Friday, 16 March 2018

Walking In Bill's Footsteps: 1940 France

I'm going to build this one in stages.  Putting together the research in order to eventually build a map of my grandfather's path through 1940s France will take some time.

The goal is to work out how my granddad, William Morris, worked his way through France as the British Expeditionary Force and the French military collapsed under the weight of the German Blitzkrieg during the Battle of France.

What I know so far:  
Bill was already a member of the RAF when the war began.  He was able to operate everything from heavy trucks to motorbikes and found himself supplying Hurricane squadrons in France as a heavy lorry operator.  Being stationed in France as a part of the British Expeditionary force in 1939/40when the Blitzkrieg began he started to make his way to the coast.  He got close to Dunkirk at the end of May but the chaos made it look like a bad idea, so he kept pushing south, avoiding the fast moving German Panzer divisions that were pushing into France in huge leaps.
The rough map so far on Granddad Bill's escape from German occupied France in 1940

Sinking of the Lancastria in the National Maritime Museum
He got down to St  Nazaire by mid-June and witnessed the sinking of the Lancastria - where more people were killed in a single sinking than in the combined losses of the Titanic and the Lusitania; it's the largest single maritime loss of life in British history.

By this point it must have seemed like the world was ending.  Here's a quote from the man himself:

“When Paris was made a free city (June 11th) the British Expeditionary Force had to evacuate and make for St. Nazaire. The roads were clogged with retreating troops and equipment. What couldn't be carried was destroyed. We arrived in St. Nazaire in the afternoon just in time to see the ship that was to carry us out destroyed by dive bombers. An officer directing traffic suggested we try to make for Brest. We arrived there two days later just as the last ship was preparing to leave, I had to leave my German Shepherd behind on the docks as there was no room for her on the boat.”

Bill got out of France through Brest on June 13th, 1940 - over two weeks after Dunkirk.  From May to June, 1940, Granddad saw more of France than he probably intended.  His unit was disbanded due to losses, but I'm not sure which squadron he was attached to.  A number of them were decimated trying to battle BF109s with biplanes.  The few Hurricane squadrons could stand up to the Messerschmidts but were badly out numbered and inexperienced.  If the documents I've got are accurate and he was providing support to a Hurricane squadron east of Paris, then there are a number of candidate RAF squadrons who were based around Reims.

At some point the planes and air crews must have taken off and left the support people, including Bill, to try and find their own way out.  He had been missing for so long and so many British soldiers were lost in the Battle of France, that he was declared missing or dead.  When he got back on British soil and was given leave, Bill headed straight home to Sheringham in Norfolk where he waited on the street for my grandmother to walk by on her way to work.  She must have been stunned to see that ghost standing there.  Bill always had a flare for the dramatic.

This is the opening chapter in a war story Bill never talked about, but I've been trying to piece back together from existing details.  A couple of interesting things could come out of this...

1)  Build up a map of Bill's route through France in 1940.  Put together a collection of World War 2 era British bikes and ride them from the air field he was stationed at and follow the meandering route he may have followed, stopping at the places we have evidence he was, eventually ending where he escaped the continent.  I've got two brothers and several cousins, all direct relatives of Bill's, who could do this ride with me.

Films like Chris Nolan's Dunkirk shine a light on the often ignored
early moments of World War 2.  There is more work to be done.
We could do it on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of France in May and June of 2020.  It's a forgotten moment in the war that is often misunderstood and mocked historically.  The French didn't surrender (in fact they bloodied the nose of an otherwise technically superior German force and vitally weakened it prior to the Battle of Britain.  There would have been hundreds more German planes and thousands more personnel available for the Battle of Britain had the French military and British Expeditionary Force not fought as they had in France.  Bill's journey would be an opportunity to highlight a lot of that forgotten and misunderstood history.

2)  This is the first part of William Morris's rather astonishing path through World War 2.  His improbably survival (he was the member of multiple units that got disbanded due being decimated in battle) is the only reason I'm here today, so I find it fascinating.  Had Granddad not survived the war he would never have fathered my mum in 1946.  Our family exists as it does today because of his survival.  A longer term goal would be to put together a based on true events story of Bill's experiences during the war, from his time in occupied France, to his work retrieving wrecks during the Battle of Britain, to his years in the desert in the later half of the war, his story sheds light on a working man's experience in the military.  So often the attention has been on the wealthier officer class of pilots and commanders, but this is a look at World War Two from the trenches (so to speak).

