Tom Robinson and Eddie Knight (P1167) European Tour August 1938

LOG BOOK August 1938            Tom Robinson & Eddie Knight                                                                                                                                   

Saturday 6th                                                                                                                          I arrived at Victoria Coach Station at 7pm on the 6th of August, and Eddie rolled up with the BMW about 7:30. We made Sittingbourne and decided to stay the night there. Our task now seems to be to discard a large amount of superfluous luggage. We walked around Sittingbourne until 10:30, then went to bed, but not to sleep, as it was so hot.

Sunday 7th

We didn’t have a very good night last night, as the heat was awful. Gave up the attempt to sleep at around 5 am and carried on with our planning. We had a jolly good feed of bacon and eggs before setting off in the rain at 10 am. We arrived at Dover about 11 am and hung about for some time. Made the acquaintance of Basil (or “Fatty”) and his sweetie who were going touring, very optimistically, on a New Imperial. Went on board at 1 pm and sailed at 1:30 pm. Able to ride on board this time. Very good crossing. Arrived Dunkirk at 5:15 pm and took the bike off at 6:15 pm. Very quickly through the Customs, and then away at 6:30 pm. Fatty was going to follow us as far as Bergues, where he would turn off for Paris, but we had lost him ere we had gone two miles. The run to Arras was very uninteresting, except for the performance of the BMW on the stone setts. On the pillion, no shocks could be felt, and the road-holding was excellent, in spite of the load on the rear. We reached Arras at 9 pm and found a small place to stay. Had a jolly good feed of tomatoes, beans, peas, beef steak and bread, washed down with red wine, and then went out into the town where a fete was in progress. Dancing was going on in the place to the strains of a band. We were too shy to risk our meagre French, so we remained spectators. We retired at 11 pm, and, after discarding a vast quantity of bed clothes, went to sleep.

Monday 8th

Arose about 7 am and had breakfast of coffee and bread, butter being inedible. Paid bill of 52 francs which amounts to about 2/11 each for dinner, bed and breakfast. Started away about 9:20 am and came across vast stretches of agricultural country to the Marne. Stayed a short time in Reims where some English OTC’s were inspecting the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Just outside Reims a fairly large area of the battlefield has been preserved and a tank lies there, half buried in soil. Had lunch at a wayside restaurant, and a very good lunch too. We put away a bottle of vin blanc, so I had to ride the BMW. Scrapped all the way to Chalon sur Marne with a Rolls, then he took another road. Continued up the Marne to Joinville, and then to Gray and Besancon. We intended to stay in Besancon, but all the hotels were “complet”, so , after spending ages hunting for one, we carried on towards Pontarlier. We had almost given up hope of finding a bed and I was reconciling myself to sleeping by the roadside when we stopped at a wayside café. The good lady here used the telephone with success and procured a bed for us at a small place back near Besancon. Had a good supper and then to bed.

Tuesday 9th

We rose at 7:30 and had our coffee and bread about 8 am. We did a few jobs and set off at 9 am. The bill for supper, bed and breakfast came to the enormous sum of 37 francs. From Besancon we climbed up over the Jura mountains – a gradual climb over wooded and partly cultivated hillsides interspersed with numerous gorges. We dropped down into Pontarlier where I bought a hat and we sent some postcards. From Pontarlier to the frontier the road runs along the sides of deep gorges. We had no trouble at the frontier except that we had to pay about 1 franc to the Customs officials. We continued then to Vallorbe over undulating country. We had lunch at Vallorbe, and a good lunch too. Potato soup, sausage, potatoes, carrots in white sauce, coffee. We had a conversation with a Swiss who had lived in London for a long time and who spoke English very well. He had been in Spain recently, and only returned a few days before the war started. We then continued to Lausanne, but, like all the bigger Swiss towns, there seemed to be more tourists than anyone else. So, not honouring Lausanne with our presence for long we passed on through Montreux and Veytaux to Aigle. I should mention that we were greatly impressed by the beauty of Lac Geneve, but unfortunately it rained, so we did not see it at its best. From Aigle we started going up into the mountains. They didn’t look very terrible then, but as we climbed for mile after mile without reaching the summit, we realised how high the mountains were. The road climbs steadily all the time – never really steep, but with innumerable hairpin bends. As we approached the summit we saw a few snow drifts and, at the Hospice St Bernard, quite a lot of snow remained. The road surface on the Swiss side was rather bad, and through the tiny mountain villages, which cling to the hillsides likes flies to a wall, it was very poor. We soon passed the frontier post on the Italian side and descended on a good, well surfaced, road to Aosta. Dusk had fallen as we reached Aosta, so we called in at the Albergo Cavallino Bianco and were fortunate in finding that the maid spoke French, another French and German, whilst the cook had been to British Columbia and Alaska, even over the White Horse Pass! We had a very good meal and retired to our beds at 10 pm.

