"Caught the cycling craze" AIF Cyclist units 1916-1919.
In the New Year of 1916, the Australian units in Egypt, recently withdrawn from the chaos and horror of the Gallipoli Campaign, were reinforcing, rearming and re-equipping. At the same time, the AIF was undertaking an enormous process of reorganisation. At the request of the British high command, the AIF was more than doubling its size. The 1st and 2nd Divisions in Egypt were to be joined in due course by the 3rd Division forming in Australia. In the meantime 1st Division split to form the 13th, 14th and 15th Brigades. Of these, the 14th and 15th Brigades, along with the previously unattached 8th Brigade, formed the 5th Division. The 4th Brigade of the old NZ & A Division split to form the 12th Brigade and these two brigades were joined by the newly raised 13th Brigade (from 3rd Brigade, 1st Division) to form the 4th Division. (1)
In expanding the AIF, the Australian authorities were guided by the directions of the British high command's requirement that Dominion formations adhere to British Army orders of battle.
Much of the responsibility for forming the new divisions fell on the shoulders of that brilliant staff officer, Cyril Brudenell White. From White's Cairo office a veritable blizzard of paper cascaded as he showered the AIF with letters, minutes and memoranda covering all aspects of the minutiae of the reorganisation. Much of the direction was contained in a series of so-called "AIF Circular Memoranda", of which over 50 were issued. On 10 March 1916, "Circular Memorandum No. 32--Establishment of Cyclist Companies A.I.F., March, 1916" was issued. (2) Circularised to Divisions and Brigades, the memorandum stated:
1. Approval is given for the organization of a Cyclist Company in each Australian Division. The Company will be of the establishment laid down in Part VII War Establishments 1915.
2. The Company will form a distinct organisation, but Officers appointed to it will be seconded from units, and their promotion will be regulated accordingly." (3)
At first glance, the military use of bicycles might appear odd, even ridiculous. Bear in mind, however, that at the time of the First World War, armies were at a technological cross road, caught between the eras of horse power and mechanical power. Although contemporary armies still clung stubbornly to horsed cavalry, most sensible observers recognised that the day of the horse in war was numbered. But mobility was still vital to warfare, mobility for transport, scouting, and communications.
By 1914, the bicycle had quite a long military history. As far back as 1872, the Italian Army had used high-wheelers for communications on military exercises. In 1885 the Brighton Rifles, a British volunteer unit, used high-wheelers during their annual training manoeuvres. The very first specific cyclist unit in the British Army, the 26th Middlesex (Cyclist) Volunteer Rifle Corps, was raised in 1888.
Two year later, the British Army carried out trials on an astonishing eight-wheeled monster contraption designed to carry supplies, machine guns or small cannon. Dubbed the "hernia horror," the eight-wheeled, eight man-cycled monster was a failure. In 1891, the Swiss Army Cycle Troops were established. (4) Peugeot of France produced a folding bicycle for the French Army in 1892. In the same year, the Japanese made wide use of cycles during annual military manoeuvres. The following year, 1893, saw the formal establishment of the German Army cyclist troops. In 1894, the Colorado Militia in the United States used bicycles for communications and liaison work during operations connected with the Cripple Creek Strike. Between 1896-1898, the US Army's all black 25th Infant' Regiment carried out a remarkable experiment to prove the utility of bicycle mounted troops. The experiment included a 1900 mile, 41 day bike ride from Missoula Montana to St Louis Missouri in 1897. Then, in 1898, the unit, now raised from 25 to 100 men, was taken to Cuba at the end of the Spanish-American War by its white commander, Lieutenant James A. Moss. In Cuba, the cyclists performed excellent work on riot control duty in Havana following the end of hostilities. (5)
The Anglo-Boer War from 1899-1902 saw widespread use of bicycles by both sides. The British Army fielded a cyclist battalion of the City Imperial Volunteers as well as two bicycle-mounted battalions of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. In addition, local volunteer units fielded cyclist troops, including the Rand Rifles, Cape Cyclist Corps, Kimberley Cyclist Corps and "E" Troop Southern Rhodesia Volunteers. (6) Despite initial doubts, the cyclists performed well and surprised observers by their ability to maintain mobility on the veldt, even during the wet season. Maree records an incident (with no dates given unfortunately) near Hammanskraal in the Transvaal where a cycle mounted patrol of 11 New Zealanders encountered, pursued and captured ten horse mounted Boers. (7) On the Boer side, one of the most famous of Boer fighters was the scout Danie Theron. (8) Theron had been the driving force before the outbreak of the war in forming a bicycle mounted scouting unit, the Wielrijders Rapportgangers Corps. Theron managed to win over the sceptical President Kruger and Commandant-General Joubert by staging a cross-country race over a distance of 75 kilometres between champion cyclist "Koos" Jooste and a horse mounted man. Jooste won the race. During the war, Theron's cycle scouts performed excellent service and in fact were so successful that the British authorities confiscated or strictly controlled the use of bicycles in occupied territory. (9)
In 1900, Dursley Pedersen produced a folding bicycle for use by the British Army but it was not accepted. Bianchi of Italy produced a military bicycle for Alpine use in 1905 which is regarded as the forerunner as today's mountain bikes. The success of the bicycle in South Africa led to the development of a military bicycle for the British Army (see below) as well as the establishment of a number of specifically raised cyclist units. The latter occurred in 1908 when the Territorial Force was raised. Although there were approximately 8,000 cyclists in the British volunteer units in 1908, these troops were raised unofficially by their units. The new Territorial Army included, as from 1908: 7th (Cyclist) Battalion the Devonshire Regiment; Essex and Suffolk Cyclist Battalion; Highland Cyclist Battalion; 7th (Cyclist) Battalion the Welsh Regiment; 10th (Cyclist) Battalion the Royal Scots; 25th (City of London) Cyclist Battalion the London Regiment (formerly the 26th Middlesex VRC); 6th (Cyclist) Battalion the Norfolk Regiment; Northern Cyclist Battalion; and 5th (Cyclist) Battalion the East Yorkshire Regiment. (10)
