I am really enjoying reading RC160 with so many well written and interesting articles. The piece on the famous White Helmets display team brought back great memories from the past and my admiration of the teams thrills and skills continues. Me and my late dad regularly watched them on a small black and white TV screen back in the 1950s. Televised military displays were always regular viewing for us back then, especially as dad was ex-Royal Engineers.
As a young teenage worker for a local council in the early 1960s, I was able to surreptitiously slope off to the Woolwich army display ground to watch the lesserknown motorcycle display team of the Royal Artillery. The Flying Gunners practised their routines on most Wednesday afternoons.
The photo caption for the 1952 images says that the White Helmets are riding Triumph 350s. This is correct, they are 3T models. The rocker boxes are clearly visible and this is one of the most visual external differences between the 500cc ohv models and the 350 twins. The White Helmets started using the 3T Triumph twin not long after WW2. They were mostly used from 1948 until 1952. Inevitably there was a need for a regular military motorcycle, so Triumph introduced the sidevalve TRW. This model was then used for display purposes from 1953 until around the early 1960s, when it was phased out by the team and Tiger 100s took over.
Several other models were used at differing times. Team Sergeant Sankey had a Trophy for four years between 1958 to 1961. Also a 5T Speed Twin was fitted to a sidecar in this period. In 1959 this 5T twin was down on power and the Triumph factory agreed to fix this for them during its annual winter overhaul at the works service centre. When the bike was returned it had phenomenal power compared to previous years – Triumph omitted to tell the White Helmets that they had fitted a Tiger 110 engine into the 5T chassis! That was the most powerful Amaranth Red 5T around at that time.
The White Helmets used several different makes and sizes of motorcycle over the decades, but back in the 1930s an entirely different form of horsepower was used. Integrated displays of jumping and other skilled riding included horses and motorcycles together! Let’s hope that in this age of comebacks and revivals the White Helmets make a return in the future... but not with electric power units in their display vehicles. Dave Blanchard, member 4809