3) If the book got written, it'd make for one heck of a TV or film series!

Meanwhile, the research continues...

The Norton 16H in RAF blue (once the war began they
just churned out army green ones).  The TV show would
have myself and my cousins - all the current descendents
of Bill Morris, following his trek through 1940s France.

Norton 16H in RAF colours (up to 1940, army green after that…)


Triumph Tiger 100 (not used in service but might have been found in 1940s France)
1940 Battle of France WW2 RESEARCH:

A paper I wrote for a history course at university in 1996:

Statistics on the Battle of France:

Bloodiest Battles of WW2:

The WW2 soldiers France has forgotten
Aircrafts and bases of the Royal Air Force on May 10, 1940

Get a copy of military service records:

RAF french bases in 1940 May - by June they were all gone...
Berry-au-Bac (France)
Merville (France)
Douai (France)
Poix (France)
Rosieres-en-Saneterre (France)
Reims (France)
Lille (France)
Betheniville (France)
Villeneuve-les-Vertus (France)
Conde-Vraux (France)
Berry-au-Bac (France)
Reims (France)
Vintry-en-Artois (France)
Abbeville (France)

RAF in France 1940, (Fighting against Odds)

Hurricane Squadrons in the Battle of France
"British losses in the Battle for France:  68,111 killed in action, wounded or captured. Some 64,000 vehicles destroyed or abandoned and 2,472 guns destroyed or abandoned."

Armée de l'Air - Order of Battle, 10th May 1940

Traces of World War 2 - Royal Air Force, Battle of France 1940

RAF base Marham history

Royal Air Force - Order of Battle, France, 10th May 1940

A simulation of the Battle of France in 1940:

Mapping the Maginot line RAF supporting stations in France:

Association Maison Rouge


Moto-raids into occupied France (from a January 1941 article): might be good as a chapter piece between the BoF, the Battle of Britain and heading off to the desert...

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Installing LED lighting on the ZG1K Rat Bike

The mighty ZG1K modified Concours is just about done.  I've been plumbing the depths of the wiring loom working out how to integrate LED headlights and indicators into a 1994 electrical harness based on much less efficient bulbs.  Jumping into the future like that freaked out the existing flasher relay that manages how quickly they blink.  

If you're running big, old, inefficient bulbs, you get a nice steady indicator and hazard flash because those bulbs are heavy loads on the circuit.  The LEDs barely use anything at all by comparison, so suddenly the indicator relay is flashing so quickly it looks like a strobe light.

There are various ways to address this, but I think the easiest is to get an adjustable flasher relay (ten bucks on Amazon).  It plugs directly into the harness and can be adjusted for an indicator as quick or slow as you like.

I've still got to wire up the horn and headlights, but the bike is close to finished wiring wise.  I hope to be out later in the week checking off the other details and making sure everything is ready to go.  It has always been a quick bike, but now it's a ninety pound lighter quick bike.  I'm looking forward to seeing what it can do when it's finally road ready.

The ZG1K started out as a café racer conversion, but the muscular feel of the big-4 Kawasaki engine and the heavy duty frame made it look like more of a drag racer than a café racer.  Once I'd stripped it down I went with what I had.  If it had been a light weight single or twin engined machine then the café racer angle would have worked.  Had that been the case I would have gone with a finished, painted look, but once I started down the muscle bike route I started thinking it'd look better as a Mad Max themed post apocalypse rat bike.  Seeing Fury Road was how it got renamed the ZG1K Fury.

Mad Max: Fury Road isn't short on motorcycle inspiration.  The art direction in that film is amazing.

The paint on the bike wasn't too bad (it was rattle can but nicely finished and badged), but I ended up taking a sander to the tank one day and liked the result with the Kawasaki decal half sanded off; it felt much more radioactive that way.

