David Perkes, Ian Hendry And The Formation Of The 32nd Medium Regiment Royal Artillery Motorcycle Display Team, Gordon Barracks, Scotland [1949-1951]

Recently, I received a lovely message which brought back a number of good memories for me. First, I’ll share a little more about those memories.

In March 1978, I travelled with my family to London for Ian Hendry’s This Is Your Life, filmed at the Thames Television Studios on the Euston Road. Although I was only 10 years old at the time, I have some very vivid memories of the whole experience.

Two of the guests on the show were former army officers, who knew Ian from the two years that they had spent together during National Service;  with the 32nd Medium Regiment Royal Artillery at the Gordon Barracks in Scotland.


Picture: Junior Ranks Club, Gordon Barracks, Bridge of Don, Aberdeen Scotland. Located to the east of the main parade ground – built 1932-1935.

Murray Robb and Patrick Powell recalled how Ian had been part of a motorcycle display team. The video below is an extract from that episode of This Is Your Life, where they retell this story and one particularly funny incident involving Ian.


Video: Patrick Powell and Murray Robb, with Ian Hendry and Eamonn Andrews, This Is Your Life [March 1978]


Which brings me onto the recent message that I received. It was from the daughter of David Perkes, the man that first inspired Ian into thinking about forming the motorcycle display team!

The message from David’s daughter, Julie, is as follows:

“Hello, my father David Perkes was in the 32nd Medium Royal Artillery stationed at Aberdeen, Scotland. He had his motor cycle sent up to Bridge of Don Barracks, during this time he was up to antics, tricks on his bike.  Ian noticed this and approached him to see if he would like to start/join a team. Practice took place on the sand dunes some 45-50 degree slope. Jumps, lean backs etc.,  Later practice took place on the parade ground, in principle along the lines of the Royal Signals Corps.  When confident they did stunt riding shows mostly in Aberdeen. My father has many more stories should you be interested.”

I wrote back and she then sent me some notes that her father had written down about his recollections of Ian and their time spent together during National Service. He had also been able to find a couple of photographs, a portrait of himself as a soldier and another one in the full motorcycle display team uniform/ regalia! These are included below.

And today I was able to speak with David and Julie for the first time. A very special moment for a number of reasons, not least because today is David’s 87th birthday. The conversation also helped me to learn a little more about Ian’s life and his character.

This is David’s story….

David Perkes – The Story Of The Man And The Motorbike That Inspired Ian Hendry To Form A Motorcycle Display Team

David Perkes had already been with the 32nd Medium Regiment Royal Artillery at the Gordon Barracks in Aberdeen for a while, when a young fresh-faced officer arrived to begin his two year stint of National Service. That junior-commissioned officer was, of course, Second Lieutenant Ian Hendry.

I asked David what his first impressions of Ian were:

“I was already stationed at Aberdeen when Ian came. Young, ready to go. All of my pals, remarked Ian was OK, so did I.”

Now it’s important to remember that at that time, Ian was an officer and David always had to address him as ‘sir’. But whilst other officers used their rank to have a go at the regular soldiers, David told me that Ian was not like them. He described Ian as, ‘a good man’.

“Ian was always busy thinking or doing something. When he was off-duty and working with us, he was  friendly and relaxed. We had a nice relationship. He certainly had something about him, you wouldn’t have missed him in a crowd of a million.”

And that:

“He was always willing to have a go himself and was very positive.”

David was a Lance Bombardier and a gun fitter by trade during his time in the Army. He also told me that he had trained as a Field Engineer and after Gordon Barracks, had been posted to Manston in Kent before being posted back to Penniquek, Otterburn in Northumberland.

Penniquek was the location of the firing ranges that were bombarded by the 32nd Regiment during their summer camps there. At that time the regiment had 74 and 98 Medium Battery 5.5″ inch guns which could cause a fair amount of damage. And on occasions, David clearly remembers being called over by the safety officer and ordered to go and pick up the sheep which had become collateral damage,  caught unawares on the hillside.

But it’s his time at Gordon Barracks in Scotland which he remembers most fondly. Which brings us back to Ian and that motorcycle.

David explains more:

“Now my interest was motorcycles, the one I had at the camp was a Royal Enfield. To occupy my evenings I was playing around on my motor bike.”


But when I asked David to expand a bit more on what this ‘playing around’ actually entailed, his answer made me smile; because he was able to stand upright on the seat of his motorbike, with chords attached to the handlebars to allow him to steer and then ride around the parade ground!

Gordon Barracks is located on the east-coast, in a quiet part of Scotland and entertainment was probably in very short supply. At times the weather there was bleak, with the north-easterly winds no doubt bringing Arctic-like conditions.

As David recalled, their accommodation seemed to reflect the weather, with formal names that spark the imagination  :

“Our billets were named after spiders. All timber and cold.”


Ian had noticed David’s prowess on his bike  and after a few days decided to approach him and ask whether he would help him form a racing team – or some kind of entertainment team. He was also keen, no doubt, to try and find some excitement and adventure to make life there more enjoyable for himself and for others.

And the answer to Ian’s request was, of course, ‘yes’.