Wednesday 10th

Had a good night and rose at 7:30 am. Had coffee and rolls, and left at 8:30 am. The run down the Aosta valley was particularly fine, with enormous mountains on every side and torrents dashing down the valleys. The countryside was flat from Aosta to Torino; we missed our way in Torino and had to go back. Eventually we regained it and had lunch near Moncalieri. The host and hostess had spent a long time in Germany and spoke French and German. They had a very nice daughter, and Eddie and I both fell for her and she gave us a photo of herself. Returning to more mundane things, we had yards – or miles – of spaghetti, salad and coffee. We then continued to Alessandria where we drained and refilled the sump. That, with 10 litres of petrol, cost 55 lire. We climbed over the Ligurian Appenines and dropped down to Genoa. Our first impression of Genoa was bad, as there are many factories along the road side, but, as we reached the centre of the city, we found it was a fine, well built, city. We saw a fine sign, Alberghi Stagione and went inside. We waited for five minutes, then were greeted by an old, old, man with an enormous tummy, who seemed to be all alone. He spoke a little French, and we got a room in a building which seems at one time to have been a very fine house, as there are marble floors and beautifully painted ceilings. We had to go out to dinner, and we had a very good meal. With ragout, beefsteak and salad and vin blanc. After a stroll we returned to find the old man waiting for our money, which he wanted before we went to bed. We are now in bed, and about ready for a night’s sleep, but the rest of the people in Genoa seem to be just waking up, as there are people talking, walking, sweeping, cars and motorbikes dashing around and a hundred and one noises.

Thursday 11th

We woke up too soon. Went out for our coffee and found that the old man was not the only inhabitant of the Alberghi Stagione as there were three or four women about. As we left Genoa the road climbed up the hills and we had a fine view of the town and so we stopped to take a snap and an English car pulled up and the people in the car (a man and a woman) came and talked to us. They were from Chorley and have lived in New Zealand. The roads out from Genoa hug the coast to climb up the cliff face with a drop of thousands of feet down to the sea. This part is densely populated and there were crowds of people about. We wanted to swim but we could not find a suitable place till we reached Chiavari where in desperation (as here the road led us to the sea) we started hunting for a suitable spot. Chiavari is just like a garden – masses of flowers everywhere and flowering shrubs planted along the roadside. As soon as we reached the fringes of the town we saw a little freshwater stream running into the sea and women washing clothes in it. There were some people bathing so we decided to do likewise and stopped. The sea was warm so we swam about in it and the laid on the beach until our costumes were dry. As we went on the road started climbing over the Bocco pass and we climbed 2000 feet in 3 miles. The scenery was wonderful – steep ridges running in all directions topped in many cases by castles and monasteries and covered with pine trees. The road runs through the mountains for many miles and finally descends to La Spezia which is a big naval port. There were many warships in the harbour there but the town doesn’t look very attractive. We turned inland once more from La Spezia and had some more hills. The road then descended and ran parallel with the sea but some miles inland. Here many roads turned inland to Carrara in the mountains and we saw several huge blocks of marble being drawn along by oxen. As it was getting latish we decided to turn seawards so we stopped at Lido di Camaiore – a suburb of Viareggio and a lovely place. After having a good dinner we went for a swim. It was a bit chilly so I had a run up and down the beach. Unfortunately, the dinner, the swim and run didn’t agree and for a few minutes I was extremely ill. However I soon recovered.