With the old style round headlight but running LEDS and the stainless steel, drilled mounts I made for it, the bike looks old fashioned and rough but with weirdly futuristic details.  The rear lights look like they come out of Battlestar Galactica, but then the rest of the body panels (only where they are needed to cover up plumbing or electronics) are finished in some cut aluminum from the heat-shield that fell off my Mazda a couple of years ago.  Once committed to the rough look, I went looking for ways to stay consistent to it.  Ironically, the least ratty thing about the bike are the refinished and painted rims I had done before these whole thing started with a carb failure.  They never went on the original bike while it was on the road and they are by far the most perfect feature on this one that aims for imperfection.

Technical and aesthetic ideas for the custom bike were collected on a Pinterest board:

Once I've got everything together it'll be a review of all the main systems to make sure everything it tight and works well.  I'll bleed the brakes, make sure the engine is tight and dependable and then see how often I can get out on the thing.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

9 Days in March: Exploring The Ozarks

Next week is on or about freezing up here in the never ending winter.  Friday is looking like it might be a possibility with a current suggestion of seven degrees Celsius.  I can handle seven degrees.

In a more perfect world I'd be heading out of work today, jumping in the van and driving south to where things get yellow and orange on the map.

If I was on the road by 3:30pm, I think I could manage the eleven hour drive to St Louis by just past 2am.  I'd park up the van and have a sleep and aim for a morning departure from St Louis aiming South West into the Ozarks.

Seven days of following the twisting roads of the Ozarks would make for a brilliant March Break.  I'd aim to get back up to the hotel in St. Louis the next Saturday and spend one more night there before making the drive back into the frozen north on the Sunday before we're back at work again.  A day of driving, 7 days on the bike, a day driving back.

Yes, please!

Them's some nice March temperatures, especially compared to ours...

Ozarks Resources:

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Finding a State of Flow in Motorcycling

I just finished Guy Martin's autobiography.  Towards the end of the book he talks about taking a non-rider around a road racing track in Ireland.  The show had a psychologist on hand who talked about the seeming insanity of motorcycle road racing.  Rather than just seeing it as adrenaline junkie speed thrills, the psychologist talks about the state of flow and how an athlete in it isn't in a risk mind-set.  The state of flow is an expanded awareness that most people have insufficient training and skill to be familiar with.  The extreme athlete isn't riding a wave of thrill, they wouldn't be able to perform if they did.

Stressed but prepared athletes enter a state of flow where they are so engaged with what they are doing that they disappear into their actions.  This isn't an act of imagination where they are thinking about what they look like from the outside, it's self awareness through the act itself.  This is a truer mirror of the self than any imaginative act.  

Many people consider self awareness to be this moment of recognition where you're constructing how you think you fit into the world around you, but this is ultimately fictional and prone to psychological abstraction.  A doubting person won't see themselves as they are any more than an arrogant person would.  It might provide you with a vague sense of your place in the world, but it isn't trustworthy.

Bull Durham is one of my favourite sports films.  The moment when Crash Davis catches himself thinking when he should only be a quick bat is a great example of an athlete being aware of a break in their state of flow.
Awareness in the state of flow has much more in common with the long tradition of Zen and other Eastern philosophies where the practitioner's sense of self is lost in the act.  But being lost in that act allows you to live in the moment more completely.  Instead of thinking about what might happen next or self-criticizing while performing, someone in the state of flow isn't conscious in the typical manner.  The wasted energy spent on consciously being self aware is instead spend in the activity itself; the activity becomes who you are.

When a talking head asks an athlete what they were thinking about when they were performing, the athlete always seems confused by the question.  When they ask if the audience was a factor in their performance they are baffled.  If you're rolling ideas around in your head while you're trying to perform you know you're not at peak performance, you're not the moment itself.

One of the reasons I enjoy riding motorcycles is because I've been doing it long enough that I can get into the process and become a part of the ride.  Zen monks use physical tasks like sweeping the floor to put themselves into the present.  I find riding a motorcycle does the same thing for me.  The complexity of using all of my limbs and my whole body to operate the machine allows me to let go of my conscious self and become something more.  

In a more extreme case like Guy Martin's, he is able to get into a flow state while doing almost two hundred miles an hour on a motorbike on a public road.  This can seem like breath taking daredevilry, but it isn't, it's a master in the state of flow.  The mind is clear, you're aware of more than you ever can be when you're looking through the pinched viewpoint of your conscious mind.

