Old Reliable

WEAPONS OF WAR

The BSA M20 is an icon of motor engineering and a World War Two staple, but it also came close to an unceremonial ditching. Callum Dickson profiles the motorcycle the British Army both loved and loved to hate

THE BSA M20 SERVED LONG AFTER WORLD WAR TWO AND IS A POPULAR VEHICLE FOR PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION
INTERFOTO/TOPFOTO

In June 1944, Lewis Banham – like many of his fellow soldiers – landed on the beaches of Normandy. The wait as he approached the beach was palpable, but together with the rest of his brigade, Lewis was prepared and ready: equipped with a Sten, gas mask, 48 hours’ worth of rations and a mapwith specific grid references for his mission. As he disembarked, there was no machine gun fire sweeping the beaches, but they remained under constant German shelling, so it was essential he and his comrades got off their landing craft as quickly as possible. For most British soldiers, this short dashacross the sand must have seemed endless... but for Lewis it flew by.

Unlike most, when he waited for the ramp to drop, he did so in the saddle of a Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) M20, one of the most prominent motorcycles of the war.

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