James Motorcycles

Today in Motorcycle History

James ML Motorcycles

James ML - Military Lightweight 1943-1948

Known as the "Clockwork Mouse", the ML was based on the 1939 K17 James Lightweight. It was used by British and Canadian airborne troops, and on D-Day they landed by glider during the invasion and also by landing craft for use by dispatch riders.

Post-war it retained the ML designation and a good many were exported to the United States and elsewhere.

Some 6 or 7 thousand military WD machines were built from 1943 to early 1945, all with ML frame number prefixes running from ML2 to about ML8500, with several sequence gaps. The ML prefix continued on post-war civilian models.

They were fitted with a Villiers 9D 122cc engine.

Winston Churchill's ML

James ML 125 - Winston Churchill's Bike

The James ML saw action on many fronts during WWII. One of these robust Villiers-engined machines, having served on the Home Front in 1943 and in Normandy during the invasion, was given to Winston Churchill who said of it "This was a true gift in every sense, a truly historic example of England's finest motorcycles. I am proud to ride this motorcycle as the brave and noble men before me did."

There is an unverified account that Churchill rode this bike frequently until shortly before his death. What is known, however, is that the machine was subsequently sold to a British newspaper publisher, and then in 1972 was donated to a museum in Suffolk which closed the following year.

Churchill's James ML then travelled to New Zealand where it was owned and ridden by Kenneth Magory, who died in 1986. The James remained in a shed on the property, now in a fairly sorry state, until 1999 when it was recovered and meticulously restored to its former glory. Subsequently it has been displayed at many prestigious museums and events including the British War Museum opening and a Military Motorcycles Convention in Canada.

Bibliography: The Vincent in the Barn Tom Cotter