The Army Cyclist Corps

IMG_1230 The Army Cyclist Corps was a corps of the British army active during the First World War, and controlling the army's bicycle infantry. The military use of cycles began in the mid 1880s when some of the Volunteer Battalions set up cycling sections as a sort of Home Guard in case of invasion. In the Boer War the bicycle was found to be invaluable for reconnaissance and communication work. By the start of the Twentieth Century there were some 8000 cyclists in various Companies and Volunteer sections.

ArmyCyclistAd1914 At the eve of the First World War the Territorial Force contained fourteen cyclist batallions and in 1915 they were incorporated into the Army Cyclist Corps.The bike was designed to enable the rider to travel as a completely self contained one man fighting unit. Everything from his rifle to his cape and groundsheet could be stowed away on his bike. A small kitbag carried behind the seat held rations and personal items while an emergency tool kit hung from the crossbar. On tarmac roads the heavy iron bike was fast and effective but often had to be abandoned in rough terrain and muddy conditions. 'Cycle Artificers' were used to maintain the bikes and members of each battalion were specially trained as mechanics.

Armycycle1915 Of course the army had to draw up regulations for the use of bikes in the field of battle and in drilling and ceremonial occasions. The first book of regulations was drawn up in 1907 and revised in 1911. It contains such gems as
'A cyclist standing with his cycle, with rifle attached to it, will salute with the right hand, as laid down in Section 19, returning the hand to the point of the saddle on the completion of the salute. When at ease, a cyclist, whether mounted or leading his bicycle, will salute by coming to attention, and turning his head to the officer he salutes. A party of cyclists on the march will salute on the command Eyes Right, which will be followed by Eyes Front, from the officer or NCO in charge.'
Furthermore
'The position of the cyclist at attention is the same as that of the dismounted soldier, except that he will grasp the left steering handle with his left hand, and place the right hand at the point of the saddle, elbow to the rear.'
There was some common sense.
'Bicycle tyres should be wiped with a damp cloth after a march, so that all grit, which if left might cause a puncture, may be removed.'
'The rate of marching, excluding halts, will generally vary from 8 to 10 miles per hour, according to the weather, the nature of the country, and the state of the roads. A column of battalion size should not be expected to cover more than 50 miles in a day under favourable conditions.'

In the first months of the war the cyclists were used for coastal defence work in the United Kingdom. The work of the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion was described in a poem written by their chaplain, Rev. K D Knowles.

The Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalions

1914.

We come from a little county,
But we muster a thousand men,
Recruited in town and village,
And away from the flat bleak fen;
We patrol the Eastern coast, sir,
We are the boys who do not shirk
Though the wind blows stiff
Yet we guard your cliff,
For that is the Hunts. boy’s work.
G. N. R. to Grimsby,
Bicycle up to Hull,
Pedal on to Hornsea,
A forty-five mile pull,
Ride up north to Filey,
Or ride down south to Spurn,
We'll do our job for a daily "bob,"
But we've more than our pay to earn.
We're bred from the old Fen stock, sirs,
Which oft times fought with Montagu;
We're hewn from the self-same rock, sirs,
Stern old Oliver Cromwell knew;
And throughout the two Battalions
You'll not find a father's son
Who will bring shame
The old fighting name
Of the lads of Huntingdon.
G. N. R. to Grimsby,
Bicycle up to Hull,
Pedal on to Hornsea,
A forty-five mile pull,
Ride up north to Filey,
Or ride down south to Spurn,
We'll do our job for a daily "bob,"
And the fame that we mean to earn.

13th Platoon D Company Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion
13th Platoon D Company Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion

Jack Hales, pictured below, was also part of the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Batallion. He was involved in the Gallipoli landings and also served in Turkey and France. He left England shortly after the end of the war, moving to Canada then Australia before finally settling in New Zealand.

Jack Hales

On the occasions that the cyclists were used in combat they were generally found to be ineffective. The terrain on the Western Front was unsuitable for bikes and they were discarded early on with the unit proceeding as normal infantry. Following the war the cyclists were perceived to have little value and the Army Cyclist Corps was disbanded in 1919. By 1922 all remaining Territorial cyclist battalions had been converted back to conventional units. The 1st Kent Cyclist Battalion was the sole battalion to be awarded battle honours – The North West Frontier in 1917, Baluchistan in 1918 and later Afghanistan. A plaque in Canterbury Cathedral records their losses.

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33 comments on “The Army Cyclist Corps”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    This post was intended for Remembrance Day. I've just realised I'm a week early!

  2. Patrick wrote:

    You can adjust the date in admin. Set it to Remembrance Sunday? Then the post will disappear and reappear on the right day without you doing anything! (and we can delete our comments)

  3. Kern wrote:

    I say leave it in. It is a great post, and better remembered too early than not at all, "Lest we forget".

  4. Patrick wrote:

    I agree. The parade at the Cenotaph is always moving. We watch it on TV every year. The number of supporting institutions involved is amazing, as is the number of nations whose people fought in the so-called Great Wars. But I think it's also important to remember that civilians, in the 20th century at least, suffered even more: Twentieth Century Atlas of Death Tolls

    It's strange how they refer to 'marching' on a bicycle, and hard to imagine them moving in columns.

