Showing posts sorted by relevance for query granddad. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query granddad. Sort by date Show all posts

Thursday 12 September 2013

Biking Family History Part 2

Since seeing pictures of my granddad on a motorbike I've been curious about my family history with bikes.  Knowing that bikes have been in my family for generations is kinda cool.  When home in August I got to see some more bike-related family history.  My Uncle had a couple of albums I hadn't seen before that had some fantastic pictures in them.

It's always nice to see pictures of Granddad, and seeing him working on his bike was wonderful.  I guess if you rode a bike in the 1940s and 50s you spent some time making sure it was running right, or it wasn't running at all.

There were also some pictures of my Granddad Bill in his RAF uniform on a bike.  With war-time scarcity, getting around on two wheels was the way to go.  I imagine the RAF used bikes extensively as personal transport.

Granddad rode in their motorbike tatoo - doing stunts and coordinated high speed riding.

I love the poses; the bikes, the suits, and some rural Norfolk scenery!  No doubt that Granddad Bill loved his motorbikes!  

I can remember him letting me sit behind the wheel of his lorry and steer when I was four or five.  I wish I'd been around him longer.

The bit of family history I didn't know revolved around my great Aunt who rode a bike too!  She was a single woman who was a serious rider at a time when women didn't really remain single, let alone bomb around the countryside on motorcycles.

I loved hearing about her, and even when I discovered that she died in the saddle in a motor accident I was glad to have learned about her.  I wish I'd have known her.  I feel like the family I have who are into bikes are far from me.

I also talked to my cousin who owns a Fireblade and a BMW R1200.  It was nice to have a bike talk with family members, though I feel like the ones I most wanted to chat with aren't with us any more.

Friday 3 July 2020

DGR: Social Connections Challenge: Remember The Ride

I took a swing at the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride Social Connections Challenge with MOTR Garage in the last post, but that idea might not tick the "innovative and disruptive" box - motorcycle coops already exist, though not in the format I'm suggesting.  My angle was to leverage retired teachers to connect men inter-generationally, but otherwise it's an existing concept and not particularly disruptive, though it is scalable anywhere public education exists.

I just heard back from Motorcycle-Diaries and learned that I did not win their 2020 Dream Ride Contest, though being a top 5 finalist worldwide was pretty good by itself.  The winning trip by Theo De Paepe on riding to the northern lights is a moving piece worthy of the win.  Participating in this contest and reading all of these moving dream rides got me thinking about how digital connectivity might be used to reach out to younger potential riders lost in the digital wastes of 2020.

My own piece for that contest was on riding my granddad Bill's path though France as a part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1939 and 1940 before the Blitzkrieg swept them out of continental Europe.  William Morris's war record was another one of those family secrets that wasn't talked about, but his military service during World War 2 is the stuff of film.  One of only a handful of his RAF squadron that escaped occupied France, Bill recovered downed planes during the Battle of Britain and then experienced three harrowing years in Northern Africa fighting Rommel as a driver in the RAF armoured car division.  He finished his tour in the white helmets motorcycle stunt team, doing drill and stunts on motorbikes!

Discovering my Granddad's history was a great way to reconnect with a man I was close with as a child, but lost connection with when we emigrated to Canada.  As I was working through that family history I uncovered another mystery the family had been very quiet about, the death of my great aunt Faye.  My mum's middle name was Faye, but I hadn't realized she was named after her aunt.  I also didn't know that Faye had died in a motorcycling accident in Norfolk in the mid-sixties when she was hit by an army lorry.  My mother had always stridently opposed me riding, and now that all suddenly made sense.  That my great aunt's death ended my granddad's life long love of riding and also prevented me from getting on a motorcycle when I first started driving is a lasting source of frustration.

Motorcycling isn't easy, but it speaks to your very being, and it tends to self-select a certain kind of person.  It tends to run in families because families are literally all certain kinds of people.  Trying to bury my motorcycling family history only worked on me because I was an immigrant child separated from his extended family.  While I had uncles and cousins riding in the UK, I was oblivious in another country.

