First World War motorcycle day at Brooklands Museum

Matchless-Vickers outfit under guard

Image credit; ichael Sands

During the first World War, Brooklands was under the control of the War Department and the usual peacetime race meetings were banned. The Brooklands airfield continued its pre-war role as a flying training centre although it was now under military control. Thus the circuit became the base for soldiers and airmen.

In 1915, there were two motorcycle meetings held at the Surrey track with entries limited to service personnel: The “All Khaki Meeting” held in August and the “United Services Meeting” held in September. These Services meetings included Sprints, Hill Climbs and the “Serpentine Races” in which riders were required to follow a zig-zag course between wooden barriers, the winner being the one who could complete the course most slowly.

On 27th September, as part of Brooklands Museum’s commemoration of World War 1, some of the sights of those events were re-created. Twenty two pre-1918 motorcycles were entered and lined up in the old race bays. They ranged from John Spear’s1908 Triumph to a selection of lovely Douglases and New Imperials. One Douglas rider was dressed exactly as a WW1 despatch rider. The visual star of the bikes was the unique Matchless-Vickers 8B2/M machine gun sidecar outfit belonging to the British Historic Motorcycle Trust and loaned for the day by the Tank Museum at Bovington.

During the morning, riders rode a serpentine course , most not aiming to set the slowest time but just to get round. In spite of a lot of single speed belt drive bikes, everyone achieved the required wiggle waggle and with spectators able to get very close, the machines were seen to good advantage.

During the afternoon session, riders were flagged off in groups of four to simulate race starts from the 1915 track races. They rode up the old Finishing Straight and along the Members’ Banking before turning for the return leg. The downhill finish was an interesting challenge for veteran brakes (or lack thereof !) “Classic Bike’s” Rick Parkington put in some spirited rides on his very original looking Blackburn TT Sports machine.

The presence of groups of uniformed soldiers wandering among the tents and original military lorries plus engine runs by a Sopwith camel and Vickers Vimy created an impression of the wartime sights and sounds but without the mixture of tension and apprehension that must have existed in 1915.

The bike events were a vivid reminder of the fairly flimsy machines on which so many young men went to war. It was salutary to remember them on such a lovely autumn day.