  5. Mary wrote:

    I agree as well. I had no idea they even had a Cycling Battalion. Loved the photograph taken in the studio. (I assume the trees are a back drop, looking at the chaps hugging the bushes incase they fell over! )

    My daughter is a member of Air Cadets and watching the young people take their place with the parade is a very moving experience.

    My husband has an electric bicycle called a WaveForce: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tidalforce_Electric_Bicycle

    Designed for use by the military. He still has it, but I understand they are no longer in manufacture. He used it while he lost his driving licence due to ill health. It is a very powerful bike, and can go a whole lot faster than 15mph.

  6. Garry wrote:

    The Viet Minh and later the Viet Cong, used bicycles to carry heavy equipment, walking with the bicycle of course. In the battle of Dien Bien Phu, the French were amazed to find themselves surrounded by heavy artillery, which the Viet Minh had transported over mountains, in their component parts, and re-assembled when in position.

  7. Garry wrote:

    p.s. A fine post. Good research!

  8. Hilary wrote:

    The Japanese also used bikes to great effect in taking over Singapore. They rode through the jungle letting off firecrackers to create as much noise as possible, making them seem far more numerous than they were. The British thought the jungle was teeming with Japanese and consequently withdrew.

  9. Sue wrote:

    My Grandfather served in B Company, 7th Corps Cycle Battallion (he was from York) as a Despatch Rider between Verdun And Passchendael in 1916. Apparently he had to push his bike rather than ride because of the uneven terrain.

  10. Stephen M. Gage wrote:

    What a wonderful history site, about such a historic corps.

    Is it possible for me to have a copy of the corps badge for an article that i am writing.

    I am also looking for a copy of the Kent, motto 'Incarta horse'.

    Well done

    Stephen

  11. Hilary wrote:

    Thanks Stephen.
    I've emailed a scan of the badge to you.

  12. Jim McLoughlin wrote:

    My grandfather was part of a unit named "The Pelton Flyers", (after a village in NE England) presumably he was attached to a NE infantry regiment but I have no knowledge of the flyers or regiment. Anyone help?

  13. maggie mcchesney wrote:

    great site.doing my tree found my grandfather was in Army Cyclist corp died in battle of loos ..we know nothing really of the unsung heroes of that period.

  14. john osgthorpe wrote:

    Hi i have just aquired a group photo which i think is hunts cyclist home guard in the photo is a sign saying { B COMPANY 7 platoon winners , effiency cup , shooting cup 1943-1944 } showing the 2 cups

  15. Martin Baker wrote:

    My wife's great Uncle Stanley Rogerson was a Lieutenant in the Army Cyclist Corps, certainly from 1916 to 1922 and served in France. He was originally with the the Gloucestershire Regiment, but I am unsure which ACC unit he was in. I wonder if any records exist, or a photograph. All I have is his medal roll. He came from the Isle of Wight, and went back to live on the Isle of Wight working as a Nurseryman.

  16. vickerstaff wrote:

    my great grandfather was in the cyclist corps. Unfortunately i don't know which one. Does anyone kow of/have pic of Ernest William Ansell? Sometimes just called william. married to Kate if that helps?

  17. June Hutchinson wrote:

    My maternal grandfather, Joe Gleaden – born near Barnsley – was in the 5th Battalion of the Army Cyclists Corp (East Yorkshire Regiment WWI). Only just unearthed this information. He was invalided out of France in December 1918. If anyone has any more information on this battalion I would very much welcome this. Thank you.

  18. alan moss wrote:

    My grandfather was with the Kent Cyclist Batt, 1/1, and served in France, attached to the R.W.Kents. In 1916,he served in India. He survived the War, and in March 1919,went on the Reserves. Henry J.Moss. No.322.
    Where would the Army service records be kept ?. I hold his war medals, for 1914-1918.

  19. Rita Heatley wrote:

    Hi, all I know is that my grandfather was a cyclist in the war ( boer or world war 1) and he lived in Shepherds Bush, London. I don't know where to start looking. Can anyone advise? Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks.

  20. Catherine Degney wrote:

    My Great Uncle, FW (Frederick William Preddy) served in the Army Cyclist Corps and died in June 1918 whilst serving. He was a postman in Rotherham and his name appears on the Cenotaph in Clifton Park Rotherham and also in the postal sorting office.

    When he died however, he appeared not to be in the Army Cyclist Corps but this is what appears on the cenatoph and presumably was probably a good cyclist through working as a postman?

    Can anyone advise why he would change (or be made to change regiments)?

    Any information is much appreciated.

  21. John watson wrote:

    ANyone know if the acc ever had an official regimental march?

  22. Ian Hollingsworth wrote:

    Hi ,I live in Tasmania,several years ago a friend (who had immigrated from the UK) gave me a 1914/1915 medal inscribed 13236 L.Mooney.A Cycle Corps.
    Is there any way that this persons Army record be traced .I know that a lot of records were lost during the WW11 bombing raids on London.
    My friend found the medal buried in the dirt of a park in London a number of years after WW 11

    Cheers.