Picture: Lance Bombardier, David Perkes, 32nd Medium Regiment Royal Artillery, Gordon Barracks, Scotland c.1950

Picture: Second Lieutenant, Ian Hendry, 32nd Medium Regiment Royal Artillery, Gordon Barracks, Scotland c.1950

The Formation Of The 32nd Medium Regiment Royal Artillery Motorcycle Display Team

David told me that their inspiration came from the Royal Signals Motorcycle Display Team (RSMDT). The RSMDT origins lie in precision motorcycling and horse-riding demonstrations given by instructors and students from the British Army Signal Training Centre in Yorkshire, beginning in 1927. Riders were normally employed as despatch riders. They have had many names in the past including ‘The Red Devils’, before the Parachute Regiment team of the same name existed, Mad Signals (on account of the poor brakes on the motorcycles) and only adopted the name ‘White Helmets’ in 1963. Team members wear a tailored blue uniform and open-face white motorcycle helmets and traditionally use Triumph motorcycles. Sadly, though, the RSMDT is to be disbanded at the end of 2017.

Now the 32nd Medium Regiment Royal Artillery Motorcycle Display Team had much more humble origins and financial resources upon which to draw. David had his own bike and Ian helped get permission from more senior officers for a couple of others in the team to have their motorbikes sent up to the barracks.

In total, there were six team members, David, Ian, Ed Wright, Peter and two others whose names have, for the moment, escaped recall. And in time they had the use of six 500cc despatch bikes,  Nortons and  BSAs. But the Nortons had a tendency for the front part of the frame to crack, under the strain of some of their more extreme manoeuvres and, in time, the team members began to outnumber their machines!

The Uniforms

Now it’s already been mentioned that the RSMDT team was immaculately turned out in their tailored blue uniform and open-face white motorcycle helmets. But the 32nd Regiment had no such budget. Not deterred, though, David recalled that Ian found a novel solution:


“As there was no budget, we had to improvise. so Ian headed over to the NAAFI.”


The Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI ) is an organisation created by the British government in 1921 to run recreational establishments needed by the British Armed Forces, including the kitchens and the cafes/ restaurants.

David mentioned that:

“A short while later, Ian returned having borrowed some bright white chefs jackets from the NAAFI, the helmet and gloves came from somewhere else.”


With some slight modifications, the uniform of the 32nd  Medium Regiment Royal Artillery Motorcycle Display Team had been created!


Picture: David Perkes with another team member, wearing the improvised uniform of the 32nd Medium Regiment Royal Artillery Motorcycle Display Team!

The Practice

David told me that Ian was good on the motorbikes too, but he had also taken on the role of leader.

He recalled:

“Ian said we now have to work out a programme of moves. He was good at this. Timing was to be correct.”


“To get more practice in, we went to the sand dunes, these were very steep, but we became ready to do a team show.”


The sand dunes had been Ian’s idea. David recalls how Ian had said to him:

“Do you think we could do more frightening moves?”

Picture: Sand dunes at Balmedie Beach, located north of Bridge of Don – similar to those used by the motorcycle team in their practice.

One evening, the team went to the large sand dunes nearby and set up all their bikes at the very top. Then, with engines roaring, they all descended down the steep sandy slopes, sliding in all directions as they attempted to reach the beach below. And I think some may have actually made it!

The Shows

In comparison, the shows were more modest affairs, some held at events in Aberdeen, on sports fields in front of a small crowd, some on the parade ground of Gordon Barracks as entertainment for the soldiers and staff.

But the actual ‘stunts’ performed seem far from modest. David described some of them to me in more detail:

“We used to have two, three, four or five people on one bike at a time. One person would be standing on the saddle of the bike, holding two chords tied to the handlebars with which to steer by, whilst the others would be standing on the pedals, leaning outwards.”

On another occasion, David described how:

“One person would be upside down over the handle-bars, whilst the other was standing on the seat of the motorbike.”

Also, whilst perhaps not in the same league as Evil Knieval, the team did used to use a 2 foot high wooden ramp to get the bikes airborne and up to 4 feet above the ground. No wonder that some of the frames cracked.

And on another occasion, David recalled how they also experimented with fire – but that it was not pursued further for reasons of safety!

Unfortunately, there are no photographs of the team in action, but the photograph below of the Royal Signals, shows the type of stunts they performed.

Picture: The Royal Signals Motorcycle Display Team perform The Flowerpot’ manoeuvre. The 32nd Royal Medium Regiment Artillery Motorcycle Display Team performed similar stunts.


Some Closing Thoughts

In one of Julie’s emails to me, she mentioned that her father:

“Always remembers the parade ground roar of the bikes.”

And when I asked David how he best remembers Ian, he thought for a moment and his reply seemed to paraphrase the title of a well-known film:

“As a gentleman…….and an officer.”

I’d like to thank David and his daughter, Julie, for contacting me and sharing this lovely story; and also for allowing me to reproduce it, along with the pictures, here. Sharing these memories with David today, on his 87th birthday, has been a real pleasure.

We Wish You A Very Happy 87th Birthday, David!



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Until next time,

Neil Hendry
Editor, Official Tribute To Ian Hendry

Further Reading

A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography:

Read: ‘Send in the Clowns – The Yo Yo Life Of Ian Hendry’ by Gabriel Hershman

Send In The Clowns - The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry

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