Arthur Elmer 1918-1983

We here at Barnstormers love hearing from, and about those who rode before us.
Here’s an article written by Les Elmer about his Dad, Arthur, and a couple of his exploits as a pioneer motorcyclist.
Les also kindly provided us with an article on the history of his S29-19 BSA here. Thanks Les

My Dad, Arthur, was born in September 1918. During the 1930’s, like many young men of his era, Dad rode a motorbike. Bikes were then cheaper to buy and run than the relatively more expensive motorcar.

Arthur Elmer (20yrs Old) with Levis in 1938

In 1938 prior to WWII, Dad rode a Levis 350 cc of which he was inordinately proud, as can plainly be seen from the snappy suit and his stance in this photo. Prior to this Dad owned an Indian Scout. Of course motorcycles were, and still today considered by many, inherently dangerous, although probably more so for the bike rather than the rider in the 1930’s, when speeds were slower and the mostly gravel roads less forgiving.

Dad had spills off both his machines, the most damaging when he came off the Levis and slid through a corner gate into a house garden, after finding an oil patch while cornering in Mackay, North Queensland, Australia. That escapade left him with a shattered leg, which went gangrenous in the heat, and which he came very close to losing, but thanks to the persistence of a local doctor who was determined to save it.

At the outset of WWII, Dad was called up into the Australian Army. Like many other private vehicles his much-loved Levis was also pressed into service for use as a Motorcycle Dispatch machine. Post-war he asked about its whereabouts and was told it had been abandoned somewhere in the Western Desert of the Sahara.

Dad was medically discharged from the Army after suffering a serious head injury in a farm accident in 1943 (While home on leave he was helping to harvest the sugar cane on the family farm €“ an activity specifically forbidden by the Army), and then in hospital for nearly a year.

After retraining as a carpenter and raising myself and my 4 siblings, he never rode a motorcycle again (with one exception), and was vociferously against me getting one, considering them far too dangerous. That of course made me more determined, and in 1972 I bought a 1971 Honda 350/4. Some two years later Dad decided he’d better take my modern bike for a ride, and went off very gingerly, looking rather like Ned Kelly wearing my matt-black Shoei full-face helmet.

Les Elmer (right hand side) and his 1971 Honda 350/4
Les Elmer (right hand side) and his 1971 Honda 350/4

He was gone for so long I was about to set off in my car to look for him thinking he’d probably fallen off, when I heard the rasp of the Honda’s 4-into-1 megaphone booming down our street. Dad was blipping the throttle as he changed down through the gears like a maestro, but my most abiding memory was the ear to ear grin that was clearly visible under the full-face helmet as he came through our gate. My 56-year-old Father, who hadn’t ridden a bike in over 35 years, confirmed what I now know myself, once motorcycles are in your blood, it’s a life-time love affair!

Sadly my Dad died in 1983, but not before he, my Mum and my younger brother did a world tour in 1981, when he got to visit the likes of the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, and his Dad€™s home village of Elmswell in Suffolk. The doctors in 1943 told my Grandad that Dad would never work outdoors again, and he therefore didn€™t inherit the family farm. However he defied that belief and went on to became a high quality joiner and cabinetmaker, later a builder, raising 5 kids, very much active and working right up to his death aged 64.