The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 3) – Sam Bahadur’s motorcycle

Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, popularly known as Sam Bahadur, was the first person to hold the highest rank of Field Marshal of the Indian Army. He served in the army for four decades and took part in five wars, including the Second World War. He led India to a decisive victory in the 1971 war with Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh.

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw – A soldier’s Field Marshal . . .


Sam Bahadur was a lover of motorcycles and cars. There is a very interesting anecdote about his James motorcycle.

This is a 1946 James 122ML – Sam Bahadur must have owned a similar motorcycle…


Post edited to add: This superbly maintained 1946 James 122ML belongs to Ron. Thanks for sharing her photo, my friend!

Specifications of the 1946 James 122ML:

Engine – Villiers 9D 122cc, two-stroke single cylinder
Gears – 3 speed hand shift on tank
Power – 3 1/2 hp
Weight – 150 lb (68 kg)
Top Speed – 40 mph (64 kmph)
Note: This model is shod with original 1945 Dunlop Universal tyres

I quote a part of an article written by an old friend of Sam Bahadur, Ardeshir Cowasjee, taken from the website of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. You can read the full article here.

Another good friend of Manekshaw from this side of the border was our Rangila Raja Gen Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan. At the time of partition Major Manekshaw and Major Yahya Khan were together on the staff of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck. Sam owned a red James motorcycle which Yahya had always had an eye on. He offered to buy it, and did, for the princely sum of Rs.1,000 which he promised to send over from Pakistan. Yahya, being Yahya, let it lapse. After the 1971 victory, Sam was heard to quip, “Yahya never paid me the Rs.1,000 for my motorbike, but now he has paid with half his country.”

Contrary to what most of the Indian media have been reporting, Yahya did offer to repay the debt:

When I (Ardeshir Cowasjee) met the Field Marshal I told him that Yahya had never forgotten the debt, but had never got round to it. I offered to pay back the Rs.1,000 with interest, on his behalf. No, no, said the Field Marshal, Yahya was a good man and a good soldier, we served together. There was not one mean or corrupt bone in his body. Your politicians are as bad as ours. Yahya was condemned without being heard. After he was put under house arrest at the end of December 1971, up to his death in 1980, he clamoured unceasingly for an open trial. Why was he condemned unheard?

Sam was buried quietly in his home in Tamil Nadu, a modest affair rather than the grand funeral he should have had in the capital, Delhi. The Prime Minister, the Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs all stayed away from the Field Marshal’s funeral. Many were angered by this lack of respect shown to the nation’s brave soldier and one website is devoted to the comments of Indian citizens on the reaction of their politicians: the editor writes, “The death of the only Indian to be appointed Field Marshal when in active service has been remarkable for the warmth of the ordinary men and women who queued up to say ‘thank you’ . . . It was also remarkable for the complete lack of grace and gratitude, civility and courtesy, decency and decorum on the part of the bold-faced names rapaciously grazing the lawns of power in Delhi and elsewhere, for the brain behind India’s only decisive military victory.”And a sentence which would have made Sam Bahadur chuckle: As he [Manekshaw] rightly surmised once: ‘I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor, a gun from a howitzer, a guerrilla from a gorilla – although a great many of them in the past have resembled the latter’. 😀

Field Marshal Manekshaw died of complications from pneumonia at the Military Hospital in Wellington, Tamil Nadu on 0030 hours, June 27, 2008 at the age of 94.

He was laid to rest in Udhagamandalam, Tamil Nadu, with military honours, adjacent to his wife’s grave. He is survived by his two daughters and three grandchildren.

Reportedly, his last words were “I’m okay!”

You may have left us, Sam Bahadur, but the people of India and Bangladesh will never forget you!

Related posts:

The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 1)
A green ride on the Greenfly!

This entry was posted in 1946 James 122ML, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Bangladesh, battle, Dawn, death, debt, execution, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, General Yahya Khan, hero, India, James motorcycles, journalism, life, motorcycles, news, newspapers, Pakistan, politics, random, Second World War, South Asia, Tamil Nadu, thoughts, Udhagamandalam, war, Wellington, world and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 3) – Sam Bahadur’s motorcycle

  1. vishesh says:

    i am reading more and more of him here…before this i had never heard about him!

  2. Thanks, Vishesh. I guess Field Marshal Manekshaw will continue to live in the minds of Indians and Bangladeshis of all ages.

  3. Sakhi says:

    Loved reading even more aboutour great hero! 🙂

    ‘I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor, a gun from a howitzer, a guerrilla from a gorilla – although a great many of them in the past have resembled the latter’

    He not only was brave and intelligent, also had a great sense of humour! 🙂

  4. Thanks, Sakhi. He sure had a great sense of humour! 😀

  5. Nita says:

    Wanted to come to this post but hesitated! 🙂 Anyway, Sam Manekshaw is a person that I adore and love. Great you wrote about him Raj! I discovered some interesting details that I didn’t know about him. Thanks.

  6. Thanks, Nita! I don’t know why you had to hesitate 🙂 Your valuable comments are always welcome here! Here are some more details about Sam Bahadur’s wheels:

    # He owned a Sunbeam Rapier that he brought back from Britain. Here is a link about the Sunbeam Rapier

    Sunbeam Rapier

    # He also had a Daewoo Cielo that he used for everyday purposes. Here is a link about the Daewoo Cielo

    Daewoo Cielo

    # He also used an old Maruti 800 that belonged to his late wife, Silloo

    Maruti 800

    I read about his love for motorcycles and cars in an interview he gave to an auto magazine. They published a photograph of him with his beloved Sunbeam. Their website does not have the article, but here is the article on another site

    Sam Manekshaw and his car

  7. leafless says:

    94 years of age? He sure lived a long life.

  8. Yes, Leafless, he sure lived a long and eventful life!

  9. Always good to read about tennis and players, I’ve played since a kid..

    Can I ask though – how did you get this picked up and into google news?

    Very impressive, is it something that is just up to Google or you actively created?

    Obviously this is a popular blog with great data so well done on your seo success..

  10. Martial Arts Streaming,

    Thanks a lot! Was this article picked up by google news? I haven’t done anything so I guess only the folks at Google know how it got picked up.

  11. Ron says:

    I’m glad you could use my motorcycle for your article. Its not only part of British history but also India’s as well.

  12. Ron,

    Does this two-wheeled beauty belong to you? It’s great that you’ve been able to take care of her so well! And thanks for uploading her photos…she is the finest example of a James motorcycle from the Forties that I could find on the web!

    • Ron says:

      Yes. She is my bike. As the article says she still has the original 1945 Dunlop Universal tires. The tool kit is also all there. The bulb horn is original. I ride it much here in NY and trailer it to shows more that 15 miles from here. The bike is a 125cc 2-stroke with top speed of 40 mph. Its not for highway use but great for getting around in the village. Again enjoy .

      • It’s great that you’ve painstakingly maintained the originality of the bike and ride it regularly. 40 mph (64 kmph) is quite a good top speed for a 125cc bike from the forties. Though modern, light, fuel-efficient and sophisticated Japanese bikes managed to kill the British motorcycle industry, these old Brit machines have a serious fan following. I’m one of them 🙂

  13. Swapnil Verma says:

    I own a James motercycle, but not in good condition, if anyone interseted to by the same..pls contact me..+91-9930826693.

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