Finding my way back to my motorcycling gene played a big part in me eventually getting my license, though I'm frustrated at the lost decades I could have been riding.  It got me thinking about how many people are separated from family and live in a cultural void where they feel like they come from no one and from nowhere.  But we all have history, and many of us will have ancestors who rode.  Motorcycles used to be transportation before they became recreation.  Any rider can tell you how often an old timer will come up and start chatting about a bike they once owned - it happens to me on the Tiger all the time (Triumph is an old brand with a long history and a lot of old-timers have owned one).

DGR's Social Connections Challenge wants to focus on disruptive, on-the-ground projects that help socially disaffected men who are more prone to suicide.  As a group, immigrant children are more socially disaffected than most, growing up in a strange country where they have no extended family.  The UN's latest report has over two-hundred and seventy million people living as immigrants in countries they weren't born.  On top of that there are many more people living without connection to their family history for various reasons.  Having grown up in a place where I had deep roots and moving to North America, I often meet people who have no idea where their families came from or even who anyone was before their grand parents.  In the early 20th Century motorcycles were transport, not a recreational activity, so many people have family history on two wheels they know nothing about.  I speak from personal experience when I say that making that connection is a powerful thing.

With that in mind, here's another pitch to DGR's Social Connections Challenge:

Granddad Bill on his bike in rural Norfolk well before I was born.
Inspiration:  As an immigrant child I’ve been separated from my extended family for most of my adult life and missed out on motorcycling through family as a result.  After my grandmother’s death I returned home to England for the first time in three decades and discovered secret family motorcycling history which prompted me to get my license.  Family connections have allowed me to bypass the postmodern amnesia many people face; that feeling that we are no one from nowhere. Ride To Remember would be an online resource that connects riders and would be riders to their family motorcycling history.  Realizing that riding is a part of your personal history is powerful.  Not only would this encourage new riders to ride by normalizing what is now considered a high risk activity in our sedentary, safety-first societies, but it would also reconnect us to a sense of continuity and belonging through our own family history.  Motorcycling is an acknowledgement of an inclination that often has roots going back generations.

Target Group:  disassociated men who feel that they don’t have a culture or family history related to riding.  The UN reports over 270 million people have immigrated internationally, and many others are separated from family through circumstances such as adoption.

Proposed Solution:  An interactive website/online community that collects and shares family history related to motorcycling: an for motorcyclists.  By connecting disenfranchised men to their family history, I hope to offer them the same sense of belonging and cultural connection that I have discovered.  By leveraging online connectivity and modern data management, Ride To Remember collates historical motorcycle related media in an easy to access database surrounded by a engaged community that encourages disassociated men to rediscover their moto-roots.

Project vision:  the pilot period involves setting up a .org site that creates an online relational database of motorcycling history using existing online documents tagged with details that allow users to search for material based on time, geographic location, names and other details.  A.I. image recognition software would be used to web-crawl and archive historical motorcycle related online images and online sources.  Long standing manufacturers, museums and vintage motorcycling organizations already have online presences that would provide regional structures in this growing information cloud.   With a growing data structure in place, analytics would allow users to quickly find connections.  They would also be encouraged to add information to the database, further enriching it.  We are at a pivotal time where a lot of analogue material will get lost in digital translation, this project would also encourage digitization of photos and documents for future motorcyclists.  The final stage would be an interactive database that connects people to their motorcycling past and reminds us that none of us comes from no one, nowhere.

Project leads:  writers, photographers and family historians who ride (like myself), anyone with family history in riding (motorbikes used to be family transport!) would be encouraged to share their ancestral motorcyclists.

Project title:  Ride To Remember



The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride Social Connections:

Over 270 million immigrants in the world today:

My granddad's war history and my great aunt's death while riding was hidden family history that, once exposed, allowed me to embrace riding in a deep and personal way:

The Motorcyclist, by George Elliot Clarke - an ode to George's father, who rode at a time when Canada made it difficult for black men to do anything:

We live in a broken world where families are torn apart while chasing (or being stolen) by globalism.  There is a power in riding that self selects a certain kind of person.  Remember The Ride will reconnect lost people to family two-wheel roots that run deep.
Pier 21 in Halifax is the location of the Canadian Immigration Museum.  As a nation of immigrants, Canada is particularly prone to family amnesia.

Friday 16 March 2018

Walking In Bill's Footsteps: 1940 France

I'm going to build this one in stages.  Putting together the research in order to eventually build a map of my grandfather's path through 1940s France will take some time.

