Then and Now: The first patrols

First Patrols NRMA
First Patrols Mobile

With blue NRMA flags proudly displayed atop their motorcycles, these returned servicemen were part of the NRMA’s original frontline to help stranded motorists.

The NRMA was born just two years after World War I ended, when the shadows of conflict still hung over the nation. It was a time when our governments were faced with the monumental task of building neglected roads and infrastructure. And, just as critically, there was the social challenge of creating employment for returned soldiers, many of whom carried the physical and mental injuries of war.

These returned servicemen came back to a country that had changed while they were away. Fresh from the battlefield, they had to reconstruct their lives and one of the immediate challenges they faced was finding work. While some were able to return to their old jobs, many had to contend with the prospect of starting again. The NRMA made it a priority to employ returned serviceman and, in the early years, all of the guides (patrolmen) had been in the military and many were still recovering from injuries.

An article in the March 1924 Good Roads (as Open Road was originally called) explained:

Whenever you see a spruce young man in double-breasted khaki uniform, somewhat reminiscent of the Flying Corps, and wearing a brown leather cap, you will know that he is a National Roads and Motorists’ Association official guide. If you notice a motor-cycle carrying a triangular shaped light blue flag with a badge on the handle bars standing rider-less anywhere, you will know that there is a capable mechanic, with an encyclopedia knowledge of roads and traffic regulations, not very far off.

Apart from the service, these efficient young N.R.M.A. guides can give you, and will give you entirely free of charge, it is quite an experience to meet some of them. They are all ex-service men, and amongst them are “diggers” who carry quite a rainbow effect of medal ribbons on their chest.

There is a young man, an ex-R.N. lieutenant and RAF pilot, only 26 years of age, who earned no less than nine decorations in the war, including the DSC, AFC, DFC and Legion D’Honneur. Another, one-time captain in the King Edward’s Horse and Tank Corps, proudly displays the MC and MM amongst the six medal ribbons he wears. Yet another, a dinky-di digger and despatch rider, has the MM and MSM, side by side in a lengthy row of decorations.

But it is mighty hard to get these young fellows, none of whom is over 30 years of age, to talk of their exploits. Ask them, however, about a point involving engine trouble, and some mechanical mishap, and they get their noses down to business, like hounds on a hot scent.