The Motor Cycle Corps at the Army Manoeuvres

Year before motor cycle despatch riders first earned their spurs in combat, enthusiasts were volunteering to take their bikes along on military manoeuvres.

IN SPITE OF the bad weather and greasy routes, a fair number of motor cyclists answered the call of duty and took the road under the guidance of Colonel Mayhew. The Motor Volunteers had received the order to mobilise at Marlborough, and a fine turn-out of cars and cycles was gathered together at the aforesaid town. Though the Motor Corps volunteers saw all the fighting they took no actual part in it whatsoever, with the motor cyclists running errands and carrying messages.
The experience gained during the past fortnight can only be of use to the military authorities in convincing them of the fact that the motor cycle is a very speedy and reliable machine, which on good roads possess unlimited opportunities for real soldierlike work. During these manoeuvres the motor cyclists did their task most creditably and the machines generally gave no trouble.
The machines were of many types, running from a 1¾hp featherweight to the heavy 3¼hp tandems. They were out all day and at night were lucky to find a tree or or a transport waggon to keep off the rain. Camp was often pitched far from the road, and a hard struggle over the roughest ground was the result. As often as not the road to be taken was the one used by the troops, and the difficulty of riding beside a long column of baggage waggons to find an unknown officer was a task which put a ride from Charing Cross to the Bank at mid-day quite in the shade. The artillery horses often resented the best of silencers and officers, horses and men were always on the look-out for the motor orderly on the line of march.
The roads, too, after the passage of a division were often cut up in a frightful way, and after an engagement, where the artillery was much on the move, in one or two places were more like a moraine, or a glacier. Through all this the miserable motor orderly had to pick his way. In wet weather on the greasy roads over the chalk downs, he went on his way, cutting figures of eight along the gutters as he passed the ponderous baggage trains, at the risk of his life, amid the jeers of the drivers. Then for a change he might have to push his machine behind some officer who required his services, and who was riding at three miles an hour.
Under these conditions it is a good test for a machine to get through without breaking down altogether. The record for ten days’ riding of a 2½hp Phoenix may be of interest. The work was continuous over fearful roads for the first part of the time, and through mud, rain and wind, both by day and night.

1903 military
Volunteer motor cycle orderlies worked hard to keep their machines ready for action.

First day: On Salisbury Plain; eighteen miles. Misfiring perceptible. Bowden exhaust lifter developed weakness (much of this riding was on grass). Petrol and oil, 1s 6d.
Second day: Forty-two miles. Lamp glass found smashed in the morning. Misfired very badly. Repaired. Again misfired. First found two short circuits, caused by the insulation being worn right through in two places; secondly, a cracked pillar breaking on the spark advance cam; third, found the petrol pipe cracked and leaking badly. Petrol and repairs, new glass, 6s 9d.
Third day: Sixteen miles. Great gale. The machine was under a tree for fourten hours in the storm. The water got in, short-circuited the accumulator, which ran down. Expenses, nil.
Fourth day: Forty-six miles. Roads fearful, sideslips numerous. Nova Perfecta lamp back broken. The springs of this lamp are deplorably weak; strapped it up. Lost pin closing accumulator case and a spanner. Road twice blocked by fallen trees. Petrol, new pin and adjusting, 2s 6d.
Fifth day: Twenty-five miles. Sideslips very bad. Short day. A slight puncture. Expenses, nil.
Sixth day: Twenty-one miles. New trembler and screw; brake blocks wearing badly. Machine upset while against a wall; no damage. Petrol, repair of puncture, etc, 3s 10d.
Seventh day: One hundred and thirty miles. (Berkshire Downs; good main roads; ghastly lanes.) Trembler in difficulties; exhaust-lifter broke. Accumulator getting week. Good roads and grand running. Petrol, 1s.
Eighth day: Fifty-four miles. Hired acumulator early; left two to be charged. Roads fearful after artillery; more like a ploughed field of flints. Cut front tyre in the evening–a gash 1¼in long. Two miles push. Lamp completely broken; more straps. Got back accumulators at 11pm. Petrol, tyre repair, exhaust lift, etc, 6s 6d.
Ninth day: Fifty-two miles. Belt stretched a little; exhaust lift broke. Petrol, 1s.
Tenth day: Twenty-four miles. Accumulator short-circuited during night. Trembler contact burnt. (This was caused by a stray experimentalist turning on current during evening.) Expenses, nil.
Eleventh day: Forty-seven miles. Contact screw and trembler slipped twice; cause undiscovered. Second accumulator ran out. Short circuit again. Petrol, 1s; GWR home, 3s 9d.
Twelth day: Demobilised. Train home; too tired to mote.

Taking the weather into acount the performance was first rate, though the short circuits should never have occurred on a machine fresh from overhauling by the makers.
Next year it is to be hoped that combatant sections of motor cyclists will be formed. These must be small, and consist only of the best men and machines. The work is hard and the roads will often be of the worst so strong frames must be used. It is absurd to see a sixteen-stone man on a light 2hp machine and that geared high. Hand starting and a two-speed gear would seem to be most desirable. To each section a motor car must be assigned, just as one destroyer in the Navy is told off to a flotilla of torpedo boats. This car must convey petrol spare parts and at least two expert mechanics, etc.
A motor section offers endless possibilities for rapid reconnoitring work, telegraph cutting and such operations. This year on one occasion a motor cyclist easily got through the enemy, simply because the sentries imagined that at thirty-five miles distance no enemy could even approach them.
This year there was practically no system in the Motor Corps. The advantages of military motorists were not fully appreciated among military circles. These manoeuvres have largely dispelled all false impressions concerning motor cyclists for warlike purposes. Germany and Austria are already in possession of properly organised detachments.

1903 military titt
Among the volunteer riders was J Wallace Titt and his sprung-frame 2¾hp Bat.