Friday 12th

We like Camaiore  quite well and have decided to stay here the day. This morning we went sunbathing and bathing and got a good roasting. We got some very good grub here and it is remarkably cheap. As we were bothered with mosquitoes last night, I spent a lot of time killing them today. We then shut the window and put up the mosquito net.

Saturday 13th

Had a good night and got away about 10 am. First down to Pisa where we saw the famous tower. We didn’t think a lot about the rest of the town though. From Pisa we definitely left the sea and went west to Florence.

We didn’t stay long in Florence, but went on over the Futa pass (2962 feet) and the Raticosa pass (2792 feet) to Bologna. As we were descending the latter pass I was riding the BMW and as we took a right-hander we slid. We fortunately didn’t damage anything but it made our rears rather tender. I lost a spot of skin off one hand. Anyway we soon got away again and continued to Bologna. We toddled all around the town, with its pillared side walks and extremely narrow streets, and it’s two leaning towers, looking for an albergo. It certainly gave us a good look at Bologna. We decided to head on towards Fiorano and stop at the first decent place we came to. We stopped at about 8 miles from Bologna at a small village where, after filling in the usual police document permits under the eager days of the whole village youths –  about 15 young chaps, and being interrogated by two of the Carabinieri armed to the teeth, we had some grub. We had a large plate of macaroni done in tomato which completely filled me. Then a dish of raw ham and sausage with tomato and bread which finished me off. I could hardly drink the last drop of wine! Eddie then after much prompting by me asked our hostess “dove il gabinetto” and the hostess’s son, complete with candle, lead Eddie down the garden. On the way a bevy of girls was encountered and Eddie’s guide gave them a full account of us including their destination and Eddie had to enter the dismal and dirty toilet with a gaping door under their scrutiny! I believe he soon put out the candle!

Sunday 14th

We had an early start, and soon came to Fiorano. The road passes through flat, swampy land which is used for growing rice and willows. There are numerous drainage holes along the roadside in which the willows are soaked, and these, being stagnant emit a most disagreeable odour. In spite of this, however, fish do well in them, and we saw many chaps fishing with long Spears –  poles about 20 feet long. The fish didn’t look particularly pleasant and I wouldn’t like to have to eat them. Fiorano  is a manufacturing town and is not very nice. The road from Fiorano to Venice is across a vast plain with mountains dimly seen on the left. The road across the lagoon to Venice is broad and smooth and at the and is the enormous Fiat garage with all cars and bikes must be the must be kept. It was about 10 AM when we arrived and we walked over the bridge and along and narrow street or two when he saw the grand Canal with all its traffic gondolas rowing  boats, and the big passenger launches all rushing about. Then, outside the church of San Polo, was a different sight. There was a huge black gondola with hangings of black and silver and in it a coffin covered with a black and silver cloth. As we watched, that gondola drew out into the canal, and with its black clad oarsmen slowly departed. Our impressions of Venice were somewhat marred by our getting lost! We walked for about 1 1/2 hours amid narrow alleys and noisesome canals, coming to dead ends and retracing our steps, until finally we chanced upon the grand canal again. We were hot and tired so we had an ice cream and iced lemonade and then felt better. Having had enough of Venice, we left its unparalleled beauty and unquestionable filth behind and sped onward. The road to Udine is similar to the Fiorano to Venice Road across the North East Venetian plain but with the mountains much nearer than before. We had some bread, cheese and wine at Udine and then started climbing up the Predil pass – mile after mile of jagged mountains peaks rearing far above the streams below. In some places the stream winds its way through a mile wide gravel bed, and in others is confined in a crevice only a few feet wide. Down on the mountainsides for little torrents sometimes dropping for 500 feet and finally breaking into a mist. We descended into Tarvisio with the Predil Lake on our left – a majestic sheet of water cradled in massive mountain peaks. Only a few kilometres after Tarvisio we entered Austria. The customs and the frontier guards were very friendly and made us feel at home. We had nothing to pay here, unlike the Swiss Italian frontiers, and were soon at the lake (close to Villach) where, after a spot of lunch we found the Gasthaus. We encountered an Austrian there who had been in Canada for some years and he was very bitter about the Nazis. His names for them were certainly unrecordable.

