CTC members in WW1
CTC members in WW1
So wrote Lance Corporal A. S. for the benefit of his fellow CTC members 100 years ago in an article entitled ‘With the Cyclists in Khaki’.
We don’t know the author’s full name. We do know he was one of dozens of CTC members who served in one of the Cyclist Battalions which fought during the First World War.
Each Armistice Day, at 11am the nation falls silent for two minutes to remember Lance Corporal A.S. and millions like him who have fought and died in conflicts around the globe during the last century.
As part of the commemorations on 11th November every year, wreaths are laid and cyclists stop to pay their respects at the Cyclists’ Memorial, erected in 1921 on the village green in Meriden, West Midlands – the centre of England.
Whether Lance Corporal A. S. survived the conflict is unknown, but in the December 1916 issue of the CTC Gazette he was very much alive and giving his fellow cyclists an insight into his life in the Army.
He wrote: “…cyclists have proved themselves a very mobile and useful branch of the Army, and a company of good riders and excellent shots can prove themselves the right men to get to the right spot in quick time.”
He explains that “strength and endurance are two of the chief requisites” of being a cycling soldier. The third requisite he doesn’t mention is courage.
Some of the most brutal fighting of the First World War took place in 1916. On February 21 the Germans began their attack on Verdun, which was ultimately defended by the French in the longest battle of the war that finally ended on December 18, at great cost to both sides. The biggest naval battle in history also took place that year, at Jutland.
But one name resonates louder than any other from 1916 – the Somme.
The Battle of the Somme began on July 1, sparking 141 days of horror as the British and French fought the Germans on a 15-mile front. That first day has gone down as the bloodiest in British military history, with 19,240 of our soldiers killed and nearly 40,000 injured. By the time the Somme Offensive ended on 18 November, there were over one million dead and wounded on all sides.
A Remembrance Sunday special edition of Countryfile on BBC One will be of interest to Cycling UK members, as presenter Helen Skelton takes part in a special cycle ride across northern France to commemorate the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago. Helen took part in Ride to the Somme 2016, an event organised by SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, to raise money to help servicemen and women, veterans and their families in need following present-day conflicts.
…cyclists have proved themselves a very mobile and useful branch of the Army, and a company of good riders and excellent shots can prove themselves the right men to get to the right spot in quick time.
Lance Corporal A.S. writing in the CTC Gazette in December 1916
During the programme she discovers more about the brave cycling battalions which travelled from many parts of rural Britain to fight on the Western Front, and also meets fellow riders to hear their personal reasons for taking on the cycling challenge.
The SSAFA’s Ride to the Somme 2017 will start on Wednesday 30 August next year and will culminate at The Tyne Cot Memorial on Saturday 2nd September. There will be visits en route to a number of cemeteries which have graves of soldiers from the Army Cyclist Corps, which was founded in 1914.
Three CTC Rolls of Honour were published in the club’s monthly Gazette during 1916, listing the names of 103 members who had been killed in action.
The March issue also included an appeal for members to continue their support of the club, stating: “If the CTC were to fail us now, there is no other organisation to take its place.
“For the moment, the Club’s activities are naturally characterised by quietness, but we are inclined to believe that the time may come when a strong cycling organisation will again be needed to bear a hand in fighting the cyclist’s battles, and perhaps the need will be greater than ever before. For instance, signs are not lacking that an attempt will be made to stampede the authorities into giving the rear-lighting of cycles a permanent place in the legal code of this country.”
By the end of the war, CTC’s membership had dwindled to just 8,546. Although the club recorded a profit of £43 13sh 6d in 1916, that was the last time the finances were in the black for five years.
A century ago, the CTC Gazette was also encouraging members to collect eggs for the sick and wounded soldiers in the nation’s hospitals, as by this time there was a serious egg shortage.
There were adverts for linen or paper War Maps, published by Messrs John Bartholomew and Co, which could help members identify battle sites across Europe, and appeals for donations to the National Cyclists’ Union, which was supplying food parcels for cyclist PoWs – CTC members among them.
There was still time for cycling as well, with hundreds attending the Northern Old-Time Cyclists’ Rally at the Ring o’ Bells, Daresbury, Cheshire, on Sunday 27 August. But the war was never far away and £30 was collected in donations for the Cyclist Prisoners of War Fund.