It was during Reg‘s period of convalescence in England, sometime during his time at the 3rd London General Hospital, convalescence at No. I Command Depot and training at Rollestone Camp that Reg purchased ‘Jane’ his motorbike. His letters home to his wife Laura, and his parents, upon his return to the Front talk a lot about ‘Jane’ and there are photos in his file at the IWM of him posing on ‘Jane’, probably taken at Rollestone Camp:
I believe this is a motorcycle made by The James Cycle Company Ltd known as “the Famous James”.
More on the history of James Motorcycles here and below.
Reg’s letters in May and June 1917 often talk about ‘Jane’ and how much Reg enjoyed her. In his letter home to his wife Laura in June 1917, Reg mentions:
“Hope you got my photos safely and you liked them, had them taken in Bournemouth one Saturday afternoon, I used to go in there on ‘Jane’ sometimes, it is only 44 miles from Rollestone & I could get down in 2 hours, Jane took me 1500 miles while I was at home, so I got about quite a bit, + cheaply at that, I couldn’t possibly have done so without her, I have only £17/13/3 to pay now and I am sending Dad money [out?] whenever I have a few francs to spare, so will soon have her paid for, I hope.”
And to his parents in July 1917:
What an extraordinary thing the back tyre bursting like that, as far as I remember
I mended the last puncture, which occurred in Salisbury, I picked up a horseshoe nail and I certainly remember examining the [cover?] carefully. I am very glad to think you are riding her, it will do her good, better than the engine standing idle in a fixed position for a long time.
By Jove wouldn’t I love to have a ride on dear old Jane once more, I know she is in the best of hands however. If anything happens to me I want Dick to have her, so please give her to him with my love.
Dick was Reg’s half-brother, A.R.Gill – who was serving in the 1/2 Kings African Rifles in East Africa at the time.
But then in August and September the tone of Reg’s letters changes. He now seems preoccupied with a decision to sell Jane and buy a more powerful motorbike:
I was thinking of saving up till I get about £35/. and then getting Dad to sell my bike and buying a stronger & more powerful machine about 3 ½ to 4 ¼ H.P. which would stand the wear & tear of the Australian roads better than ‘Jane’. Am glad you had a nice time at Broadstairs dearest, I should love to see the dear old place again, if I get another lucky crack I must take a run down that way and visit all the old haunts. I can imagine that Canterbury must well nigh be ruined with all the soldiers there, how sick I am of the sight of khaki. I think this year will see an end to it all.
I have definitely decided to purchase a James 4 ¼ H.P. motor bike and sell dear old ‘Jane’. I wonder if dad could manage to arrange the sale for me, I should like if possible to get £30/./. for her (minus the speedometer) as I really think she is worth that amount.
I am saving up & already have about £30/./. in my pay book! Strange to say. If Dad could manage to get £30/./., & my £30 added (the bike costs £69/10/.) I should soon be able to buy one, and he could ride it about for me until I could get home, they are magnificent machines. Will you ask him to write me on the subject. I enclose a letter I received from the James people.
The new bicycle I’m thinking of getting is a 4 ¼ H.P. model capable of taking a side car, so I could take you out. I wonder if you would go with me.
This is a photo of a “4½ hp (86×103) equipped with full chain drive and 3 speed James gearbox. A new feature for the 1915 model 4½ hp was the gear change lever that was positioned through a slot in the petrol tank instead of at the side of the tank”:
And here is a 1918 James with 6600cc
1915 James 600cc 4¼ HP side car:
“1915 James 600cc 4 ¼ HP side car
Single cylinder side valve
Engine No. J57786
Frame No. 65365
Founded in 1883, The James Cycle Company Ltd became a highly-successful manufacturer of penny-farthings in Birmingham, UK. It initially marketed strongly to the female market, one of the advertising slogans declaring, “Remember – All bicycles are not alike” becoming one of the countless West Midlands bicycle manufacturers to enter the burgeoning motorcycle market.
“The Famous James” renowned for distinction in design and dependability in service and reputed as an affordable commuter vehicle began building motorized bicycles in 1902 and by 1910, complete motorcycles went into production.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, most of West Midlands’ motorcycle manufacturers supported the war effort by turning over their production to the army. James supplied pedal-cycles to the British military as well as supplying 4-stroke v-twin motorcycles to the Belgian and Russian armies.
This 600cc 4 ¼ HP, built in 1914 for 1915 release, is equipped with full chain drive and a three speed James gear box with the gear change lever distinctively positioned through a slot in the petrol tank. This sensitively restored example retains original fittings including handle bars, levers, lamps, cables, foot pedals still clearly bearing the James inscription and original tinware housing the fully enclosed rear chain and primary chain. Rear phosphor bronze expanding band brake-lining is original still requiring oiling as per the manual instructions, with spring drive in the rear hub…..
Finished in brown, gold and red, sporting original James decals, acetylene lights, leather tool panniers and superb alloy appointments this is a well preserved veteran side valve single with period side car.” (Source: Mossgreen Auctions)
It appears that Reg had grown up with various motorcycles and cars in which his father had a keen interest. I believe that Reg’s father (GH Gill) and Reg’s uncle (A.A. Gill, ‘Uncle Bertie”) were some of the first members of the Automobile Association and purchased the first two Vauxhall motor cars to be produced but I have no evidence of this.