During the First World War, France and Belgium would field over 150,000 cyclists; the British Army Cyclist Corps would eventually total 100,00 men; and the German Army would field 125,000 cyclists. Although the US Army was to bring 29,000 bicycles with it to France, these were used for communications and message carrying only and there were no cyclist units in the *AEF. (11)
Interestingly, there had been some military involvement with cycling in Australia before the war. Senior officers as Bridges were adamantly opposed to the idea of formed cyclists units, believing, with some cause, that the best way to employ cyclists was as individual scouts and guides. Nevertheless, in 1909 the Department of Defence agreed to stand as patron for the Dunlop Military Dispatch Cycle Ride. More a publicity exercise for Dunlop rather than anything else, the 1839 kilometre ride by 68 two-man relay teams in less than 80 hours was quite an achievement. At the start point in Adelaide, a military despatch was handed to the first rider by the Adelaide District Commandant. Just under 70 hours later the despatch was handed over to Captain Brand at Sydney's Victoria Barracks. The relay was repeated in 1912, again with military patronage. This time, however, the cyclists competed against teams of motorists and motorcyclists. This time, the cyclists bettered their 1909 time by three minutes and despite taking almost 24 hours longer than the motor car ten and 18 hours more than the motorcyclists, easily won the event on handicap. (12) From a military point of view, however, these events were little more than stunts.
Officers and men for the Australian cyclist companies were to be found from volunteers from existing units and from reinforcements. On 11 March, HQ 1st Australian Division called for a return showing the names of "Officers, Warrant Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers to fill the following positions" in 1st Div. Cyclist Coy.--8 officers, 1 warrant officer, 7 staff sergeants and sergeants, 2 artificers. The strength and organisation of the Cyclist Company was laid down in the British Army publication "War Establishments, Part VII., New Armies, 1915" the relevant table being "Cyclist Company, Divisional Mounted Troops." Total establishment strength of a cyclist company was 201 organised into a HQ and 6 platoons as shown in Table 1.
The two drivers were attached from the Divisional Train while the two medical orderlies were attached from the divisional medical units. Note that the table calls for an interpreter who, if not a member of the forces ranked as an officer. The drivers were responsible for the company transport that consisted of one Cooks Cart and one GS Wagon (SAA). In addition, two more GS Wagons with drivers were to be temporarily attached from the Divisional Train as required when the company undertook movements. The total strength of the company with attachments was 204. The total number of bicycles authorised was 202. The two drivers obviously did not need bikes. The actual final strength of the companies was about 230 as each newly raised company was to include a reinforcement element of 10%-20%.
The new Cyclist Companies began to form and organize at the end of March 1916. Volunteers were not hard to find. Among those volunteering were a draft of over 200 officers and men of the 4th Light Horse Regiment. This draft appears to have been made up of most of the 14th Reinforcements of the 4th Light Horse. (13) These were men who had arrived in the Middle East too late to take part in the Gallipoli campaign. Many of them obviously decided to transfer to the 2nd Divisional Cyclist Company in the belief that the Middle East was to be a sideshow and that if the only way of getting to the Western Front to see action was to swap their Walers for bicycles, then, so be it! It is quite likely, however, that many also elected to transfer to the Cyclists in the hope that once the squadrons of the 4th Light Horse which were earmarked for the Western Front began to suffer casualties, then they would be able to transfer back to the light horse. This in fact proved to be the case as, following later reorganisations of the cyclist units in Europe, many officers, NCO's and men who had volunteered from the Light Horse ended up back in either the 4th or 13th Light Horse Regiments.
The 1st and 2nd Division Cyclist Companies were both raised in the second week of March 1916. The 4th and 5th Division Cyclist Companies were raised in the third week of April 1916. Back in Australia, the newly formed 3rd Australian Division added a cyclist company to its establishment in late March 1916. (14) Although no problems were encountered in finding enough NCO's and private soldiers to fill out the unit establishments, officers were a little harder to come by. The War Diary of the 5th Cyclist Company, for example records that on 14 May 1916, four NCO's, SGT S. Diamond, SGT P.C. Reid, CQMS H.K. Love and S/SGT H.J. MacLennan, were appointed 2nd Lieutenant to make up officer deficiencies. (15)
Early problems for the newly raised cyclist companies included both a lack of bicycles for training and also a lack of bicycling experience on the part of many of the volunteers, particularly among the "Mulga Bills" of the light horse. For example, the unit War Diary of the 5th Divisional Cyclist Company, which was raised at Ferry Park in Egypt on 16 April 1916, recorded on 28 April 1916 that the unit's complement of bicycles was only "40 machines" and that "many men had never been on a bike before and a great deal of time is wasted in teaching them." (16) Still, training went on, concentrating on bicycle riding, marching, musketry and simple tactical exercises.
