World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Despatch rider

Article Id: WHEBN0018310231
Reproduction Date:

Title: Despatch rider  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Line of communication, Motorcycle courier, Land warfare, Graham Walker (motorcycle racer), Mairi Chisholm
Collection: Land Warfare, Military Command Staff Occupations, Motorcycle Occupations
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Despatch rider

A British motorcycle despatch rider, 1915

A despatch rider (or dispatch) is a military messenger, mounted on horse or motorcycle (and occasionally in Egypt during WWI, on camels[1]). In the UK 'despatch rider' is also the most common term used for a motorcycle courier or messenger.

Despatch riders were used by armed forces to deliver urgent orders and messages between headquarters and military units. They had a vital role at a time when telecommunications were limited and insecure. They were also used to deliver carrier pigeons.


  • World War I 1
    • United Kingdom 1.1
    • Other Nations 1.2
  • World War II 2
  • Notable riders 3
  • Memoirs of riders 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

World War I

United Kingdom

In the British Army, motorcycle despatch riders were first used in the World War I by the Royal Engineers Signal Service. When the War Department called for motorcyclists to volunteer with their machines for despatch work at the start of August 1914, the response was huge.[2] The London office had 2000 more applicants than places, and a similar response was reported in regional centres around the country. If a rider and machine were approved then £10 was paid immediately, £5 to be paid on discharge (unless due to misconduct), and pay was 35s per week. The motor cycle would be taken over at valuation price, or will be replaced with a new one at the close of operations. Enlistment was for one year or as long as the war might last (at the time few people expected it would continue for 4 years). The preference was for 500cc single cylinder machines and the horizontally-opposed twin cylinder. All machines had to have a "change speed gear". The following list of spares was also required to be carried :

  • One valve complete with spring, washer and cotter
  • One sparking plug
  • One piston ring
  • A tyre repair outfit including spares for valve
  • A spare tube
  • A spare belt and fastener (if belt driven)
  • Spare link and a spare chain if chain-driven
  • Complete set of spares for the magneto
  • Selection of nuts and washers
  • Two valve cap washers (if used on machine)
  • Complete set of tools
  • Two gaiters for tyre repairs
  • A spare 'cover' to be carried by signal units for each machine (a tyre)

Recruitment was not just for the army; the Admiralty in Chatham bought 50 Triumphs in 1914 for despatch rider duties, and many unsuccessful applicants were accepted by Scotland Yard on different terms to patrol country district and distribute royal proclamations. These bikes carried a plate of the front with the lettering "O.H.M.S.".

As the war progressed the wide variety of volunteered machinery presented maintenance and spares problems, and so were progressively replaced by a limited range of military models, and in specific regions of the world or parts of the service only one of these models might be found, for example the RAF (formerly the RFC) exclusively used P&M motorcycles by the later stages of the war (they also included female riders).[3]

Other Nations

In August 1914 it was reported that the despatch riders for the Belgian and Russian armies were equipped exclusively with F.N. motor cycles.[4] However, one month later the Belgian government ordered 50 3 hp Enfield motorcycles for despatch riders. At this time the French Army were still mobilising, but it was reported they had a squad of Triumphs as well as a variety of French makes.[2] Douglas supplied 100 machines to the Italian Government for despatch purposes in 1916, and by this time the French despatch riders were also using BSAs and Triumphs.[5]

The US Army entered the war in 1917, and their messengers were equipped principally with Indian and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

In a September 1914 account it is stated that the French despatch riders, like the British, are equipped with a revolver, whereas their German counterparts are equipped with Mausers.[6]

World War II

A despatch rider delivers a message to the signals office of 1st Border Regiment at Orchies, France, 13 October 1939

During World War II despatch riders were often referred to as Don Rs (from phonetic for D in "DR") in Commonwealth forces.[7] In World War II, Royal Corps of Signals soldiers carried out the role and the Royal Signals Motorcycle Display Team was formed from their number. They were also used by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, where they maintained contact with land bases and some of the riders were members of the Women's Royal Naval Service. In the UK Bletchley Park used to receive transmissions from the listening stations (Y-stations) by despatch riders, although later this was switched to teleprinter transmission.

The British military often used Triumph, Norton, BSA, Matchless and Ariel for despatch riders, and although radio communications were much more advanced during WW II than WW I - huge numbers were produced (e.g. over 75,000 Norton 16H models).

Notable riders

Memoirs of riders

  • W. H. L. Watson. Adventures of a Motorcycle Despatch Rider During the First World War: ISBN 978-1-84685-046-2
  • Raymond Mitchell Commando Despatch Rider: ISBN 0-85052-797-X

See also


  1. ^ "Despatch Riders on Camels", The Motor Cycle, October 12th, 1916, p320
  2. ^ a b "Military Motor Cycle Notes", The Motor Cycle, August 13th, 1914
  3. ^ "A Visit to an RAF Reception Depot", The Motor Cycle, July 18th, 1918, p50
  4. ^ "The Home of the F.N.", The Motor Cycle, August 13th 1914, p225
  5. ^ The Motor Cycle, December 7th, 1916, p498
  6. ^ "With our fighting forces", The Motor Cycle, 10th September 1914, p334
  7. ^ "People's War". BBC. Retrieved 15 March 2011. 

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.