The goal is to work out how my granddad, William Morris, worked his way through France as the British Expeditionary Force and the French military collapsed under the weight of the German Blitzkrieg during the Battle of France.

What I know so far:  
Bill was already a member of the RAF when the war began.  He was able to operate everything from heavy trucks to motorbikes and found himself supplying Hurricane squadrons in France as a heavy lorry operator.  Being stationed in France as a part of the British Expeditionary force in 1939/40when the Blitzkrieg began he started to make his way to the coast.  He got close to Dunkirk at the end of May but the chaos made it look like a bad idea, so he kept pushing south, avoiding the fast moving German Panzer divisions that were pushing into France in huge leaps.
The rough map so far on Granddad Bill's escape from German occupied France in 1940

Sinking of the Lancastria in the National Maritime Museum
He got down to St  Nazaire by mid-June and witnessed the sinking of the Lancastria - where more people were killed in a single sinking than in the combined losses of the Titanic and the Lusitania; it's the largest single maritime loss of life in British history.

By this point it must have seemed like the world was ending.  Here's a quote from the man himself:

“When Paris was made a free city (June 11th) the British Expeditionary Force had to evacuate and make for St. Nazaire. The roads were clogged with retreating troops and equipment. What couldn't be carried was destroyed. We arrived in St. Nazaire in the afternoon just in time to see the ship that was to carry us out destroyed by dive bombers. An officer directing traffic suggested we try to make for Brest. We arrived there two days later just as the last ship was preparing to leave, I had to leave my German Shepherd behind on the docks as there was no room for her on the boat.”

Bill got out of France through Brest on June 13th, 1940 - over two weeks after Dunkirk.  From May to June, 1940, Granddad saw more of France than he probably intended.  His unit was disbanded due to losses, but I'm not sure which squadron he was attached to.  A number of them were decimated trying to battle BF109s with biplanes.  The few Hurricane squadrons could stand up to the Messerschmidts but were badly out numbered and inexperienced.  If the documents I've got are accurate and he was providing support to a Hurricane squadron east of Paris, then there are a number of candidate RAF squadrons who were based around Reims.

At some point the planes and air crews must have taken off and left the support people, including Bill, to try and find their own way out.  He had been missing for so long and so many British soldiers were lost in the Battle of France, that he was declared missing or dead.  When he got back on British soil and was given leave, Bill headed straight home to Sheringham in Norfolk where he waited on the street for my grandmother to walk by on her way to work.  She must have been stunned to see that ghost standing there.  Bill always had a flare for the dramatic.

This is the opening chapter in a war story Bill never talked about, but I've been trying to piece back together from existing details.  A couple of interesting things could come out of this...

1)  Build up a map of Bill's route through France in 1940.  Put together a collection of World War 2 era British bikes and ride them from the air field he was stationed at and follow the meandering route he may have followed, stopping at the places we have evidence he was, eventually ending where he escaped the continent.  I've got two brothers and several cousins, all direct relatives of Bill's, who could do this ride with me.

Films like Chris Nolan's Dunkirk shine a light on the often ignored
early moments of World War 2.  There is more work to be done.
We could do it on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of France in May and June of 2020.  It's a forgotten moment in the war that is often misunderstood and mocked historically.  The French didn't surrender (in fact they bloodied the nose of an otherwise technically superior German force and vitally weakened it prior to the Battle of Britain.  There would have been hundreds more German planes and thousands more personnel available for the Battle of Britain had the French military and British Expeditionary Force not fought as they had in France.  Bill's journey would be an opportunity to highlight a lot of that forgotten and misunderstood history.

2)  This is the first part of William Morris's rather astonishing path through World War 2.  His improbable survival (he was the member of multiple units that got disbanded due being decimated in battle) is the only reason I'm here today, and I find the serendipity and skill involved in that fascinating.  Had Granddad not survived the war he would never have fathered my mum in 1946.  Our family exists as it does today because of his survival.

A longer term goal would be to put together a based-on-true-events narrative of Bill's experiences during the war, from his time in occupied France, to his work retrieving wrecks during the Battle of Britain, to his years in the desert in the later half of the war, his story sheds light on a working man's experience in the conflict.  So often the attention has been on the wealthier officer class of pilots and commanders, but this is a look at World War Two from the trenches (so to speak).  It's a war far more people experienced than the scientists and upper class types did.