Training was based on the British Army's Cyclist Training Manual 1907 (As Revised 1911). Apparently CAPT Hindhaugh's only preparation for command of a cyclist unit was being given a copy of this manual. The manual is replete with such items as how to salute while standing by, sitting on and riding the bicycle; drill movements such as "Ground Cycles," "Take Up Cycles" and "Stack and Unstack Cycles;" and helpful advice on care of bicycles such as "Bicycle tires should be wiped with a damp closth after a march, so that all grit, which if left might cause a puncture, may be removed."(17)
The Western Front
The 1st and 2nd Division Cyclist Companies departed Egypt for France on 21 and 22 March 1916 respectively, just over a week after they were raised. They arrived at Toulon on 28 and 29 March and entrained for the north. The 3rd Division Cyclist Company departed Sydney for the United Kingdom on 13 May 1916. The 4th Division Cyclist Company sailed for France from Egypt at the end of May 1916, while the 5th Division Cyclist Company embarked at Alexandria on 17 June 1916. An interesting embarkation table for the move of the 5th Division Cyclist Company survives in the War Memorial's archives. The table indicates that the unit's assigned transport, HMT Manitou, carried 201 officers, 5091 OR, 61 wagons, 58 2-wheeled carts, 36 4wheeled carts, 175 tons of baggage, 590 horses, 355 bicycles and 3 motor cars. The company was assigned to travel from Moascar to Alexandria aboard "4th Train Emergency 832A/747 (8 officers, 192 OR, 202 bicycles and 2 tons of baggage). (18) The unit war diary notes that departure from Moascar was timed for 2115 with arrival at the Alexandria docks timed for 0445. In the end, the train actually pulled in to the docks at 0515--half an hour late. (19) This was an extremely creditable performance considering that the division was lifted in nine trains and it says a lot for both the excellence of the military staff work and the efficiency of the Egyptian railways.
Corps Cyclist Battalions
Following arrival in France, the newly arrived cyclist companies had not even time to draw breath when they found that another change was in store for them. With the decision to group the Australian divisions and the New Zealand division into two corps, a major reorganisation of the divisional mounted troops had been undertaken. As a result, it was decided to withdraw the mounted troops from divisions and to group them into corps assets. This was again in line with the requirements of the Imperial military authorities as outlined in GHQ O.B 1517 of 2 May 1916. (20) The organisation of a cyclist battalion is shown in Table 2.
As can be seen in Table 2, the newly created Cyclist Battalions now consisted of a HQ and three cyclist companies, each of which was about half the strength of the previously independent Cyclist Companies. The officer listed as "Attached" (1(a)) was the unit medical officer while the attached WO (1(b)) was the unit armourer, responsible for the maintenance of both weapons and bicycles. Companies were organised as shown in Table 3.
The WO in Company HQ was an artificer responsible to the unit armourer for the maintenance of company weapons and bicycles. One of the two OR listed under Company HQ was the unit driver who was not issued with a bicycle.
Reorganisation of the cyclists into battalions led to a surplus of 10 officers and 397 OR, a total of 407 excess personnel or almost enough to form two additional cyclist battalions! The 1st and 2nd Division Cyclist Companies were used to form the I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion. The 3rd Division Cyclist Company was disbanded on arrival in the UK in July and its members distributed to infantry and artillery units. The 4th Division Cyclist Company provided some members for I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion, with the bulk of the unit being employed as infantry and artillery reinforcements. Finally, the 5th Division Cyclist Company went on to form the Australian Company of the II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion. (21)
I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion. The War Diary for I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion was opened on 9 May 1916. Orders issued by HQ I Anzac directed that the battalion was to be formed from the 1st and 2nd Division Cyclist Companies. Command of the unit was vested in MAJ D.M. Davis, formerly OC 1st Division Cyclist Company. I Anzac further directed that excess personnel were to remain attached to the new battalion pending further instructions. (22) In his battalion headquarters, MAJ Davis had LT H. Dawson as Adjutant, 2LT R.H. Herd as QM, WOI A.E. Simon as RSM and WOI C.X. Hart as BQMS. A Company was under command of CAPT J.E. Hindhaugh with LTs W. Ross, H.H.H. Locke and H. Thornton as Platoon Commanders. B Company was under command of CAPT J.J.S. Scouler; his platoon commanders were LTs G.H. Butler, F.L. McDougall and O.S. Symon. C Company was commanded by CAPT J. Harrison with LTs S.P. Ashton and P.J. Bayliss and 2LT H. Raphael as Platoon Commanders. (23)
On 15 May, the battalion moved by road from Sercus to Bouvelinghem. A month's training under the tutelage of 2 Cavalry Division followed. Training progressed from platoon to company to battalion and covered scouting, navigation, field sketching, forward, flank and rear guards, route marches and musketry. The battalion's officers took part in several staff rides and the unit's signallers undertook intensive training. The unit returned to Sercus on 18 June and continued training, with emphasis on musketry and physical fitness. (24)
The first operational activity was carried out on 29 June when the battalion provided bicycle mounted patrols of one officer and eight other ranks for Corps tasks. These patrols were carried out successfully and Corps Headquarters favourably commented on the conduct of the troops. (25) In June, MAJ Davis was appointed OC Cyclist Details and command of the battalion passed to MAJ R.F. Fitzgerald who was attached from 20th Battalion. Two moves were carried out in July, the first to Vignacourt and the second to Contay. These moves placed the battalion under command of divisions of the Corps and while in these locations, the unit divided its time between training and carrying out various tasks as directed by divisional headquarters. Large parties were detached to the APM of the divisions at various times to carry out traffic control duties. Other tasks included ammunition fatigues, salvage work, water control piquets and assisting with local harvests. The battalion also provided guards for Corps and Divisional Headquarters. (26)
