Film ID: YFA 100 Video of YFA100 Dear Sergeant or the Story of Rough Riding Motorcycing Course DEAR SERGEANT OR THE STORY OF ROUGH RIDING MOTORCYCLING COURSE 1944 Visitor TabsDescription Set in and around the grounds of Wentworth Hall, South Yorkshire, this film captures soldiers’ wartime training to become motorcycle riders. The film includes footage of the riders on the extensive training course. Credits: ‘Produced under the supervision of Capt. A Maynard-Taylor and the co-operation of the M T staff and trainees. Sequence of training Sgt. Plume J C. Production and photography PTE Chislett Chas. I.’ The film opens in the winter when the soldiers arrive by train at Wentworth Station. They carry with them their kit bags. Once at the Hall, they march across the yard. The next morning as a soldier plays Reveille on the bugle, the Hall grounds can be seen with deer and the main part of the Hall in the distance. Some soldiers make their way over to the washroom, and a cat is outside washing itself. Intertitle: ‘After breakfast they do their best to make us look more like motor-cyclists’ The soldiers are lined up outside for inspection and all wear motorcycle helmets, long waterproof coats. They then march off. Intertitle: ‘After the initial lecture on do’s and don’ts we get down to business’ Soldiers wheel out their motorcycles, and some start riding around the Hall grounds. The season has changed as now the trees can be seen in full bloom. A group gather around an instructor who goes through the various parts of the motorcycle. They then practice kick starting their motorcycles, and one soldier nearly falls over. While riding around the track, the instructors look on. Many of the soldiers are struggling, and one falls off his bike. Intertitle: ‘A section is soon promoted to the gear-changing track’. They continue their training going over the grass and gaining in confidence. A group of them line up their bikes on their stands and march off. The film shows the crest of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute (NAAFI). They next practice slaloms, using sticks stuck into the ground. Intertitle: ‘Eventually we take to the road!!’ Near a village, a road sign shows a major road ahead and a sign for a school. Various other road signs are shown in close up. The riders emerge onto a road where they are overtaken by a truck carrying coal. The instructor brings them to a stop, and they line up against the curb. Intertitle: ‘The correct convoy distance of twenty feet feels very short at first’ The motorcyclists ride in convoy along a country road when one of the bikes has some difficulties and comes to a stop. The instructor goes back to see why he is having trouble. He makes an adjustment to the bike and gets it going again. Intertitle: ‘The other had lagged behind and then tried to catch up!’ A motorcyclist and his bike have crashed in a ditch on the side of a road. Again the instructor returns to find out why they are having trouble. The rider gets up, a bit groggy, and the instructor pulls his bike out. The convoy continues on its way. Intertitle: ‘And so we live and learn’ The soldiers have a break in a café called Fieldsends before continuing on. The instructor shows them how to stop and start on a steep slope using the throttle and clutch, and they then each in turn practice doing this. A truck drives past carrying milk urns. Intertitle: ‘In time the convoy speeds up, and meet problems of weather and traffic with growing confidence’ Outside in the winter with a snow-covered ground, the riders are lined up trying to kick start their bikes. They ride through a town, but one rider has trouble kick starting his bike. An instructor impressively fires the motorcycle up with a running start. Intertitle: ‘Early days on the “rough’’’ A group are shown how to ride while standing up on the pedals. They then practice over rough terrain, and one rider ends up in a bush. They are then shown how to turn around on a grassy hill by getting off the bike and using the brakes. They practice going through very muddy terrain before being allowed time for a smoking break. Intertitle: ‘By the time we graduate to the slag heaps they are more interesting than sinister’ A couple of riders ride over large slag heaps. Intertitle: ‘Once you can deal with a ‘stall’ on a hill no graduate need worry you . . much’ An instructor shows a group of riders how to deal with stalling when going up a steep slag heap. They are instructed to lay the bike down, turn it around by pulling on the handlebars and front wheel mud guard, and jump starting it going back down again. The soldiers practice this, and one of the riders ends up with the bike on top of him. An instructor shows them how to go down a very steep embankment. Intertitle: ‘Mud, sand and water each calls for special technique’ They practice driving over sand, waterlogged ground, and dusty off road track. Intertitle: ‘Plume’s revenge’ Driving through some tricky woodland paths, the riders eventually return to the Hall. Intertitle: ‘The finished product’ A group of riders line up in the yard to receive their tokens for having successfully completed the training. They then go off for a ride, again making their way through woodland paths, expertly dealing with very difficult terrain. At one point, a group of them pose for the camera. The End. Context This is one of very many films, covering a period spanning the years 1930 to 1967, made by Rotherham filmmaker Charles Chislett. The Chislett Film Collection held at the YFA consists of nearly 100 films, about half directly relating to Yorkshire, the rest mainly holiday films from around the world. Chislett made many types of films: documentary, fiction, and family portraits. Chislett was an active member of the CPAS and made many films commissioned by them. Some of his other films are also on YFA Online, including: Men of Steel (1948), Dale Days with the CPAS (1951), Dale Days(1941) and New Lives for Old(1951) – there is more on Charles Chislett in the Context for these other films. It is not known whether Chislett made this film through a commission or whether he made it under his own initiative – it being located near where he lived. As can be seen from the film, Chislett was already at this time a highly skilled filmmaker – with the training being filmed from many different locations – and so it