is still a role for motorcycles in today’s military and into the future. For example, the American military is researching and developing a hybrid-powered motorcycle for stealth operations by special forces.
Wartime necessitates the research and development of innovative military machinery including motorcycles. One of the more interesting motorcycles developed for wartime use was the Mark 2 Welbike. It was a collapsible motorcycle powered by a Villiers 98cc two-stroke engine. Originally designed by the British Special Operations Executive for use in covert operations, the Welbike was used by British airborne and parachute regiments. The bikes folded down into a parachute container and were dropped with the airborne units for rapid deployment on landing.
The Welbike pictured from the Australian War Memorial display is understood to have been retrieved from the island of Moratai where it was used by a Light Aid Detachment to fetch the mail.
So, on this 102nd anniversary Anzac Day, let’s not forget the importance of the motorcycle in helping our troops. And, of course, the brave and talented soldiers who rode them!
We’d like to thank the Australian War Memorial for their help in compiling this article and for the use of their photographs.