At the end of August, the battalion moved from Contay to Wallon Cappel, occupying new billets on 4 September. From 5-13 September, the unit carried out much needed overhaul and maintenance of bicycles, vehicles and equipment. Once again, various tasks in support of I Anzac Corps and divisions of the Corps took up a large part of the battalion's time and effort. Traffic control duties and ammunition fatigues in particular placed a heavy burden on the battalion. Command of the unit changed again on 30 September. MAJ Fitzgerald was promoted to T/LTCOL and posted to command 24th Battalion. In his place, CAPT Hindhaugh, OC A Company, was promoted to T/MAJ and appointed CO I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion. (27)
On 20 October, the battalion moved again, this time to Becordal-Becourt where they took over the billets and duties of XV Corps Cyclist Battalion. Duties taken over included salvage work. While engaged in this work, the battalion suffered its first battle death when, on 30 October, 947 LCPL C.G. Leslie was killed by German shellfire. (28) The following day, a German aircraft bombed the battalion's camp and one soldier was wounded. (29)
As the weather turned colder and winter approached, in addition to various operational and support tasks levied on the battalion, a great deal of time was devoted to improving the unit's camp at Becordal-Becourt. In particular, the tented accommodation taken over from XV Corps Cyclist Battalion was progressively replaced by huts. (30) Enemy shellfire continued to take its toll of killed and wounded. On 9 November 1179 PTE C. Stephenson died of wounds received while carrying out salvage work. (31) MAJ Hindhaugh's promotion and appointment as CO were confirmed on 25 November. (32) Less than a month later, the battalion suffered another battle death when LT C. Hales was killed by shellfire while conducting reconnaissance. (33) Two soldiers were wounded in the same incident. It should also be noted that there was a constant trickle of men being evacuated sick to hospital, the war diary recording an average of two to three men per day. A number of these men were smack off strength having beend were evacuated back to Australia. (34)
The battalion saw in the New Year of 1917 still at Becordal-Becourt. On 4 January, another man was lost to enemy action when PTE E.A. Millar was suffocated when an enemy shell blast buried him. (35) Several members of the battalion were wounded by shellfire throughout the month. On January 28, the battalion moved to Henencourt.
In February 1917, the British High Command became aware of the German plan to carry out a strategic withdrawal to the Siegfried Line to reduce the "bulge" in their line between Arras and Soissons. (36) As soon as I Anzac Corps became aware of the German withdrawal, urgent orders went to the Cyclist Battalion to send a company forward to carry out scouting and reconnaissance across the Corps front. In accordance with this order, A Company deployed to Millencourt on 25 February. (37) When the scale of the German withdrawal became apparent, half company detachments of both B and C Company were attached to 7th and 15th Brigades respectively and began active patrolling and scouting forward of the brigade positions. The cyclists remained detached until the end of May, at which point they were released and returned to the battalion. The last of the cyclists had rejoined the battalion by 1 June. In the meantime, on 7 May, the battalion had been advised that UK leave had been approved for the unit, on the basis of four men absent on leave at any one time. (38)
I Anzac Corps Mounted Troops, consisting of the Corps Cavalry Regiment and the Corps Cyclist Battalion, were inspected by the Corps Commander, LTGEN Sir W.R. Birdwood, on 7 July. The inspection was specifically carried out as a mark of appreciation to the Corps Mounted Troops for their efficient and valuable service in the preceding months. Two days later, on 9 July, the battalion moved to Hazebrouk. Once the unit was settled into billets, a large number of officers and men were sent off on mining courses at various army schools. Officers and men attended courses on gas, salvage, Lewis Gun, musketry instruction, intelligence, signals, bombing and armourers. (39)
Following specialist training at the 2nd Army Lewis Gun School, the battalion's Lewis Gun teams began training in anti-aircraft defence on 24 August. On 6 September, the battalion undertook what was to be its last move as an independent unit when it moved to Devonshire Camp in the vicinity of Caestre. A piquet of one NCO and 5 men remained at Hazebrouk to guard the bicycles, 69 in number, of members of the battalion who were absent on leave, course or detachment at the time of the move. Once settled, the battalion's Lewis Gun teams were sent out to provide AA defence for various dumps and installations around the area. The remainder of the battalion was employed on ammunition fatigues under the control of I Anzac Corps Heavy Artillery. The battalion was to remain employed on these two tasks until the end of October. Although no men were killed, the battalion lost a steady stream of men wounded by shellfire and bombing throughout September and October. To these were added the constant drain of men being evacuated sick. (40)
With winter coming on again, November and December were taken up with camp improvement on top of the constant round of other tasks directed by Corps. While those men available worked on improving accommodation and facilities in the camp, men were constantly being detached to carry out a bewildering array of additional tasks, including: traffic control, POW control and escort, headquarters guard, water control, route reconnaissance and marking, ammunition fatigues, train unloading, AA defence, headquarters guards, track making, wire laying and repair, cable laying, the list seems almost endless. And it was to be on this unglamorous but entirely necessary note that I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion ended its existence. With the decision to dissolve I and II Anzac Corps and create the Australian Corps in January 1918, the battalion ceased to exist. One of the last events in the battalion's existence, however, was a sumptuous Christmas Dinner paid for out of Regimental Funds at which the officers and senior NCO's waited on the men in accordance with Army tradition. (41)
II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion. It is impossible to detail the history of II Anzac Cyclists without discussing in some detail the New Zealand Cyclists which were comprised two thirds of the strength of II Anzac Cyclists and a New Zealanders commanded the battalion.
