BEF Motorcycles - Formation Signs, Arm of Service Markings and Census Numbers.

Discussion in '1940' started by Rich Payne, Nov 12, 2011.

  1. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    The Corps AoS 74 is likely to indicate 103 Provost Company of 2 Corps as, according to Andrew's listing, they used a different sequence from the other two corps (although photographic evidence suggests that they had come into line by May 10th).

    The bikes are 1940 model year BSA M20s with the distinctive MT1130 tail lamps used for a short period.

    Edit 6/11/16 - Definitely 2 Corps. Brooke appears in several frames. FireShot Screen Capture #030 - 'Bef In France (1940).jpg
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2016
  2. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I'm not completely sure about this next image. It could show the white diamond of 12th Division applied to the leading edge of the abandoned BSA's fuel tank, or it might just be a trick of the light.

    Placement and size are unusual for BEF markings but I've posted it as it's a possible record of a division that appears little in the photographic record.

    C4141375 revised.JPG
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2019
  3. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Another detail shot showing the 2 Corps sign displayed on a Triumph amongst the salvaged motorcycles on the beach at Malo les Bains.

    Detail 2 Corps.JPG

    The machine behind might just be showing the 2nd Div 'Crossed Keys'.

    A variation on the 2 Corps Formation Sign on the rear number plate of a 1940 Model BSA WM20 which leaves unanswered the question of where the Arm of Service serial might have been displayed, perhaps on the front number plate blade only as the fuel tank doesn't seem to have been a standard location with the BEF.
    WM20 2 Corps (2).jpg

    This appears to be yet another variation on the 2 Corps positioning. Although in German hands, this BSA M20 appears unaltered by the captors. The leading edge of the front mudguard appears to have the 'brook' wavy lines. Interestingly, the census number C4106060 appears to have been obscured on the front number plate blade, leaving only the earlier serial on the fuel tank.
    C4106060 (2).jpg

    'Rewdco' has pointed out that the machine in post #37 shows the movement serial coloured bands on the front mudguard and it may be that the bike above has these rather than a 2 Corps formation sign. It looks to me as if there are three light coloured and two dark coloured bands but the possibilty that this is not a 2 Corps marking should be considered.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2020
  4. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    Postwar WD motorcycle auction but a good illustration on variation of census markings placement, none are the same !

    Attached Files:

  5. Noel Burgess

    Noel Burgess Senior Member

    In post 24's picture - is that gas paint on the top half of the headlamps of the 3 facing forward in front centre of the picture?
  6. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    It does look like it Noel. Post 22 also shows gas paint on the headlamp.

    The styles of census number do vary a lot but there seem to be three basic styles when it comes to BEF-era machines - RAOC with the 'C' above and the shorter RASC series with 'C' in front. The jury is still out on exactly when black backgrounds ceased to be used.
  7. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    This close-up shows the burned-out wrecks of a Norton (which appears to be an OHV Model 18 to WD specification) and WM20 BSA at De Panne. They both display the 3rd Infantry Division sign on a round background

    Kapellelaan (Chapel Road) (2).jpg

    Slightly unusually, these markings appear to be painted over the original census numbers which were left hand side only at that time.
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2019
  8. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Another unrestored (but sadly incomplete) ex-BEF motorcycle has turned up in France. This is the front mudguard from a 1940 WM20 BSA.


    The circular green panel seems unusual and the AoS serial '16' indicates HQ of an infantry division's second brigade. Unfortunately, the fuel tank is missing and it may not be possible to identify which division but there may be some remains of a Movement code on the guard that will require careful investigation.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2016
    sparky2 likes this.
  9. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    An example of a Movement Serial applied to the front mudguard of a Norton :-

    15030 4 AA Bde Sig Sec (2).jpg

    '15030' indicating the fairly recently arrived 4th Anti-aircraft Brigade Signals Section. These Movement serials were generally painted over fairly quickly after arrival and are most frequently seen on 1st Armoured Division's vehicles (also recent arrivals to the BEF)

    ...a bit more detail on the markings thread.

    An earlier example of a recently arrived BEF Norton with movement serial still visible :-

    1132 2 Fd Regt RA SD.jpg

    '1132' indicates 2nd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.