Monday 15th

We had a bit of trouble getting our travellers cheques changed today as it was some sort of a public holiday. We finally found a travel bureau where the boss had come to do a spot of work and he was able to let us have a 40 marks which allowed us to pay our bill and go on our way. We missed our road at Spittal and went away up into the mountains. We didn’t discover our error until we were 20 km away and had to return. However we were somewhat compensated by the beauty of the country we passed through with pine clad mountains dropping sharply down into the lakes. The roads here are very bad – untarred and in many places impassable. However, a lot of work is being done on them, so I suppose there will be good one day. We regained our road at Gmund and went on our way more or less rejoicing. The countryside here is the wildest of the wild stark mountain ranges, pine clad lower slopes and roaring, tumbling streams. From Gmund to Sankt Michael – the road climbs sharply and steadily for mile after mile, dropping slightly to Sankt Michael, and then climbing again and finally descending to      ?????? (Untertauern?). We saw many cars stuck on the hills which are very steep gradients up to 1:4 being quite common, with atrocious surfaces. From Radstadt to Salzburg the road is level and has a fairly good surface. Salzburg has a very fine Castle and is a quaint old town. Here we joined the autobahn as we wanted to get nearly to Munich. We did 100 km in one hour which wasn’t bad going – an average of 60 mph. Left the autobahn some 20 km from Munich and stayed the night at somewhere a small town, or rather, a large village. The local Gasthaus had no rooms but the owner was able to put us into the room just down the street so we had our meal at the Gasthaus and then wandered down to the room. We had to pay rather well for our meal, but the room only cost two marks each.

Tuesday 16th

Left Munich this morning. Located the BMW factory with some difficulty and had quite a long conversation with the export and racing manager who speaks English well. There were one or two jobs to be done to the bike so we left it at the works and walked back with our kit through Munich. Was it hot! We had a bit of a job finding a room and finally located one. We washed and changed and then went out to the town. We walked miles and miles and finally we dropped in at a very small cafe for some grub. We had a good lunch and the total cost was 1mark 70! More walking back then we bought two English books and read until 7pm when we went out for dinner. Service at the cafe is so bad that the meal lasted from 7:30pm to 10pm. We had to wait over half an hour for our coffee. Walk back to the Gasthaus and so to bed.

Wednesday  17th 

Our breakfast was patchy today – good rolls, butter and jam which is unusual but very poor coffee which again is unusual. We walked round and round Munich putting on time until 2pm. Had some grub at 12pm – the usual Wiener schnitzel mit kartoffeln und salade and paid the usual price for it. Food is pretty dear in Munich except in the poorer places where it is good and cheap. We went down to BMW at 2pm and were told the bike will be ready at 3pm and we got it at 4pm. We started away from Munich after being shown the way out by a German who had lived at Blackpool for some time. The sun was setting and we were going westward so it was bad going. We decided to stay at somewhere and get a decent room but it was way up in the hills. Had some good grub and went to bed early.

Thursday 18th

Started away about 7:30 am. Lovely morning very clear and we can see the Allgau Alps away on the left. Reached Bregenz at 11 am and saw some English people from Lancashire. Bodensee was rough with a strong north-west wind blowing. Crossed the Rhine at St Margrethen into Switzerland at 12. Had our lunch at Saint Gallen and it was quite nice to be greeted with Grusse Gott instead of the usual German Heil Hitler.