At the time the AIF was going through its expansion in Egypt, the NZEF was also expanding to create the New Zealand Division. As with the Australians, so the New Zealanders undertook to organise their new formation in line with the war establishments laid down by the British high command. Thus the NZEF found itself suddenly burdened with the need to raise a hitherto unthought of unit. The New Zealand Cyclist Company was raised in New Zealand with orders for the raising of the unit going out at the end of March 1916. Appointed to command the company was Major C. Hellier Evans of the 13th Mounted Rifles (13 MR), a pastoralist, pre-war territorial officer and noted amateur cyclist. (42) He immediately selected his platoon commanders from volunteers from 11th, 12th and 13th Mounted Rifle
Regiments and the Reserve Squadron, all then at Featherston Camp. Volunteers for the new company were called from among the reinforcements at Featherston on 5 April. As part of the selection process, Evans instituted "riding tests" and a number of otherwise promising candidates were rejected in place of volunteers who proved themselves skilled, or at least competent, bicycle riders. The newly formed company passed a hectic few weeks as they were to depart New Zealand at the end of April and had, in the intervening weeks, to pass final medical boards, receive inoculations and qualify at musketry tests, along with the myriad other details which accompany the raising and overseas despatch of any military unit. But it was all accomplished by the time the unit departed as a part of the 12th Reinforcements on 29 April. The company sailed with a strength of 8 officers and 196 other ranks, plus 10% reinforcements for a total strength of 225 (but less bicycles). (43)
The company disembarked at Suez on 22 June and marched into camp at Tel el Kebir. They departed Alexandria on 11 July and disembarked at Marseilles on 17 July. From Marseilles, the company proceeded by train to Sercus where they arrived on 19 July and went into billets alongside 2nd Australian Division Cyclist Company. The unit had not had time to even begin training when, on 20 July, Evans was informed by GOC II Anzac Corps that the NZ Cyclist Company was to be the basis for the Corps Cyclist Battalion and that he was to command the unit. (44) The new battalion was officially raised on 22 July with a strength of 15 officers and 302 other ranks. These were organised into a battalion HQ and three companies. No. 1 (NZ) Company and No. 2 (NZ) Company were raised from the NZ Cyclist Company, while No. 3 (Australian) Company was raised from 5th Australian Division Cyclist Company. (45) While most of the battalion appointments were New Zealanders, the Adjutant, 2LT H.K. Love, BQMS, SSGT C.G. Forrest, and Signals Sergeant, SGT N.J. Ward, were Australians. The company commander, adjutant and platoon commanders of No.3 (Australian) Company were Australians.
The 5th Division Cyclist Company had arrived in France on 25 June 1916. Following what seems to have been a very uncomfortable three-day train trip from Marseilles, the unit arrived at Steenwerk at 0300 on 29 January. Platoon training consisting of PT and route marching commenced immediately. Training then progressed to semaphore, musketry, map reading and field sketching. (46) The training topics are of interest as they show conclusively that the cyclist units were intended for use as reconnaissance and scouting troops. The company had barely got into its training program, however, when news was received of the formation of II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion and the allotment of 5th Australian Division Cyclist Company to the new unit as No. 3 (Australian) Company. This news came in the form of II Anzac Corps General Staff Circular No. 1 ("Formation of 2nd Anzac Corps Light Horse Regt. and 2nd Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion") of 4 July 1916 and advised that pending arrival of two companies New Zealand Cyclist Battalion, 5th Divisional Cyclist Company remained with the 5th Australian Division.
The new battalion, officially raised on 22 July, began sub-unit training in its billets at Sercus. Bicycles were not issued until 16 August. On that day, the battalion drew their machines at Bac St. Maur and "cycled back to La Belle Hotesse." (47)
In August/September 1916, II Anzac Cyclist Battalion was employed on training with several detachments being employed on traffic control duties and on trench works. On 16 September, the battalion embarked on ten days front line duty as infantry attached to 55th Australian Infantry Battalion at Fleurbaix. On 24 September the battalion command transferred to 60th Australian Infantry Battalion at Petilion and four days later suffered its first combat death when CPL F.S. Des Barres (No. 2 (NZ) Coy.) was KIA during a German bombardment of the battalion's trench lines. (48) On 18 September, a member of No. 3 (Australian) Company, 4094A PTE H.M. Conway, received wounds from which he died in hospital in October. (49)
Withdrawn from the front line at the beginning of October, the cyclists were tasked with providing the Corps HQ Guard, companies taking turns to find the guard of one officer and 42 OR. On 13 October, control of the battalion passed from 5th Australian Division to the NZ Division. At about this time, a detachment of one officer and 10 OR was sent to the NZ Division Reinforcement Camp to constitute "Cyclist Reinforcement Details." (50)
At the end of October, the battalion returned to the front lines, taking over a company sector in the vicinity of Houplines, attached to the 25th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. The "highlight" of what was to be a month long period in the line was a battalion trench raid conducted on the night of 18 November, commanded by 2LT J.G. Jamieson, an AIF officer. The raid was counted a success but cost the lives of PTE A.F. George and T.P. Milne, both New Zealanders. (51) One AIF member, 4275 PTE W.B. Duncan, was killed during this period in the trenches, on 21 November, less than a week before the battalion was withdrawn.