  23. Martin Baker wrote:

    Attn Ian Hollingsworth – looking at England/Wales Census 1911 there are only a handful of L. Mooney names of the right sort of age, so chances are he is one of this lot :
    Surname / first names / age in 1911 / birth place
    MOONEY, Lanes Justin 15 St Pancras London
    MOONEY, Lawrence 14 West Derby, Liverpool Lancashire
    MOONEY, Leo K 9 Salford Lancashire – probably too young
    MOONEY, Lewis 21 Grimsby Lincolnshire
    MOONEY, Louis 23 Lanchester Durham

    My money would be on Lanes Mooney. Next step is to look for his Medal Roll at The National Archive in Kew. I will give it a go. Of course he might have been Scottish, or a non-Brit. Martin.

  24. Martin Baker wrote:

    L. Mooney search – alas no joy so far on Medal Roll nor Army Pensions records, nor records of those Killed in Action. Wonder if 'L' was his middle initial ? Or he may well have been with someone like the Australian Cyclist Corps. If anything comes up I will let you know.

  25. Ian Hollingsworth wrote:

    Thanks for the replies,much appreciated .I emailed details to Australia War Memorial some time back ,they did not reply ,I will give them another go .The odds of him being Aus would be remote considering how it was found.Interesting enough was another find approx the same time by my friend is an ARP whistle made by Hudson and Co,Barr St ,Hockley,Birmingham.
    Cheers ,
    Ian,and thanks for your interest.

  26. Ian Hollingsworth wrote:

    Hi Martin,
    Forgot to add in reply to your post .L was the only initial for Christian names
    Cheers
    Ian

  27. Barbara May wrote:

    My Grandfather was in the Army Cyclist Battalion joined in Durham. I found him after a lot of searching on Ancestry.

  28. The actor Charles Laughton was a member of the Huntingdonshire Cyclists Battalion.

  29. Kern wrote:

    The number of responses this post has elicited has been impressive. When Hilary first wrote it I did some cursory searches for a Canadian connection, found nothing and forgot about it. Prodded by the continual stream of comments, I re-searched and came across this link. (Numerous search hits appear to quote liberally and directly from this article with no attribution. I am assuming this article is the original source for much of the posted information.)

    Written in 1941, the jingoistic style of the times is jarring to the modern reader, with references to “Heine”, “our lads”, etc. Despite that, there are some facts that readers may find interesting.

    The 1st Divisional Cyclist Company “was named the ‘Suicide Battalion’ because they had visions of fighting rear guard actions with 'Heine' and their chances of survival would be small”. In fact their duties were mostly mundane until the last 100 days of the war.

    At Chiseldon Camp (situated halfway between Swindon and Marlborough) were stationed “about 1,500 Imperial Cyclists, 400 Australian Cyclists, 200 New Zealand Cyclists and 400 Canadian Cyclists”.

    The casualty rate of the cyclists in France was 23%. Those weren’t very good odds, but a bit better than the infantry (68%).

    It seems the cyclists were also quite intelligent (no surprise there). “In one platoon alone there were six B.A.’s, two M.A.’s, and one LL.B.”

    Various Canadian sites point out that “A Canadian Cyclist was the first of the allied armies to cross the Bonn Bridge into Germany”. Well, who’s to blame them? I just did it too :) .

  30. Hilary wrote:

    Thanks for posting that link Kern, some interesting stuff.
    I've been amazed how many responses there have been to the original post although most of them have been from people researching their family history.

  31. Mike Brookes wrote:

    Just seen June Hutchinson post 14/3/13 re Joe Gleadon in 5th Battalion Army Cyclists Corps E Yorks Regiment. There is information about this in R Wilson & G A Collinson's book 'East Yorkshire Volunteer Infantry 1859-1908' (1982, Fineprint (Hull). Book now seems to be out of print, was lent to me recently but I have since photocopied parts and returned it. It says that the 5th Battalion was an entirely new battalion, brought into being as one of the 10 original units which in 1908 became the cyclist battalions of the Territorial Force. It was formed on a nucleus of some 90 NCOs and men from 'H' Company (Cyclists) of the old 1st V.B. East Yorks Regiment. Captain R W Aske later became Commanding Officer and several other Officers' names, plus details of its Hull H/Q and local detachments, are provided. The 5th Battalion was attached to the Northumbrian Division and like other battalions of the Territorial Force, their planned role was coastal reconnaissance and defence. The book includes uniform details and photographs. Second line units were later created with the outbreak of WW1. One of these was the 2/1st Battalion which was based in Burton Constable near Hull in 1918, which I am currently researching.

  32. susan wrote:

    I have 4 photographs taken of the men in the 5th Cyclists east Yorkshire, when they were posted to Frieston in Lincolnshire. My grandfather was one of the cyclists. unfortunately no names are on the photos.

  33. Terry Adams wrote:

    My Grandfather Albert Adams was also in the 5th Cyclists East Yorkshire (enlisted Nov 17 1915 having been previously 2yrs as a volunteer in the RGA. I would be most interested to hear from anyone with any further information.

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