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PostPosted: Wed Jun 16, 2010 7:56 pm
by michaelcarragher
I am interested in the use by both sides of motorcycle mounted despatch riders in the Easter Rising--and indeed on the general use of motorcycles by combatants at that time and following.

The British were forced to fall back on DRs because of lack of security on the wires after the rebels took the GPO. Any details of these men (or indeed women)?

Even more so, any details on rebel DRs? These seem to have been mostly bicycle-mounted but Mrs Norway reports on one serviceable motorcycle being found in the GPO after the rising had been put down. Any more details on this? Or any other rebel motorcycles?

Motorcycle DRs brought news of the rising to Enniscorthy and to Cork; I assume Maria Perloz took the train to Cork and then rode her bike? Again, does anyone have details or likely sources?

And the North Dublin Fifth Battalion may owe much of its success to its being rapidly deployable on bicycles, and with Ashe being motorcycle mounted able to pick targets of opportunity.

Any assistance will be most welcome.

Michael Carragher


PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:33 am
by bannerman
Hello Michael,
For more information on Republican mesangers in 1916 I would check out the bureau of Military history Witness Statements in the National archives. Ive come across a number of statements there from couriers / messangers who were sent to Cork and Limerick, Tyrone etc from Dublin during the confusing period of orders and countermanding orders on Easter Sunday - usually these travelled by train or by car - Ie. The O Rahially.

Inside dublin City during the rising the Republicans used whatever method of transport was available be it push bikes, on foot or messages in jars being pulled across O Connell / Sackville Street on a very long piece of string! There are a number of witness statements there from Republican couriers / messengers who were in the St. Stephens green area I think

Dont know much about the use of motor bikes though - but im not a bige vehicle fan so that mightnt stick out in my head. But I know the British were using motor cycle despatch riders in 1921 usually travelling in pairs. The last British soldier killed in Clare during the W.O.I. was Private R.W.Williams killed at Bunratty 10th July 1921. Interestingly the British Military were also still reliant on carrier pidgeons and the R.A.F. to deliver mail at the time.



PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 2:01 pm
by thepremier
The only instance I can think of at the moment is that a motorcycle with a sidecar was used to transport guns from Howth in 1914.

One problem with using cars or motorcycles during the War of Independence would be that they were liable to be stopped and searched by patrols, whereas the sheer numbers using trains and bicycles going about their daily business made it far easier for despatch riders to blend in.


PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:44 pm
by michaelcarragher
Good point, Premier;

useful suggestions, Padraig.

Thank you both very much.



PostPosted: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:25 pm
by michaelcarragher
San Fairy Ann? Motorcycles and British Victory 1914-1918 is published by FireStep Press (distributed in North America by Barnes & Noble). Publication date is 1 November but a few advance copies will be available on the stand of the Irish Veteran and Vintage Club at next Saturday’s autojumble at Leopardstown racecourse (12 October).

A short section of this book deals with the Easter Rising, and in researching the part played by motorcyclists here the suggestions of Bannerman and The Premier were very helpful. Thanks again, lads.

For those forum members who share my interest in the Great War I attach the opening of San Fairy Ann?

I’d be very grateful if forum members who do not share my interest would pass this posting along to others who do.
In particular to history students at a loose end for a topic for dissertation/thesis. This field has only just been opened up, but a couple more books and an essay are soon to be published, all of which may arouse wider interest and—with luck—provoke discussion and stimulate further scholarship.

Of relevance to followers of this forum: many Irishmen served as despatch riders; who; how many; and what did they accomplish?

Or the sidecar ambulances of the Service de Santé Militaire that operated in the Vosges. I’ve been unable to discover more about this remarkable service than can fill seven pages; yet, if the Service is forgotten now, it was important at the time (politically more than militarily), and there’s an entire book that could be written about it. History students with reasonable fluency in French might explore the archives and write that book.

Motorcyclists also ought to enjoy San Fairy Ann? Please let any biker friends know about it!

Young Roger West was not in the pink of health. For more than two weeks he had been in the saddle of his motorcycle, latterly riding day and night, putting hundreds of miles under his skinny tyres, repairing punctures—once within 150 yards of enemy troops—adjusting the drive belt, and doing the myriad routine things it took to keep a motorised bicycle going in August 1914. Not making his ride any easier was the carpet slipper he was wearing on one foot, but there was no help for this, because the foot had become infected following a flea bite, on the last full night’s sleep he’d had, on straw, nine days before, and it was too swollen to fit a boot.

There was no help for any of this, because Roger West, and a hundred-odd other motorcyclists, were just about all that stood between the British Expeditionary Force and annihilation, and every one was needed—sore foot be damned. Nor was West’s the only sore foot on that Great Retreat: countless men walked “bloodshod”, to borrow a poet’s term not yet coined. The soft feet of the recently recalled reservists suffered worst, the skin of the blistered soles sometimes peeling off like socks if a man was foolish enough to remove his boots; but most of the old sweats were too canny to do this, knowing that they could never get swollen feet back into leather, so they squelched along stoically, hungry, parched, their faces grey with strain and fatigue and the dust of the unsealed roads that rose with their passage and stuck to the sweat of their brows.

