World War II radios are what today's amateur radio operators refer to as "boat anchors," since their size and weight bear a striking similarity. They were not particularly portable, which meant that motorcycle couriers were often the only way to get important messages through quickly. This Canadian Army training film from 1942 shows what soldiers were expected to do and how they handled their motorcycles better than many riders can handle modern dual-sports—myself included.

Interesting, this film focuses on the Norton 16H, which was on its way out of use at this point in the war. While Commonwealth members typically used the same equipment as the home country, Britain was getting rather pummeled and did not have spare motorcycles to share. After taking over some unfulfilled French orders for Indians, the Canadian Army sought help from its neighbors to the south. The result was the Harley-Davidson WLC, a special version of the WLA for the American military modified to Canadian specifications.

The old Norton still had it where it counted, though, as did the soldiers who rode them. The film takes us through what they had to learn, which included not only riding skills but also everything needed to maintain and repair the Nortons. Soldiers issued these motorcycles were as responsible for their upkeep as they were for their rifles and other equipment, so every motorcycle courier was an expert mechanic as well.

They also had to be expert off-road riders as well. Roads were often exposed and vulnerable to ambush and bombing, which meant the best way to get through was often bushwhacking cross country. Riders learned the same skills dirt riders still use today, such as standing on the footpegs and shifting their weight around to provide maximum traction for conditions. The only thing these soldiers did not share with the courier in the film is the ability to stash the bike, lie down obliviously in the middle of a war zone, and enjoy a smoke as a reward for a job well done.


Sources: Periscope Film, The Liberator, D-Day Overlord

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