Our Remembrance Sunday article. We always pay respect to those that took part in war and made the ultimate sacrifice when asked. Many of these were keen and active off road motorcyclists who in civilian times were keen competitors in events. With this year being the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war we no longer have those who were there to remind us of the great sacrifices made by even those who survived it.

With 24/7 access to information of where in the most remote corners of the world we can get a map of where we are , we can find out where our friends are and get messages in text audio or visual form from whoever we need speak to its going to be hard to convince the children of tomorrow that people would often wait hours or days to get details of what they were to do next or what might be happening outside their line of site. At War communications has been as important as keeping troops fed and fit.

Dispatch riders in Turkey

Photo – Dispatch riders of the Royal engineers on service in the Dardanelles Campaign at Gallipoli against the Turkish Ottomans 1915-16


At an early stage of the development of the motorcycle it was evident it could get from point to point rapidly and getting it over the most difficult of terrains, whilst not easy created competitions that developed skills and and developed machinery that excelled better every year. It was an obvious component that would help in the necessary hand delivery of hand written messages that were necessary to enable military planners deliver their next tactical move. We saw in World War One across all campaign war fields the motorcycle taking a leading role replacing horses to help keep communications moving. The Army initiated the Royal Engineers Signals Service which eventually years later morphed into the Royal Signals Regiment delivering both messages and technology for delivery of messages. In many cases the motorcycle riders were already keen motorcyclists who would be racing in competitions testing the speed and off-road capability of their bikes. In August 1914 the War Department asked Motorcyclists to volunteer with their bikes. Many Owner-riders were recruited and asked to bring their bikes along to help form this new service 400 saw service in 1914.

British dispatch rider takes a message in Belgian village-$14113118$605

Photo – WW1 Dispatch rider collecting message

The story of one of these groups of volunteers, with bothers Cecil and Aleck Burney and Oxford undergraduate WHL Watson who joined the British Expeditionary Force is given in the recent book Two Wheels to War by Martin and Nick Shelley (Helion Publishing 2017.

dispatch riders

Photo – Cecil Burney, Willie Watson,George Owen, Huggie Trespass, Grimers, Fatters, Sadders Spuggie all early volunteers DR’s serving on their motorcycles in Flanders in 1914 (©Helion Company)

British Pathe‘ News newsreel below of the testing of Motorcycles in the Midlands for the British Army

The role of the ‘Dispatch Riders’ became vital to the success of a campaign where their speed, agility and stealth meant they were often less prominent than vehicles or horse riders as well as being able to tackle a wide range of ground conditions. Later companies such as BSA, Royal Enfield and Triumph made machines specifically constructed and modified to serve this purpose and the military motorcycle is a common site even today

British Pathe‘ News newsreel below with some more testing of Motorcycles in the Midlands for the British Army

DR’s as they were know had a tough job requiring supreme handling skills whilst also active at the front line they were vulnerable to enemy fire such as snipers. It required resilience and stamina along with navigational skills at any time of the day they are required. Service was often exposed to more treacherous conditions and were paid accordingly higher than an infantryman

Whilst the ISDT was stopped in its tracks when its 2nd edition fell victim to the global conflict in 1914, after the war the Army quickly saw the benefits in rider development with reliability trials and the Army teams were regular entrants to many national and international reliability trials as well as running their own events to test riders ability for speed and self reliance.

British Pathe‘ News newsreel below featuring an Army organised reliability trial that was the forerunner of modern army organised events such as the Natterjack Enduro held on Army tank ranges in the South of England


For more information on how the Dispatch Riders help win at war can be found in this article recently published by the British Motorcyclists Federation.