Withdrawn from the line on 27 November, the battalion collected its bicycles from storage at Bac St. Maur and cycled to billets at Doulieu. A period of training, guard duties, traffic control and trench works followed until January 1917. In that month, the battalion was issued with Lewis Guns to replace its Hotchkiss Guns and the battalion machine gunners were sent to the GHQ Lewis Gun School at Le Touquet for training. (52)
From January to March 1917, the battalion carried out a variety of task including: reconnaissance of Corps front; HQ Guard; traffic control; anti-aircraft defence of ammunition dumps (Lewis Gun detachments); provision of guides; trench works; and tree felling. (53) On 1 April, the battalion moved to Regina Camp near Ploegstreet and was placed under command of the NZ Working Battalion for cable laying duties in preparation for the Battle of Messines. CO II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion, MAJ Evans, was in fact placed in command of the NZ Working Battalion on 3 April. By the time the work was completed on 19 May, the cyclists had dug, laid and filled in 56 miles of cable trenches, seven feet deep and containing a total of 56,000 miles of cables. (54)
For the Battle of Messines itself, the battalion was employed on traffic control; POW reception; guiding; wire clearing; lane marking; obstacle clearing; track making; bridging; and cable burying in newly taken territory. In recognition of its efforts and achievements, the battalion was inspected by the Corps commander on 6 July. (55)
The battalion had acquired such a level of expertise in the all-important task of cable burying that it was to be employed on this until the end of the year. From this point on, however, the role of the Cyclist Battalion was to provide expert guidance and oversight while the actual work was carried out by men drawn from pioneer battalions, works battalions and infantry battalions. Cable burying was carried out for II Anzac Corps throughout August. From 8 to 17 September, the battalion supervised cable burying for X (British) Corps). Back with II Anzac Corps, the battalion carried out cable burying from 24 September to 4 October east of Ypres. The Canadian Corps relieved II Anzac Corps on 17 October and the Corps Cyclist Battalion moved to billets at Ambricourt. After a brief rest, the battalion returned to cable laying on 17 November and was to remain employed on this task in the vicinity of Ypres until the end of the year. (56)
On 1 January 1918, II Anzac Corps ceased to exist and the formation became XXII (British) Corps. From that time on, the Corps Cyclist Battalion became a totally New Zealand unit, the former Australian Company's place being taken by a newly raised NZ Company. Although the history of XXII Corps Cyclist Battalion is no longer relevant to this article, it is worth noting the following NZ statistics. A total of 22 officers and 686 OR of the NZEF served with II Anzac/XXII Corps Cyclist Battalion. Casualties totalled four officers and 55 OR KIA and seven officer and 252 OR WIA. The New Zealanders earned one DSO, 10 MC (plus one bar), two DCM, 39 MM (plus five bars), four MSM, eight MID, 12 Commendation Certificates, one Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur, four Medaille Militaire, two Croix de Guerre, two Croix de Guerre (Belgian) and one Chevalier of the Crown of Roumania. (57)
The Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion
In November 1917, following continuous representations from both the Australian government and the senior command of the AIF, the decision was made to regroup the five Australian divisions into a single command. Thus, I and II Anzac Corps ceased to be and were replaced, in January 1918, by the Australian Corps. The former II Anzac Corps, now shorn of the 3rd Australian Division, became XXII Corps (British Army), although the New Zealand Division remained with it.
The reorganisation of the Australian divisions into a single corps of course resulted in a reorganisation of the cyclists. The AIF members of II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion were transferred to the Australian Corps and their former unit became an all New Zealand unit as XXII Corps Cyclist Battalion. (58) The former I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion was now retitled the Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion. While a few members of the former II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion were absorbed into the Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion, most members of the unit were posted to infantry or artillery units as reinforcements. (59) Command of the new battalion went to MAJ Hindhaugh, previously commander of I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion.
The first weeks of January were spent reorganising the new battalion, integrating those men from the former II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion who had been selected for service with the battalion, making arrangements for the departure of excess personnel drafted to infantry and artillery units, accounting for and returning excess stores and equipment and all of the other dull but vital details which go to make up military life. From the middle of January a large portion of the battalion was employed on duty at "R.E. Dump." Initially, the men were employed simply on fatigue tasks, loading and unloading tracks and train cars. As with all AIF units, however, the Cyclist Battalion contained many tradesmen and it was not long before the bulk of the party were employed on more skilled tasks including laying track for a light railway and running a sawmill. This in turn released trained engineers who had been working at the Dump for other tasks. (60) Work at the Dump continued throughout February, as well as the normal tasks which fell to the cyclists--traffic control, POW control, headquarters guards, etc. The report of work at the R.E. Dump for February, prepared by LT O.S. Symon, states that the: "enemy has registered on the dump." But work went on despite this and there were no deaths or injuries in the month. (61)
On 21 March 1918, the Germans launched their great "Michael" offensive, their last throw of the dice. As the British, Dominion and French armies reeled back in first reaction to the onslaught, the AIF Cyclists were not involved in the first days. By the first week of April, however, as Allied resistance stiffened and stabilised, the cyclists became actively involved. Besides providing detachments for traffic control and POW reception, on 6 April, Australian Corps headquarters directed OC Corps Mounted Troops to detach one troop of Light Horse and one platoon of Cyclists to 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Australian Divisions. An additional troop of Light Horse and platoon of Cyclists were to be held in readiness for detachment to 5th Australian Division on order from Corps. The Corps order stated that the mounted troops were allotted for patrol and reconnaissance, flank protection and communications. The order quite pointedly directed that the troops were "not for administrative duties." (62) The platoon on standby for service with 5th Division reported to that formation on 12 April. (63)
The cyclists did good work patrolling forward of their formations, manning piquets, providing guides, maintaining flank communications and carrying messages. A number of men were wounded or gassed and on 18 April 1086 CPL E. Callanan was killed in a skirmish while on patrol serving with 3rd Division. (64) A few days later, on 23 April, 4790 PTE S.J. Crosbie was killed by enemy shellfire while serving with 5th Division. (65)