3) If the book got written, it'd make for one heck of a TV or film series!

Meanwhile, the research continues...

The Norton 16H in RAF blue (once the war began they
just churned out army green ones).  The TV show would
have myself and my cousins - all the current descendents
of Bill Morris, following his trek through 1940s France.

Norton 16H in RAF colours (up to 1940, army green after that…)


Triumph Tiger 100 (not used in service but might have been found in 1940s France)
1940 Battle of France WW2 RESEARCH:

A paper I wrote for a history course at university in 1996:

Statistics on the Battle of France:

Some photos of Hurricanes in France in 1940...
Hawker Hurricane RAF 501 Sqn SD being refueled by a bowser at Bethenville France 11th May 1940

73 Squadron

Bloodiest Battles of WW2:

The WW2 soldiers France has forgotten
Aircrafts and bases of the Royal Air Force on May 10, 1940

Get a copy of military service records:

RAF french bases in 1940 May - by June they were all gone...
Berry-au-Bac (France)
Merville (France)
Douai (France)
Poix (France)
Rosieres-en-Saneterre (France)
Reims (France)
Lille (France)
Betheniville (France)
Villeneuve-les-Vertus (France)
Conde-Vraux (France)
Berry-au-Bac (France)
Reims (France)
Vintry-en-Artois (France)
Abbeville (France)

RAF in France 1940, (Fighting against Odds)

Hurricane Squadrons in the Battle of France
"British losses in the Battle for France:  68,111 killed in action, wounded or captured. Some 64,000 vehicles destroyed or abandoned and 2,472 guns destroyed or abandoned."

Armée de l'Air - Order of Battle, 10th May 1940

Traces of World War 2 - Royal Air Force, Battle of France 1940

RAF base Marham history

Royal Air Force - Order of Battle, France, 10th May 1940

A simulation of the Battle of France in 1940:

Mapping the Maginot line RAF supporting stations in France:

Association Maison Rouge

Abandoned and forgotten airfields in France:


Moto-raids into occupied France (from a January 1941 article): might be good as a chapter piece between the BoF, the Battle of Britain and heading off to the desert...

Thursday 14 March 2019

Tim's Ten Bike Wishlist

One of the pieces they had in the recent big 100th edition of Practical Sportsbikes was a 10 bike wishlist.  Being a magazine focused on older sports bikes, that's what their lists were.  My wishlist is more wide ranging, covering everything from pre-war classics to the latest digital machines.  There is a bit of 80's representation, but it also has a pile of other bikes both old and new.  

My dream list would lean heavily on the dreams...

Tim's Ten Bike Wish List:

1)  Granddad's Coventry Eagle

I've talked about my Granddad's Coventry Eagle previously.  This particular wish involves me coming across old NG4743 in a barn and restoring it myself.  Being able to restore and ride a bike that should have been in our family for multiple generations would be a moving experience.  I saw some Coventry Eagles at the British Motorcycle Museum a couple of summers ago and got surprisingly emotional at the idea of riding one.  The most magical one would be the one Bill owned.  If you're going to wish list, wish hard!  I couldn't begin to guess what this would cost as it probably doesn't exist.

2) Kawasaki Z1000

There are a number of modern bikes that have caught my eye.  A consistent choice has been the shamelessly anime inspired, Sugomi designed Kawasaki Z1000.  New ones go for about fourteen grand Canadian.  I'm partial to the orange one from a few years ago.  There is a low mileage one in Drummondville, QC for about nine grand.  As modern naked bikes go, this one is big enough to fit me and scratches every Robotech Cyclone anime dream I had as a kid.  The only thing better would be if it could transform into battloid mode - and it looks like it might.

3) Honda VFR750F

Most of my 80's bike fantasies revolved around the Honda Interceptor.  The VFR-750F RC30 came up on many of the Practical Sportsbike lists as well; it's an '80s kid's dream superbike.  Because it hits that nostalgic twang, it's now a collector's item and an expensive proposition, but hey, this is a dream list!  Something like this would allow me to maybe edge into vintage racing and track days, though both things are pretty thin on the ground in Ontario.  The RC45 race bike derivative would be an even better choice for vintage track riding.