    I don't know where this image came from. My apologies to the owner.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020
  10. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    This captured WM20 BSA alongside two French H35s is captioned 'Nach Abbeville' which might suggest that the bike was originally with 51st Division as they fought alongside the French near Abbeville. If so, the '9' on a pale background (probably RE Cobalt Blue) would indicate 237 Field Company RE
    BSA WM20 RE AoS 9.jpg

    It doesn't appear to be a stencilled marking.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020
  11. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    A column from 1st Infantry Division's 13th/18th Royal Hussars showing the divisional formation sign (also visible on the carriers) applied to the offside of the Norton's fuel tank.
    Mobile Column 1939 (2).JPG

    This appears to have been a common location for the marking on 1st Infantry Division machines.
    A 1939 C9999999 DR 1 Corps 16.3.40 IWM F3095 (2).jpg
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020
  12. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Another 1 Corps Norton, this time with a large-sized spearhead stencilled on the front mudguard. It would seem likely that this photograph was taken during the phoney war period. Early spring of 1940 in a French farmyard seems likely.
    C49084 (2).jpg

    The markings on the fuel tank will probably remain a mystery. Census number is from an 'Impressed' series but the machine looks to be a standard WD specification Norton 16H. The headlamp mask appears to have been cut from scrap card.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020
  13. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Another view of the post-evacuation motorcycle collection point in De Panne.
    23 + 37.jpg

    In general, vehicles abandoned around this town appear to have been from 4th Infantry Division (who used a unique set of Arm of Service serials), 3rd Infantry Division and 2 Corps.

    There are two Nortons clearly visible. One displaying '37' with no higher command bars. This points towards 4th Division's 11th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company and would have been on a green background.

    The '23' could be from almost any other BEF infantry division and would indicate (on brown) the third battalion of the junior brigade. If from 3rd Division as is most probable, it would have belonged to 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles.

    Just on the edge of the print is a '5' on a horizontally divided background which can only be a Royal Artillery sign. It will be the third field regiment of an infantry division (but not 4 Div as they didn't use this serial). If, once again it were to be 3rd Division then 33 Field Regt. RA.

    Rather a lot of guesswork here which highlights the difficulties if no Formation Sign is visible. The picture does though give some general clues regarding BEF signs and confirms that the use of the recently vacated rear number plate was one of the most common locations for a hand-painted Arm of Service serial.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020
  14. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    What appears to be another 4th Infantry Division sign on the Norton in the back of a Morris-Commercial.
    14 Atk Regt RA De Panne (2).JPG

    The white mudguard tip is quite common with 4th Division vehicles in general and there appears to be a circular sign with a quarter division. If this is indeed 4th Div (and the De Panne location makes it likely) then the machine will have belonged to 14 Anti-tank Regt. RA. The establishment of an infantry division anti-tank regiment included 37 motorcycles.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020
    Owen likes this.
  15. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    I wonder if it's still there ! Norton combination , you don't see many of these around the Dunkirk beaches , looks like has a number X2 but no AOS.


    Attached Files:

    • $_57.jpg
      File size:
      92.5 KB
  16. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I'm sure that they would have carted that one away. The AoS plate has indeed become lost or removed. It looks to have a circular mark where that of 50th Division was applied and with the X2 marking, it can only be 4th RNF...'X' Company. The war diary records that they donated their remaining 17 outfits to a French motorcycle unit when they departed. That may explain the removal of the AoS marking.
  17. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    1 Corps once again, this time on a late 1939 BSA KM20. There appears to have been no instruction as to which way the spearhead on the flank of the mudguard should point...Perhaps the fact that they weren't sure which way to face was actually an indication of how things were to be after 10th May....

    C3915648 - Tidied.jpg
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020
  18. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Two BSA M20s and a Norton 16H. The Norton appears to have a wooden case mounted on the carrier, pre-empting the official panniers.

    Once again, the Arm of Service serial is displayed on the rear number plate bracket. It has to be Royal Artillery - but it looks to be blue over red... with GHQ bar under.

    32 Army Field Regt. RA.png

    '14' indicates 32 Army Field Regt. RA who were attached to 2 Corps and supported 3rd Division at Leuven on the Dyle line.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020
  19. idler

    idler GeneralList

    It's probably a result of the photographer using a filter or an older orthochromatic film which gives a different response to the spectrum:

    Rich Payne likes this.
  20. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Confirmation of the 3 Corps fig leaf on the front quarter of a fuel tank again. Both these abandoned machines appear to be Triumph 3SWs - that in the foreground has a census number beginning C39177** (Contract C4631 - a September 1939 RASC contract).
    Triumph 3SW C39177 3 Corps (2).JPG
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020

Share This Page