An interesting instruction originated by 5th Division indicates how seriously that formation took Australian Corps' directive on employment of attached mounted troops. The instruction, addressed to 8th, 14th and 15th Brigades with information copies to the attached Light Horse and Cyclist sub-units, directed that small parties of light horsemen and cyclists would be attached to each brigade on a nightly basis for front line patrol work. The instruction goes on to direct that selected personnel from the Division would be attached to the Light Horse and Cyclists for instruction in scouting and observation and report writing. (66)
Detachment of the cyclist platoons to divisions continued through May. In addition, the Cyclist Battalion continued to provide detachments for a bewildering array of tasks. A return dated 31 May 1918 reveals that in addition to the five platoons attached to divisions, the battalion had troops serving with: Corps Signals; Corps Heavy Artillery Signals; Signals of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Divisions; APM 1st, 2nd and 5th Divisions; 1st, 2nd and 5th Division Salvage Companies; Corps Reinforcement Camp; Headquarters 4th Division; Corps Chemical Adviser; Corps APM; Area Commandants Frechencourt, Cagny, Camon, Ecole Normale Amiens and Coissy; Assistant Area Commandant Renancourt; Corps Staging Depot; Corps Lewis Gun School; and XXII Corps Mounted Troops. These detachments totalled 12 officers and 318 ORs out of a unit strength of 16 officers and 340 other ranks. (67) In mid-May MAJ Hindhaugh issued an operation order detailing the battalion's responsibilities and tasks for the defence of the bridges and approaches to Camon and Cagny. This very well written document would seem to be a trifle ambitious considering, in the light of the battalion's multitudinous detachments, that Hindhaugh would have been able to call on less than 30 officers and men to carry out the defence! (68) On 20 May 2699 PTE F.W. Hitchens died of wounds received while working as a runner. (69)
The wholesale detachment of the battalion continued throughout June and July and it was not in fact until August that the numbers on detachment began to fall. Troops were serving with such diverse units as the Corps Agricultural Officer and the War Trophies Section! (70)
Reports from the commanders of cyclist platoons attached to divisions reveal that the cyclists carried out valuable work during the Australian Corps attacks in early August. On 8 August, LT Raphael's platoon attached to 58th Battalion of 15th Brigade, 5th Division, took part in a battalion attack on the German held village of Bayonvilliers. The platoon formed part of the left-hand front company in the assault. The attack found the enemy, fortunately for the attackers, demoralised and not willing to put up much of a fight. The town was captured and cleared in just over forty minutes. Two cyclists were wounded in this action. (71) The platoon's actions were commended by the Division Commander who sent a signal that stated: "The Div. Commander most heartily congratulates and thanks you for your share in magnificent result of today's action." (72)
Platoons detached to divisions were released at the end of the second week of September and returned to the battalion. The cyclist platoons had done some extremely good work while attached to the divisions. September was largely given over to rest, training and overhaul of arms and equipment. The battalion's leave schedule, which had been upset by "Michael" and its aftermath was now reinstituted and number of 1914 men were released for home leave. (73) Despite the decrease in the tempo of operations, however, the battalion continued to be called to provide detachments for such tasks as traffic control and POW reception and control. The battalion lost its last man to enemy action on 1 September when 2016 PTE R.B. Fontana was killed by shellfire. PTE Fontana had the bad luck to be killed as his platoon was withdrawing following relief. (74)
Unfortunately, leave plans and all other schedules were again thrown into disarray when the battalion was hastily moved back into the line to support the Australian operations following the breakthrough on the Hindenburg Line. Once again, platoons were attached to each of the Australian divisions taking part in the operations. The remainder of the battalion provided detachments to serve as guides, for traffic control and for POW reception and control. The entire battalion was involved. (75) It was at this point that the cyclists finally came into their own, operating over well made roads and open country on wide ranging scouting and patrol missions. A number of skirmishes were fought with retreating Germans and several cyclists were wounded. On 17 October, the battalion lost its last man in action when 1335 PTE P.H. Norman was drowned crossing a canal during a scouting mission. (76)
Even while the battalion was heavily involved in the closing battles of the war, a start had been made on preparing the men for the post war world. In October, CAPT McDougall, QM and unit Education Officer, submitted a report in which he outlined the battalion's "education scheme."
McDougall reported that 167 men had signed up for education courses with bookkeeping and agricultural science courses already started and mathematics, English and French classes planned. (77)
In October, MAJ Hindhaugh had proceeded on Anzac Leave and his place as CO was taken by MAJ R.F. Fitzgerald, former commander of I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion who returned from 24th Battalion. Fitzgerald had been awarded the DSO for his services as CO 24th Battalion. Fitzgerald's battalion continued to provide support to the Australian divisions throughout October and into November. The War Diary for November records that the men were "extremely fatigued" and that bicycles were in desperate need of maintenance. (78) When the Armistice came into effect on 11 November, as with the rest of the AIF, the cyclists took the news of the cessation of hostilities in a very anticlimactic way. Also, as with much of the rest of the AIF, it took a while for the fact of the end of hostilities to sink in. On 17 November, MAJ Fitzgerald issued an operation order for a battalion reconnaissance to "make good the MONTBREHAIN-JONCOURT Road." The order mentions "the enemy" on a number of occasions and the troops were ordered to parade in fighting order with first line ammunition. (79) By the end of the month, however, as the reality set in and longer serving men began to be released for home leave and discharge, things began to ease off. The unit training syllabus for the last week of November specified two hours of various military activities--salvage, route marches, battalion rides--in the morning, with the afternoon of each day being given over to sports. (80)
The battalion rapidly reduced in strength as men were formed into home drafts. By April 1919, the unit strength had been reduced to five officers and 128 men. Bicycles, unit transport and most unit equipment had been handed back by this stage. On 13 April the last large draft, consisting of two officers and 113 other ranks, marched out as part of AIF Demobilisation Quota No. 33. Finally, on 30 April 1919, the last War Diary entry records: "Remainder of personnel of unit (2 officers & 13 OR's) marched out with Demob. Quota No. 44. Weather report--wet." (81) The AIF Cyclists were no more.
