Sunday, March 21, 2010

The FN Motorcycle

-a true story by my father-in-law

A Native Chief once told me that we live in the present moment, that our past and present experiences help us cope with our future. My lovely daughter-in-law Michelle feels the same way and is spending a great deal of time putting these stories together for me. These historic stories are part of our past, we are recording them in this journal so they will be remembered for future generations. One remarkable story takes place in Germany before the second world war and involves a motorcycle.

On occasion I travel over to the mainland, near Vancouver, B.C., to attend motorcycle swap meets. There is one show in particular, put on by Tod Copan, that I never miss, where motorcycles come from all over North America and some from Europe. These shows are a grand event where motorcycles and parts fill two large buildings - a treat for motorcycle enthusiasts! I recall some years ago during one of my visits to the swap meet where there were many interesting machines outside, some for sale and many for display. Before I entered one of the buildings, I noticed near the entrance way a few motorcycles that were for sale, one in particular caught my eye. Next to the motorcycle was a gentleman standing beside it. I asked if the bike belonged to him. “Yes” he replied, it is a 1925 FN. “It is truly a wonderful machine” I replied, and asked if it was for sale. “Yes it is” he said. “Do you have any history with the bike?”. He then told me a story which I consider to be one of great courage and determination.

I was aware of many stories that occurred in Germany during war time, many of them were told to me by a friend who was in the Dutch underground. Properties and valuables were expropriated from private citizens, anything considered of value or use to the Nazis, including motorcycles and automobiles. Motorcycles were much easier to hide than cars. I had already spoken with three people who had hidden their motorcycles on their properties. When the Nazis came to search for them, the bike owners told them they did not have them any more. Their standard answer to that was “we will search your home and property and your friends' properties, if we find it, we will shoot you!” All three of these people that told me their story handed over their motorcycles for fear of their lives. I once asked my friend Dan, of the Dutch underground, how the Nazis had knowledge of who owned motorcycles. He replied that they knew from their informants long before they moved into a country who owned anything of value. Ironically, my friend Dan, an automotive expert, spent a great deal of time breaking into German military compounds and stealing their vehicles.

Back to the FN motorcycle. The man who owned the FN bike was Uwe Werner. Uwe’s father Harry deserves a medal for courage. When they came to take his motorcycle, Harry told them it was stolen. They did not believe him of course and used the same words "we will search your home and your friends' homes, and if we find it, we will shoot you“. Harry, not being intimidated, stuck to his story and insisted it had been stolen. Harry had anticipated this situation and as he had friends amongst the farmers on the outskirts of his home town in Hamburg, he gave each of his friends one piece of the bike—a wheel to one, a fender to another, and so on—spreading the parts around the town piece by piece. The Nazis searched his property but did not find anything. He got away with it. After the war, Harry reunited all the bike pieces except for two, a muffler and a header exhaust pipe. In the 1980's the Werner family emigrated to British Columbia and eventually put the bike back together. This is the machine I purchased from Uwe at the swap meet. The bike is very special to me and I soon hope to replace the header pipe and muffler. When I admire the motorcycle, which is often, I think about its remarkable story and how significant this piece of machinery is as a part of history. I cannot help but pay tribute in my thoughts to Harry Werner for his brave stand against tyranny.

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William Dunigan said...
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