could easily be either of these. Certainly the Armed Forces did commission films to promote their work, provide instructions or to boost morale However, these were usually carried out by more professional filmmakers and under the auspices of the Ministry of Information – see the Context on New Towns for Old (1942). The Army did have its own Film Unit, which in 1942 made a fictional film, called Special Dispatch, about a 'day in the life' of a Royal Corps of Signals Despatch rider – this film, and similar ones, can be found with the Imperial War Museum. Although motorcycle riders sometimes can be seen in films made by War Pictorial News, this film may be unique in documenting the training of motorcycle riders for the military. It is not known exactly where part of the training took place, although, given that Wentworth House is the base, perhaps partly in the hills near Barnsley and north of Sheffield. The film was made in 1944, although, judging by the motorcycles and headgear, it looks as if it could have been 1940 or 1941. Given that the training seems to begin in the summer and finishes in the summer, having gone through training during the winter, it clearly straddles two years. Within the vast literature on the Second World War, relatively little seems to have been written about motorcycle dispatch riders (sometimes spelt despatch). Yet is was an extremely arduous and dangerous job: having to go out all year around in all weather conditions, often during bombing raids, and sometimes over very difficult terrain. It might involve collecting bombs or cases of live ammunition. Many dispatch riders come under the Navy, Army and Airforce Institute; but there was also the Royal Armoured Service Corps, or Royal Corps of Signals, Dispatch Riders, Military Police motorcyclists, and the Women’s' Royal Navy Dispatch Riders. In fact many women were dispatch riders, with the first four Wren motorcyclists entering service in 1939, attached to the Intelligence Department. One woman’s story of being a dispatch rider, Anne Hyland, can be found on the BBC’s WW2 People’s War webpages. Dispatch riders were first used on the Western Front in the First World War, usually riding Triumph Model H motorcycles. During the Second World War they re-emerged, although motorcycle Battalions were not really dispatch riders (which some claim only applies to Royal Signals). In the First World War they were vital where there was no wireless communication. Germany employed motorcycle riders extensively in a combat role, and this become true for other countries as well. Given the wide variety of terrains that these motorcyclists in the film train on, and the high level of skill they acquire, they would have probably been trained for operations abroad, perhaps for the final push in 1944-45, and their role may well have been either reconnaissance or combat. At the time Wentworth House was being used by the Intelligence Corps of the Northern Command. The motorcycles being ridden in the film are not that easy to identify – at least for anyone under a certain age – but look most like Matchless G3s, a single cylinder 350cc ohv. The ones being used in the film predate the G3L, made in 1942, which had telescopic front forks. However, although the Army stipulated a minimum 350cc, they may be the smaller 250cc G2D which were allowed for training purposes. Matchless may have been chosen because they were lighter than most bikes, and so better for off-road riding, and these were possibly the most popular British military motorcycle of the Second World War. The majority of motorcycles used by the British military were pre-war civilian models, and so unsuited to off-road riding. Among the makers that were used, besides Matchless, were Ariel, BSA, Norton, Royal Enfield, Triumph and Velocette. Britain did also receive Harley Davidson’s from the U.S., as part of the supplies they sent after the introduction of the Lend-Lease programme in March 1941. The models used had only minor modifications done to them during the war, often so that sidecars could be attached. In fact by the time that new war specifications came out in 1944 the war was almost over. The riders can all be seen wearing fibre-shell safety helmets issued by the British Army to armoured fighting vehicle crews of the Royal Armoured Corps, Dispatch Riders and Military Police motorcyclists. Prior to these ordinary Army helmets, Mk.II steel helmets, were worn – but these were as much of a danger as a form of protection: according to one contributor to the WW2Talk website, ‘they blew back when riding and broke necks when falling off’! Later on, in 1941, the Mk.II D.R. steel helmet was issued – with a shell similar to the airborne helmet. The location for the training, Wentworth House, also known as Wentworth Woodhouse, has an intriguing history. Like many country houses it was requisitioned for the duration of the war by the army – others were used for hospitals, by schools and as homes for evacuees. Began in 1725 by Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Malton and later Marquess of Rockingham, it was built in stages to compete with its neighbour, and family rival, Stainborough Hall. It is in two parts: the West Front, hidden from view, and the East Front, seen in the film, which, at 600 feet, is the longest façade in Europe. Altogether it has 365 rooms, and from 1949 to 1974 it gave a home to The Lady Mabel College of Physical Education. In 1972 the 10th and last Earl Fitzwilliam had the bulk of Wentworth’s records burnt in a bonfire that apparently blazed night and day for three weeks. The tale of why he would want to destroy the private papers of the 7th, 8th and 9th earls who lived at Wentworth, is told by Catherine Bailey, summarised by Tim Rayment in the Sunday Times (see References and Further Information). At the time of writing (June 2009) Wentworth House is in private hands. References David Ansell, The Illustrated History of Military Motorcycles, Osprey, London, 1996. Roy bacon, The A-Z of british Motorcycles from the1930s, 1940s, 1950s, The Promotional Reprint Co., 1989. John Martin Robinson, The Country House at War, Bodley Head, London, 1989. Online forum on the Second World War Wren dispatch riders Tim Rayment Sunday Times Further Information Catherine Bailey, Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty,Viking, 2007.