Riding long days and often nights through varying weather and terrain, a motorcycle despatch rider relayed vital information between headquarters and ground forces through the world wars.
To tell you the DR story, we’ve used photographs lent to us by a real-life despatch rider, Mr. George Brown, who rode a Royal Enfield WD/CO in World War II. Explore one of the most exacting periods in motorcycling.
George Brown with some members of his unit at the Ballymena Barracks, soon after joining the Corps of Signals in 1941.
George Brown in DR breeches and boots with his colleague Pip Walters, Antwerp, 1941.
Who Was The Despatch Rider?
Despatch riders were used by the Armed Forces to deliver urgent orders and messages between headquarters and military units, at a time when telecommunications were limited and insecure. Motorcycle despatch riders were first used by the British Army’s Royal Engineers Signals Service in World War I. They were also used by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, where they maintained contact with land bases.
Gear And Terrain
No man’s land. Marshlands. Dirt mountain tracks and stony unrelenting cliffsides. All par for a despatch rider’s course. Riding against time and skirting real danger also meant subterfuge, and using back roads away from the enemy’s line of sight. A despatch rider’s wardrobe had to make allowances for the elements at their most extreme and the riding terrain above. Another consideration was a life lived riding – upwards of seventy hours at a stretch.
A despatch rider travelling through dense forestation, circa 1944.
With so many variables to consider, the hallmarks of despatch rider gear were versatility, utility and performance. Layering up was a necessity, with henleys, pullovers and riding shirts forming a despatch rider’s summer-to-winter get-up. Knee-high riding breeches and boots, lightweight helmets and comfortable gloves point to a high degree of protection and functionality. Airy, comfortable materials such as canvas and twill were used, combining military heritage and utility. Pieces of soft storage such as panniers were strapped on to the motorcycle and messenger bags and duffel bags weren’t just accessories, they were standard issue.
His coat was central to his uniform, wearing different ways through rain, hot summer riding days and winter sorties and featuring an array of large, secure pockets.
Worn different ways through the seasons, a despatch rider’s trenchcoat was a central part of his uniform.
Our new range of gear is inspired by the kit despatch riders served in. We’ve blended heritage with modern materials and thought up new ways to layer up and down – with henleys, shirts and jackets. The range also includes comfortable denim in special washes that fade and weather well and tees inspired by standard–issue military kit. A palette of browns, greens, olive, tan and blues is paired with classic regimental detailing - epaulettes, plackets and gorgets. Fabrics such as twill and canvas have been chosen for their utility. The gear goes seamlessly from the road to after-hours. Every article bears quintessential Royal Enfield hallmarks – craftsmanship, durability and attention to detail.