Worked our way towards the Rhine and Basel. Had a close shave when we took a right-hand bend at about 40-ish. Saw as we rounded it a team of oxen and a cart with a lad on the offside and his mother on the cart. Eddie stood on everything and we slid in a straight line but we hit the lad at about 15 mph and took him a couple of yards on our headlamp. The old woman swore and shouted “Langsamer fahren!” and the lad ran off apparently unhurt but he he’d be pretty sore the next day. We didn’t do much damage to the bike beyond a bent mudguard and a slightly ripped pannier bag. Run along the Rhine to Basel and as we were leaving Basel we saw three Manchester lands on Triumph twins who were on their way to Switzerland. They had left England the last weekend and come down by Luxembourg. When we got the frontier there were two more English bikes and Eddie knew one of the fellows. We went through the customs together but lost them later as we stayed the night at Remiremont at the Hotel de Cheval Bronze, quite good. We had our dinner at a low dump but good grub and cheap. After we wandered around and listened to the local band play and tried to pluck enough self-confidence to get off with a couple of girls but I fell soft and walked out on Eddie so we went to bed instead.

The log ends here, last pages missing.


‘An Austrian incident’. (Information additional to the Log Book)

Friends Tom Robinson and Eddie Knight travelled extensively in Europe during the late 1930s. They took their motorbikes across France, Belgium, Germany and Italy at a time when tensions were rising. They kept a diary which paints a vivid picture of their experiences, but some things  were too dangerous to write down. This account, written by Eddie for Tom in 1997,  fills in one of the gaps by describing an incident typical of the era.

Tom and I had been staying in the seaside town of Camiori-Viareggio. From there we visited Venice, then over the Alps via the Grossglockner pass and the Dolomites to Villach in Austria (renamed Greater Germany after the Anschluss). We stayed the night in a nice little hotel with a good restaurant in Villach. In the late afternoon we met a young Austrian man who had been living in Canada and had returned to his home town for a visit.

The three of us arranged to have dinner together. We had just sat down and ordered our meal when two brown shirted Nazis came into the restaurant. They stood in the doorway, clicked their heels, raised their arms in the Nazi salute and, in very loud voices, together said ‘Heil Hitler’.

At that time, all official buildings, Banks, Post Offices and shops, had notices  on the main doors saying ‘Our greeting is “Heil Hitler”, no longer “Grusse Gott” or “Guten Morgen”. I found a way round this by saying ‘Hey Didler’ in place of ‘Heil Hitler’. No one ever raised an eyebrow – try saying it yourself, it really works.

Everyone in the restaurant raised their hands and shouted ‘Heil Hitler’ except us three. The Brown Shirts then came over to our table, thrust their hands into our faces, and repeated ‘Heil Hitler’.

I remember saying ‘We are English’, but our new found friend said ‘God damn Hitler’.

The Brown shirts left the place without saying anything and we thought no more of the incident. (Incidentally, the Brown shirts did not stop to eat or drink, they just visited to show their new found power over the people.)

In the night, we heard shouting and scuffling in the passage. We arranged to breakfast together, but our friend did not appear. We waited a while, then asked the manager to give him a call in case he had overslept. He said the young man had to leave in a hurry, and there was nothing more he could tell us. We presumed he was never seen again. It was quite worrying for us, and we were pleased to leave Villach and head for Salzburg.

I think the reason we never wrote the above in our travelogue was because we did not know when we might be stopped and our book read.

The above is a memory of a long time ago.

Photos of the trip.

1938/07/28 Ferry booking
1938/08/08 Notre Dame de Reims
1938/08/10 Postcard from Genoa
Genoa postcard to Eddie’s sister
1938/08/11 La Spezia
1938/08/11 Chiavari
1938/08/12 Viareggio postcard
1938/08/13 Eddie in Pisa (note Priest on bicycle!)
1938/08/14 Venice
1938/08/14 Venice funeral gondola
1938/08/17 BMW Munich visitor pass
Unidentified Fortress or Monastery, Switzerland or Italy?
Tom Robinson in front of Swiss/Italian Fortress/Monastery??
1938/08/08 BMW parked by tunnel through rock face, Besancon on the French/Swiss border.
1938/08/21 Calais
1938/09/04 Empire News article

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