That expansive state of awareness is what happens when you're in flow, and it feels wonderful.  You can see out of the back of your head and your body seems capable of reflexes that would confound you if you tried them consciously.  If you've ever experienced that moment of bliss,  you know it's worth finding again.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Photos from the Winter Road

These are some video screen grabs from the long way home commute from work last week.  Windy and cool, but still up near ten degrees Celsius with bright, winter sunshine.  The roads were relatively sand and salt free thanks to days of rain and floods.  The Ricoh Theta 360 camera is wrapped around the mirror with a Gorilla Pod.  A 360 video clip to start off followed by some photoshop post production...


All the screen grabs with various modifications can be found in this album.

If you're looking for a motorcycle friendly camera, the Theta 360 has push button controls that are easy to use (most others have finicky wireless connections through a smartphone).  You don't have to aim it or focus it, it just grabs everything in an instant.  The screen grabs on here are from the 1080 video the Theta made while attached to the rear view mirror.

My last ride was November 28th, so this was a soul destroying thirteen weeks between rides.  I really need to find somewhere twelve months a year motorcycle friendly.  There's another bucket list goal:  live somewhere where I can ride for an entire year without having to take three miserable months off.

On the upside, it won't be 13 weeks until I'm riding again...

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Stealing One Back From Winter II

I stole one from February last year.  This year the weather aligned again and I was able to get a ride in between snow storms.

It was a cold commute in before 8am, about freezing, but clear and sunny.  I took it on the chin knowing that it'd be worth it on the way home.

Coming out of work past 4pm it was about 10°C and windy, but I can go all day in ten degrees.  I took the long way home, 27 kilometres of leafless trees, rivers with cubist banks of ice shoved into  the new mud by our recent floods, and a sky so winter blue that it wriggles before your eyes; all while leaning into fifty kilometre hour gusts of wind.  It was glorious!

I can still operate the bike without a thought, but I missed all sorts of apexes.  I'm rusty with neglect.

Note the snow pile in the middle of the road....

The smug I-stole-one-from-winter face

Icy verge

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Vanmageddon: It must be February

It's getting to be that time of year again - months of snow bound Ragnarok motorbike hibernation are making me twitchy.  I like winter generally, it offers a very different and sometimes beautiful view of the world, but when motorcycling has become your go-to stress reliever, being out of the saddle for months is a source of pressure.  If you look at the seasonal leanings of this blog, you'll see winter generally leads to yearning.

This time around the fixation is on the Mercedes Metris Van.  I've previously looked at Ford Transits from a Guy Martin point of view, and other small van options for moving bikes to where I can use them.  The Metris has the benefit of being as efficient as the little vans but can swallow the Tiger with room to spare.  The other little vans would required a tight squeeze if it'd fit at all.

Another benefit of the Metris is that you can customize it to your needs and it'll still go everywhere a normal vehicle will.  It's also surprisingly competitive in price to the Ford and Dodge/Fiat options.  So, what would I do with the only Mercedes I've ever been interested in buying?

Last year at pretty much this exact same time I was mapping out waterfalls in Virginia.  The drive down to Roanoke is about 11 hours.  With the Tiger in the back I'd have left right after work and been in Roanoke by midnight.  After a good sleep and breakfast and I'd be out all weekend making use of those lovely temperatures while chasing spring powered waterfalls across the Appalachians.  After a good ride Sunday I'd have a big dinner then head back into the frozen wastelands of the north getting in after mid-night, but I'd have the Monday of the long weekend to get back on it again.

All told that'd be about 2000kms in the van and another six hundred or so miles riding in the spring blooming mountains.  If I could convince the family to come along, they could crash in the hotel or jump on the back and come along.

I've been reading Guy Martin's autobiography and his van powered wandering to motorcycling events all over the UK and Europe seem entirely doable, if you only have that van.  He seems to be able to fit an improbably amount into a very limited amount of time simply by getting himself there and then getting himself home again.

It's a good read that trips right along.  I enjoyed the narrative flow of the follow up book When You Dead You Dead more (I read it first), but you quickly fall into Guy-speak and feel like you're sitting in a pub with him hearing the tale.  If you like motorcycles and racing it's brilliant.  If you just like a good story well told, it'll do that too.