4) Yamaha XT500

Another nostalgic choice would be a twinshock trail bike that I could use in vintage off road events.  I've thought about trying to get my father-in-law's old Suzuki, but he sold it on and I'd probably end up paying more than it's worth to get back.  Thanks to Henry Cole and crew, I've got a soft spot for Yamaha XT500s.  A restored XT would let me pursue silly things like classic enduro rallies and the V.I.N.C.E..

5) 1938 Triumph Speed Twin

With all the research into World War 2 I've been doing, the Triumph Speed Twin keeps coming up as a huge leap forward in two wheeled technology.  If I were to own a pre-war bike, this would be a more likely dream choice.  Perfect versions go at auction for $24k+ Canadian.  I'd be happy with a less perfect bike that I could actually use.

6) 2019 Ariel Ace

The Ariel Ace is one of those bespoke and bizarre machines that could only exist for me on a dream bike list.  Since first seeing the almost architectural design of the Ace's girder front forks and trellis frame, I was smitten.  The Ariel uses a stock Honda motor but is otherwise a custom machine that you can design to your own wishes.  At £24,950,this is very much a dream list bike.

7) Kawasaki H2

The Kawasaki Ninja H2 supercharged superbike is an unbelievable piece of engineering.  Since the first time I saw the state of the art processes Kawasaki uses to mold the supercharger to hearing it break the sound barrier while spinning, I was a fan.  This dream bike is north of thirty grand, but it'd let me maybe see the dream of 200mph on two wheels, all while listening to that supercharger chirp.

8) CCM RAFBF Spitfire

CCM's Spitfire custom model comes in a variety of styles, but my favourite is the classically styled Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund Spitfire.  This 600cc customized thumper is a lightweight thing that looks like it would be a blast to ride on twisty roads.  As a modern bike with classic styling, it would fill a niche in my dream garage that nothing else does.  £18,000 isn't cheap, but dream list, right?

9) Honda Goldwing Touring

Say what?  A Goldwing?  One of the functions of my dream bike garage would be to participate in as many different kinds of riding as possible.  Of all the big touring bikes, Honda's new, lighter Goldwing is the most capable all-round tourer there is, and it's Honda bullet-proof.  Another bike north of thirty grand, it's something that would only be on a dream list, but it means I could take a happy pillion with me and tour like we mean it.

10)  Husqvarna 701 Enduro

Husky's 701 Enduro is an off-road capable bike that'll also handle the roads needed to get you to the edge.  This would be another one of those bikes selected to let me experience a specific kind of riding.  The 701 only weighs a bit more than I do but is a big, capable off roader that would fit me, keep up with traffic when needed and still be able to off road.  At about $14,000 Canadian, it isn't a cheap dream off roader.

I feel like I'm missing a modern track day bike.  A Honda Fireblade or Yamaha R1 would be on my shortlist for that duty, though with no Ducatis in the mix here, the new V4 Panigale R would probably win dream bike wishlist status over the more mundane Japanese choices.  I might be convinced to swap the Z1000 out for that.

I'm also partial to weirdness, and a sidecar outfit would scratch that itch.  I like older styled outfits, so a Royal Enfield or classic modern Triumph with a bullet sidecar would be a cool thing to add into the list, perhaps after swapping out the XT500.  I only leaned toward the Goldwing as a touring option instead because you get to lean on the Honda.

Rather than go the Husky route, a stranger choice there might be getting a Lyndon Poskitt rally bike made.  At thirty to sixty thousand Euro, they aren't cheap, but that's what a dream bike list is all about, right?


I've managed to cover a range of bikes from the early 1930s to the latest models.  With a sweep of almost ninety years and what are some truly weird options, I hope I've managed to express just how diverse and strange my motorcycling proclivities have become.  My final list would include bikes manufactured in England, Japan and Europe and range in price from pretty accessible to pretty much unattainable.

If nothing else, a dream bike list lets you stretch your expectations and expand your considerations around what you might ride.  From doing the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride on my grandfather's Eagle to seeing the wrong side of two hundred miles per hour on a supercharged dream machine, for me the dream stable is about opening up possibilities rather than creating a museum exhibit.