Article by Phil Hannah for Pegasus Magazine
Who, and what, are the Airborne Forces Riders?
Q. Is this group just for ex-Airborne and not serving soldiers?
A. Absolutely, definitely NO!!
Q. Then what’s it all about, what do they do, how can I join, do I need a bike?
A. Read on…
Since the article in the last edition of Pegasus there has been a lot of interest in the Airborne Forces Riders. So, this article is to give you the gen on who we are, and what we are.
First and foremost, it is not a biker gang! It is not even a motorcycle club. I’ll explain later in the article why this is important. The idea of forming the Airborne Forces Riders came, as most of these things do, out of completely unrelated events. In 2014 the anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem took place and a few ex-Airborne brothers decided to attend. Most of us post-war veterans, as with most of the serving soldiers of today, hadn’t been to Arnhem despite, in many ways, it being our spiritual shrine. I well remember doing my very best, in the 1970s, to skive out of every commemorative jump into Arnhem in favour of a night in the Naafi Club (Roundabout Club) or the Globetrotter Pub. Managed it with a 100% record too!! (by the way, it is true! They say as you get older you don’t regret what you did…you regret what you didn’t do!!)
Anyway in 2014, considerably older and just a little wiser I felt, as did many others, that we should pay our respects at the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem. I went with the family and took our caravan, while others rode over on their motorcycles. We had a ball. The people of Arnhem were fantastic and I was stunned by the respect and friendliness that they gave to Airborne Forces even now.
“We ought to do that every year” says Mick Cornish (ex CSM, 3 Para), so he starts to organise. In the meantime the boys are starting to talk about the Ride to the Wall the following month. The Ride to the Wall is the annual ride to the National Arboretum, usually on the first Saturday in October, to pay respects to the fallen since WW2. It has become a massive ride with, on average, 5000plus motorbikes and a couple of thousand extra visitors in cars. All funds raised go to the running of the Arboretum and it is now the biggest fund raiser they have, by far. So, the usual “are you going?”, “I might, are you?” sort of conversation takes place and before long an RV has been arranged.
“We should do this every year”. So, now we have two events in the diary. Add the two together and the germ of an idea starts to form. But, up to now, it is just us riding to an RV. There is nothing concrete.
We decided, if we are going to Arnhem that we might as well travel together. Mick had organized with the local motorcycle group for us to ride to the smaller cemeteries to pay our respects to our departed airborne brothers who are not in the large cemeteries, but were buried where they fell in smaller, local cemeteries. Up to this point very few had been visited by anyone other than family.
On the Saturday, Mick had arranged for the Dutch Red Beret Riders (their Airborne Forces Riders) to escort us to the dropping zone at Ginkel Heath. They escorted us there, us in our mixed dress of leathers, cuts and vests. You name it and someone had it on. The Dutch boys, on the other hand looked strangely smart. Something about them. They were all dressed for riding but something made them look smart, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I put it down to the fact that the Dutch people always seem to look smart!
Once we got to Ginkel Heath the answer appears. They took off their riding jackets and every one of them is wearing a red hoodie, with their crest on the breast, and to a man they look superb. On go their berets to finish off the emsemble and boy, do they look good.
Now those of us in business, and to a degree, serving soldiers know the old maxim “Where possible use the “product of previous endeavour”. In other words, if someone has done it, and it was done well, and it works, then do it the same way until you find a better way. So, another idea starts…kit!
Now, different types of organisation have different kit. Are we going to be like “Sons of Anarchy” or the “Hell’s Angels” with their back patches? The decision had to be made: are we to become a Motorcycle Club (MC) or not? This is because Motorcycle Clubs worldwide have very strict hierarchy and rules, such as who can or cannot wear back patches. Wearing back patches without following the rules shows great disrespect. Very similar to a Walter wearing our beret and medals. They are, rightly, very proud of their clubs, as we are very proud of our airborne roots. Their first love is their bikes, our first love is our Airborne heritage, then our bikes. They are dedicated to their bikes whereas we enjoy our bikes. It seemed we have a different mindset. So, we took the route, with the greatest of respect to our Dutch brothers, that they had taken and we copied their idea (I did apologise to Arend Brinkman for nicking their idea). We now have hoodies, shoulder patches, hi-viz vests, neck warmers etc and are a “Riders” group.
So, what are we now? We are a loose association of airborne veterans, serving soldiers and their supporters who have casual, organised or annual rides. We realised that we had had years of being ordered, filed, indexed, cross reference, marched, grouped, posted and everything else. We are now “free” to do as we wish. You want to ride as a group…Ok. You want to ride alone…OK. You want to stay in a hotel…OK. You get the idea. We enjoy our bikes and getting together, on our bikes, for some good old fashioned comradeship.
On each of the rides we leave the responsibility for travel and accommodation to each rider, but, we publish on our Facebook group page the details that some of us have agreed to ride as a group. It is then up to each rider whether they join us or meet us there. So far it has worked exceedingly well. Everyone does their own thing and then RVs for the ride itself.
Which brings me on to our serving brothers in arms. At present, we have no serving brother joining us for a ride. This is primarily because the details of the rides were posted on our Facebook group page “Airborne Forces Riders”, but this is a Secret group so only group members see the posts. So far it is word of mouth that has worked. Vet to vet. We have now fixed this flaw in our system by setting up the website:
Anyone can visit the website to get more information. We hope this will result in more of our serving, biker brothers joining us. There is a form for joining us on the website. Currently, there is no fee whatsoever to join us.
Now to our serious purpose. We have lately attended some funerals and rode escort to the hearse. The widow really appreciated her husband not being forgotten by the “airborne family”. It was lovely to see the joy on the faces of the family, at their sad time, as they looked at us in our hoodies and berets stood next to our bikes.
On another occasion, we received a call regarding a veteran who was going through a bad time medically. He was post-operation and sitting staring out of his window. In this case his wife said “Could you arrange for someone to visit and just spend some time with him?” That weekend a couple of the boys, nearest to him went, roared up outside making as much noise as possible (his wife knew they were coming). They then sat with him giving all the sympathy one airborne brother can muster to another (ie took the mick mercilessly and got him laughing) and left him a happy bunny. This has been repeated since, including a couple of the boys, led by George Firth (Ex 9 Sqn RE), to cheer up Mick Cornish following his knee op!
We all benefit – our brother in need is looked after and cheered up and we get to put some miles on the bike. I believe this “serious” side to our riding will increase hugely over the coming years.
If you want to join the Airborne Forces Riders…just do it !!