By Dave Abrahams
Cape Town - More than 400 bikers turned out on Sunday for the annual Poppy Day Run, always held as close as possible to November 11, which marks the end of the First World War in 1918, honouring South Africans who have given their lives in the service of their country in two World Wars, and in smaller conflicts since.
Hosted by the Hell’s Angels and the M.O.T.H.s Motorcycle Association at the Fort Wynyard military museum in Green Point at the end of a mass ride from the Hell’s Angels clubhouse in Milnerton, the 2016 edition had a special significance for South African riders as it marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Delville Wood, where 3155 soldiers of the 1st South African Infantry brigade held a 1.5 square kilometre piece of woodland against the full might of the Imperial German army for five days.
When they were relieved on 20 July 1916, just three officers, two of them wounded, and 140 men marched out of the wasteland that had been Delville Wood - and their indomitable courage has become the stuff of legend.
It was also the theme for what is believed to have been the first bike build-off in South Africa, with three custom motorcycle builders challenged to build a Delville Wood commemorative machine in 100 days on less than R80 000.
Two of the machines – one based on a Harley-Davidson Sportster by Cave Kustoms and the other on a Honda GL500 by Murdercycles – stuck to the conventional perception of a military despatch bike, with chunky universal tyres, matt green paint and lots of military hardware.
Anvl Kraft, however, went way out in left field with a lightweight single inspired by the American board racers of the golden era between 1910 and 1916, entirely hand-built except for the engine, which was donated by a Yamaha XT500 scrambler. As a concept it was audacious, the execution faithful to the period in its robust simplicity – and the labour input utterly mind-boggling.
But in the final analysis by the riders on the run, each of whom was given a token to drop into a box in front of the bike of their choice, the superb finish and attention to detail of the Cave Kustoms No.13 made it a worthy winner of the inaugural Poppy Day Build-Off.
But it was a close-run thing; as an engineer I voted for the Anvl Kraft board racer, while She Who Must Be Obeyed preferred the neatness of execution and authentic military hardware of the Murdercycles GL500, as well as having the only authentically dressed rider!
The three custom creations will be auctioned online, with the proceeds to be donated to the Red Cross War Memorial Childrens Hospital, in addition to an astonishing R13 118.95 raised there and then, in cash, as a donation towards the Tommy Rendle M.O.T.H.S. Shellhole.
The survivors of Delville Wood are no longer with us, but as long as events such as this remind us of what they went through so that their children wouldn’t have to, they will be remembered.