They were a pitiful five divisions, their numbers depleted by battle, and they were in full-tilt retreat before two German armies. They had fought these to a standstill at Mons, and again at Le Cateau, and every day their rearguard was fighting some delaying action or another. Four years later their younger brothers and cousins and neighbours and sons, along with the few of themselves left alive, would drive the Kaiser’s once-invincible armies to defeat; but just now few would give much for them. Their own commander had so little faith in their chances he had wanted to pull them out of the line, and only a stern injunction from the most famous poster-boy in history had prevented this.

They might have turned into a straggling mob, that British Expeditionary Force, and been broken up in the field, for they were spread across many roads, and strung out by miles along those by impediments of one sort and another. To make matters worse, the two corps they constituted had become separated by the River Oise. Radio was in its infancy, heavy, fragile, and necessitating either security leaks if broadcasting was en clair or potentially fatal delays if in code; besides, the BEF had only one mobile transmitter and most field sets were with the cavalry. Telegraph infrastructure was spotty and often sabotaged by the retreating French, and of the scanty cable supply sent with the Force, much had had to be abandoned at Mons and more was captured at Le Cateau. Communication effectively had somehow come to be devolved onto perhaps 150 motorcyclists, 90 percent of whom had been civilians less than a month before. Some of these volunteers had had almost three full weeks of training.

Roger West had had three days. Now, almost a month into the war, he was hungry, tired, lame, and fevered by his poisoned foot. In recent days he had been fired upon and once ridden through enemy forces—and now he learned that, with the Germans maybe ten miles behind, charges on the bridge that separated them from the BEF had failed to explode.

Roger West was not in the pink; but his life, whatever his health, was not his own. “It seemed a pity to leave this bridge intact”, so he requested his colonel’s permission to go back and blow it up. Colonel Ward thought the young man “a fool”, but he granted permission. West collected a stone of guncotton from a company of the Royal Engineers, along with an officer who volunteered to go with him on the carrier, carrying the detonators “carefully in his breast pocket, lest they go off with the jolting of the ride”. As they rode the eight miles back some stragglers may have raised their jaded heads, widened their eyes in alarm, waved a hand in warning: “Wrong way, chum!”

But Roger West was not going the wrong way; he was going the only way he could. For his worldview was so different from ours that often we must portray, and indeed understand it, only through the lens of irony. Roger West saw the world in the bright-unclouded glass of the Victorian empire into which he had been born. Men of his generation spelled Duty as they spelled God, King and Country, with a reverential capital. Roger West, in that absurd and enviable world of his that ended in the year he put on khaki, was doing what was, beyond the very notion of a doubt, his Duty. His life was his Country’s, his soul his God’s.

God was in Heaven. King George was on the throne. General Alexander von Kluck was marching on Pontoise with the First German Army at his back, but young Roger West was on his way there too, on a rickety motorbike, with guncotton on his back and a carpet slipper on his foot. All was well with the world.

Or at any rate, that world was not yet lost.

FireStep Publishing, a division of Tommies Guides Military Book Specialists
Gemini House,
136-140 Old Shoreham Road
Brighton BN3 7BD
Tel: 0845 475 1945 / Fax: 0870 622 1918
Pub date: 1 Nov 2013
ISBN: 978-1-908487-38-4
Format: Royal (156x233mm)
Binding: Paperback
Extent: 294pp
Price: £17.99
Publisher: FireStep Publishing
Imprint: FireStep Press
BIC Classifications:
HBWN First World War
HBW Military history 3JJF c. 1914 to c. 1918

Geoff Simpson
Tel: 07880 790191 / +44 (0)161 483 1790

UK Sales - Gillian Hawkins
Hawkins Publishing Services
Tel: 01342 8930298
UK Distribution - Combined Book Services
Tel: 01892 837171


PostPosted: Sun Nov 16, 2014 12:44 pm
by stevedanaher01
I am interested in the story of Private Williams, killed on Bunratty bridge 10/7/1921. According to reports he was part of a two man despatch rider team, my question is what is the purpose of a two man team. If two men are on one bike, I would slow it down and I cannot think of any reason to have two motorcyclists doing the same job. I am hoping that some readers will have answers.
Steve Danaher


PostPosted: Sun Nov 16, 2014 7:22 pm
by michaelcarragher
Hello Steve.

In dangerous situations two or more despatch riders would be sent with the same despatch, by different routes, to improve the chances that the message would get through. Given the place and time of Pte Williams' death, a two-man despatch team would have been used.


PostPosted: Mon Nov 17, 2014 10:37 am
by stevedanaher01
michaelcarragher wrote:Hello Steve.

In dangerous situations two or more despatch riders would be sent with the same despatch, by different routes, to improve the chances that the message would get through. Given the place and time of Pte Williams' death, a two-man despatch team would have been used.

Hello Michael
Thank you for the reply, I am really interested in this part of history. The truce had been announced and was coming into effect on the following day, I imagine that it might have led to a little bit more relaxed atmosphere by the British army guys. That both soldiers fell into the river leads me to believe that only one bike was involved, it seems unlikely that the second bike would follow the first into the breach in the bridge. I think that it could be possible that Pte. Williams was carrying a passenger on the carrier, whether that was official or not it is hard to tell. This is just a guess.


PostPosted: Mon Nov 17, 2014 5:23 pm
by michaelcarragher
You could well be right, Steve.

The WoI is not my specialty, but a man who may be able to help you with this particular incident, and the war in Clare in general, is Padraig og O Ruairc ("Bannerman" of this site). Check

Best regards.