WB’s modest career on two wheels and three

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After my mother died I was living with friends in West Norwood whose family included three boys. The eldest and I considered we should have a motorcycle so after work we hastened to Roland Smith’s in Cricklewood where they had machines on sale from shillings upwards. The least expensive had already been sold so we had to settle for a Zenith Gradua for 50 shillings. With the tyres blown up we commenced pushing it along the pavements towards our destination. As it got dark I would go on ahead and ask a policeman where it was likely that we could put it that night. We returned after work on the second and third days and pushed again until we arrived at West Norwood. Then we got it started but could not afford a rubber belt for it so we compromised with a Whittle belt, which frequently broke.

One of the other sons, who was studying to become a clergyman, returned home one Christmas with a fellow student in a Salmson, both wearing their cassocks for warmth, and helped us to get the Zenith going. As there was no garage at the house we had to find accommodation for it, so we rented a shed for a shilling a week. After a time we could not pay the modest rent and later the bills ceased to arrive. Years later, in one of the motor magazines a well-known collector was desperate to find a Zenith Gradua and had eventually found one in a shed in Norwood!

One evening shortly after I met Jenks, he gathered together some motorcycle friends with their machines. As I fell off the first one that I tried to ride I was put on a sidecar combination and they watched to see if I would overturn that, only to see me make a satisfactory return. This indicated to Jenks that I could ride a cycle outfit and one day he rang up to say he had found one for me, with a chauffeur who looked after a Rolls–Royce for an elderly lady who seldom went out, so had time to put the machine into good order. It was a Sunbeam combination he wanted to dispose of, which had a four-speed gearbox and petrol gauge in its fuel tank, and DSJ told me that I should buy it. This I did and he bought it to his place in Odiham, close to where we lived.

One Christmas when he was away he wanted me to return a Lancia Aprilia to him. We had staying with us a friend and her young daughter. On Christmas morning I was going to return the Lancia to Jenks and return home on the previously unseen motorcycle. I asked the young lady if she would like to accompany me. She said she would. So we mounted the motorcycle combination which after much kick-starting fired up, and set off for the short journey home. On the way she called up to me to say she had never been in a sidecar but that it was very comfortable; I called back that I had never seriously ridden a motorcycle before. We got home in time for Christmas lunch.

Eventually the Sunbeam was housed in our barn in Wales. One morning I went up to the barn and saw the padlock lying on the ground, sawn through and the motorcycle missing. The barn being a little way from the house, we had heard nothing during the night. I reported the theft to the police but for some reason was not informed when they had found the culprit or when the case was going to court. I learnt afterwards that in his defence he had lied, saying that the Sunbeam was outside Mr Boddy’s front gate untaxed, so he presumed that it was not wanted and so he took it away. In fact he had sawn through the sidecar connections and stolen only the machine. Later a neighbour who could see over our hedge told me that my sidecar had been abandoned in one of my fields. The police had found the machine dismantled into a hundred bits which were eventually returned to me in a police van. They recognised the machine by its petrol tank, but did not find a JAP engine which had also been stolen.