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:: [   Chas's Chats 2  -  May 2021  ] ::

WW2 Female motorcycle messengers    -   Compiled by Chas Moody

Some of the many vehicle identification enquiries received by the SVVS can be answered from personal knowledge by members of our team, but most require a degree of research and investigation. 

Often, those in the latter category unearth interesting information which cannot be included within the limited space of the small box on the Help Pages.

Some enquiries during the investigation phase  develop a life of their own and reveal fascinating historical information which warrants including and  illustrating in a full length article.

One such  enquiry was received in late March 2021 from our regular correspondent Mark Dawber of New Zealand who has a nose for interesting unsolved mysteries. 

He had found this picture of a smart female motorcycle messenger, and asked the following question:-

 "Hi Bozi, I hope your number plate info is better than mine. The attached photo was spotted on facebook. The bike is a just-pre-WW2 Triumph 3SE and looks quite new there. The plate, appears 1950s. 

Maybe there is something missing in the plate info. The earlier MP plates, up to KMP, were pre war. My Newall register does not seem to have a reference to a PMP series. 

MP seems London > Greater London. Despite what it says elsewhere, I cannot find any mention of any reg. with any prefix before MP. 

What am I missing? Guess the registration may have been reserved for say, Navy?? The Lady seems to have a uniform with a 'HMS' on the hat?"


Mark's query posed three questions:-
1) The date and area or authority of the motorcycle registration number. 

Our Tony Oakes advised on the first question and confirmed that PMP registrations date from 1939 and were used by the War Department.


2) The model of Triumph motorcycle shown. 

The motorcycle is obviously of Triumph manufacture, c.1939, and has a four stroke side-valve engine, but what model is Mark referring to? The 1939 Triumph 'home market' catalogue lists two side-valve models, the 600cc '6S Deluxe' and 350cc '3S Deluxe'. The machine pictured is the smaller 350cc model but is not to the specification of the 3S Deluxe shown below.

The 3S Deluxe machine was introduced in 1937, replacing the previous 3/1 model and has a chromium plated petrol tank with black side panels and a tank top instrument panel which carries an oil gauge, lighting switch, ammeter and inspection lamp. The wheel rims are chrome plated and the primary chain case is of polished cast aluminium.

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see larger picture

The messenger's motorcycle has a more basic finish with a plain black petrol tank, painted wheel rims and minimal chrome plating. This would make it the Export Edition of Triumph's catalogue where we find the 3SE model, confirming Mark's initial identification. The '3' stands for 350cc, 'S' for side-valve and 'E' for export (or possibly Economy?) Apparently this model was produced in response to requests from the Australian and New Zealand markets for a basic, robust utility motorcycle with no fancy equipment for use on the unmade roads and farms in those countries.

As well as it's mainly all-black finish, the 350cc 3SE is devoid of the tank top instrument panel supplied on the Deluxe model. 

This was one of the 'features of doubtful value' mentioned in the specification below. 

The polished aluminium primary chain case of the Deluxe model is replaced by a cheaper unit of painted pressed steel.

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see larger picture

3) What is the uniform the lady is wearing 

Answering the third question and confirming Mark's guess, the uniformed rider is a member of the Women's Royal Navy Service (W.R.N.S.) - popularly and officially known as the 'Wrens', hence the letters 'HMS' displayed on the messenger's hat. 

The Women's Royal Naval Service was the women's branch of the Royal Navy. First formed in 1917 for the First World War, it was disbanded in 1919, then revived in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War, remaining active until integrated into the Royal Navy in 1993. 

The first Wrens were recruited in 1917 to perform tasks traditionally carried out by non-enlisted women. Jobs like cooks, stewards and typists, etc. but it soon became necessary to increase those roles to include jobs which previously had only been held by men. 

This included motorcycle despatch riders, whose primary role was to ferry orders and messages between Royal Navy command centres, offices and bases when telecommunications were limited and insecure. 

Initially, only women with prior motorcycle riding experience were selected. Popular recruiting grounds were motorcycle racing circuits where female racers were recruited.  

Here we see a Wren on her 350cc Douglas motorcycle delivering a message to a Royal Navy rating.

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see larger picture

When the Wrens were re-formed in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War, their roles were considerably expanded to include flying transport aircraft, forming all-female anti-aircraft teams, being trained as welders and carpenters, maintaining and repairing ships in naval bases. All able-bodied seamen were needed in the Royal Navy, and the Wrens adopted the famous slogan "Join the Wrens and Free a Man for the Fleet."

Wrens were also employed to do office work, learnt communications and signalling, weather forecasting (meteorology), engineering, driving, mechanics and radar operating. Once again, the Wrens were called upon to serve as despatch riders. The Royal Navy wanted women despatch riders who could not only ride motorcycles, but could also fully maintain their own machines.

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see larger picture

The above picture shows a despatch rider opposite Buckingham Palace. The pressed steel 'economy' primary chain cover of the Triumph 3SE is clearly evident.

Triumphs were not the only make of machines used by the Wrens. Here, and below, we see two despatch riders on their 350cc side-valve BSA C12 mounts.

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see larger picture

Before anyone jumps up shouting "That's not a BSA C12!", it must be pointed out that the C12 name was reused after the war for an entirely different 250cc OHV model. The C12's shown here were a new 350cc model for 1940, fewer than 400 of which were made and approximately 38 were taken by the Admiralty. Most were requisitioned by the Army with only a small number ending up in private hands, As a result, there are very few surviving examples of this quite handsome machine.


The probable reason for so few 350cc BSA C12 models being made is that the BSA factory was flat out manufacturing thousands of their 500cc side-valve WM20 machines for Military use. The Triumph factory was also hard at work churning out the military version of the 3S, designated 3SW. Just before the start of WW2, the War Office contracted Triumph to supply 10,000 3SW models which were Initially produced in Triumph Coventry factories (such as Priory Street) but the factory was bombed by the Luftwaffe on the 14th November 1940, halting manufacture. Production was then switched to Warwick before finally settling in Meriden and the 3SW model was given a reprieve. The last 3SW model was built on the 31st October 1941 when the new 350cc overhead-valve 3HW model was ready to start production. The 3SW is pictured below and whilst its specification is similar to the 3SE Export model, it can be seen that the primary chain case is the cast aluminium type of the UK model, so obviously not of 'doubtful value' as inferred by the Export Edition of the Triumph catalogue! Also visible is the long, tubular 'field stand' which runs parallel to the upper rear frame stay which was used on rough terrain where the rear stand was not suitable.


The question remaining is why the Wrens were using Export Model 350cc Triumphs? It can only be assumed that these models, originally intended for overseas markets, could not be exported due to Wartime conditions and the Military 3SW model was contracted to the Army, so the 3SE's were available for use on the home front. 

Our messenger pictured at the beginning of this article riding the 3SE registered PMP194 appears in the group line-up below in which there are several PMP registered machines. 

PMP196 in the foreground is a model 3s Deluxe, which shows that some Wrens were issued with the home market model complete with chrome plated tank and switch panel and polished aluminium chain case. 

No wonder the rider looks pleased with herself!


The Wren motorcycle despatch riders achieved a great deal of recognition during World War 2, during which over 100 Wrens lost their lives serving their country. Their work throughout the Battle of Britain was highly praised and they became famous across the world as a shining example of the work carried out by women during the War.


This educational article is a compilation of information from numerous sources. I would particularly like to thank the following websites for some of the text and pictures used in this article:- Real Classic, Motoress, Hot Car, Womenriders,, Graces Guide,, Triumph Owners MCC, . 
Chas Moody

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