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Unique Hobbies

Back to the front

War memorabilia offer an insightful journey into time past and battles fought.
Some of the stark reminders of war-time communication are the bikes used by dispatch riders during the Second World War.

In fact, the experiences of dispatch riders have been chronicled in great detail in diaries and other literature. Their bikes evoke a sense of curiosity in many, as they did to Ashok Kumar.

This Solution Architect with a software firm, who collects bikes used by dispatch riders in World War II, says he grew up listening to war vignettes narrated by his grandfather. “It was from childhood that I developed this interest.

My grandfather was an architect in the Military Engineering Services (MES) and had lot of experiences from World War II to narrate. He even had with him small artifacts from the war. In fact, I remember having a small pocket knife that was made in 1945,” he says.

The interest grew in him gradually. “It was actually eight years back that I started picking up bikes used by dispatch riders.

My first bike came from an old workshop located on Richmond Road. My father used to get his car serviced there. Every time I go there, I would notice the James Military Lightweight bike stationed behind the electrician’s table,” he recollects.

“I liked it so much that I used to ask the owner to give it to me. He told me that if he ever sold it, it would be to me. When the workshop shut, as promised, he told me that I could buy it. We went there the same day and picked it up.

Piece by piece, I cleaned it and assembled them back. I painted it back to the original military colour and commissioned it. The second bike I picked up was a ‘BSA M20, the third one was a ‘Matchless G-3L’ and the fourth, a ‘Norton’,” he informs.

Closer home, during the ‘Raj’, motorcycles were used by the British army for dispatch riders of the Second World War. The dispatch riders negotiated tough terrain and challenging weather conditions.

“Dispatch riders of Indian military used to carry basic logistics. It was interesting how they moved. They blacked out the headlights or dimmed them and had only the tail lights on. Only the pilot rider would keep the headlight on so as to avoid the attention of the enemy. The other bikes used to follow the leader,” he informs.

With such trivia behind these bikes, it is not surprising that Ashok is geared up to pick more.

“The one I am going to rebuild soon is a ‘Triumph’. It is now lying in bits and pieces with a friend,” he says.

The war paraphernalia doesn’t end there. “I also have goggles, water bottles, map cases and a pocket watch from the war. What is fascinating about the watch is that it has 12 in the six position and six in the twelve position.

It was made this way so that the dispatch riders didn’t have to take the watch from the pocket to see time,” he says. “And then, there are steel helmets, which I got from the UK,’’ he says.

“The bikes have survived 44 years of water and dust. Not a single spoke has corroded. Earlier, I had a ‘Triumph’, which belonged to civil police. But I wanted to keep only those which fit into the family. So I disposed it off,” he adds.

These collectibles, no doubt, have taken the past forward. The war may be long over, but the machines are still vrooming.

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