Uniforms, Weapons and Bicycles
Before concluding this short account of the AIF Cyclists, it is in order to briefly look at their uniforms, weapons and "mounts."
Uniforms. AIF cyclists were virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the AIF. The standard AIF service dress jacket and trousers were worn, the latter with puttees and ankle boots. Although technically mounted troops, cyclists were not issued with mounted troops boots and leggings as the cyclists tended to spend more time marching than riding. And besides, boots and spurs would look a bit ridiculous on a bicycle! In addition, the very philosophy behind the creation and employment of the cyclists was that they were intended to scout on foot and fight as infantry when the need arose.
Headdress consisted of the khaki SD cap (worn on enlistment and during training in Australia and rarely after), slouch hats and, of course, helmets when necessary.
One item of dress that set the cyclists apart was their personal equipment. Cyclists were issued with leather mounted troops equipment, including light horse bandoliers, rather than dismounted troops web equipment. This of course made eminent sense.
While it has not proved possible to locate a list of what Australian cyclists carried, the history of the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion contains such a list dated 1916, the year the Canadian battalion and the Anzac battalions were formed. Since the organisation of the Canadian and Anzac battalions were identical and based on British standards, we can accept that what Canadian cyclists carried was what Anzac cyclists carried. The list reveals that in marching order a cyclist was equipped with or carried:
bicycle, rifle, cap, steel helmet, tunic, pants, puttees, boots, socks (2 pairs), underwear, great coat, rubber cape, blanket (1), ground sheet, coat, pull through, oil bottle, 6 oz. oil tin, web equipment, 120 rounds of ammunition, haversack, water bottle, mess tin, entrenching tool, entrenching tool handle, bayonet, kit bag, iron ration, two gas helmets, goggles, satchel, capsules, housewife, holdall, razor, comb, brush, knife, fork, spoon, clasp knife. (82)
In the Australian case, we would of course substitute "hat KFF" for "cap" and the gas helmets and goggles would eventually be replaced by box respirators. Spare clothing, extra blankets, rations and personal items would have been either stored or carried in unit transport.
Unlike British, Canadian and New Zealand cyclists, AIF cyclists did not have special cap and collar badges and shoulder titles. The AIF cyclists wore the general issue AMF cap and collar badges and the "AUSTRALIA" shoulder title. The only unique identifying feature for the cyclists was their colour patches. AIF Circular Memorandum No. 52 of 20 April 1916 authorised colour patches for the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Divisional Cyclist Companies. (83) No patch was authorised for the 3rd Divisional Cyclist Company. The colour patches followed the normal AIF practice of using a combination of the divisional shape with corps colours, in this case, red on white. With the disbanding of the divisional cyclist companies and the creation of the I and II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalions, AIF Order 179 (ii) of 25 July 1916 directed that the colour patch of the former 1st Division Cyclist Company was to be worn by the I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion and the patch of the former 2nd Division Cyclist Company was to be worn by II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion. With the creation of the Australian Corps in January 1918, the new Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion wore the patch of the I Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion i.e. the original patch of 1st Div. Cyclist Coy. Oddly enough, although it was an Australian item, the colour patch of the former II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion continued to be worn by the now all New Zealand XXII Corps Cyclist Battalion after that corps unit was formed from the former II Anzac Corps Cyclist Battalion. The wearing of this Australian colour patch was regularised by NZEF Order No. 495 of 31 January 1918. (84)
Cossum illustrates a small oddity in his book on Australian Army cloth insignia. The illustration is of a "winged wheel badge" which Cossum attributes to "Cyclist Company A.I.F." (85) Unfortunately, no authority is cited for this badge and despite an exhaustive search of war diaries, AW orders and instructions and cyclist related files in the AWM no authority, or even mention of the badge has been found. Similarly, a search of the AWM's photographic database has not turned up a single image of the badge being worn. This is not to say that AIF cyclists did not wear the badge, but this remains unproven at the moment.
Weapons. The AIF cyclists were issued with the Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle as their standard personal weapon. Bayonets were issued but were apparently not carried when the cyclists operated mounted but were carried when on dismounted duty. War Memorial photograph E03919 shows a member of the Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion searching German prisoners. He is armed with a bayoneted .303 rifle, slung over his shoulder, and was probably employed on dismounted duty for POW reception and control. In reference to comments above about appearance, this soldier is totally indistinguishable from a standard AIF infantryman, except for his colour patch.
Officers were issued with pistols but photographs and war diary entries indicate that they carried rifles in the front line areas. This was fairly standard practice in the AIF. When first formed, the Anzac Cyclist Battalions were issued with Hotchkiss machine guns. These were withdrawn after only a very short period of issue and replaced by Lewis guns. Machine guns were originally carried in unit transport when on the march. In 1917, however, a modification to the unit bicycles permitted the guns to be carried on the cycles themselves (see below).
Bicycles. Turning now to the all-important matter of the cyclist's "mounts." When first formed, the AIF Cyclist units were supposed to be issued with the Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) Bicycle (Mk. IV) General Service. War diary entries and quartermaster records reveal that in the early days the Australian cyclists were issued with a motley collection of Mk. II, Mk. III and Mk. IV cycles, even a few obsolete Mk. I machines. (86)
To step back slightly in history, the first military bicycle officially taken into British Army service was the BSA Bicycle (Mk. I) GS, which was adopted into service in 1901. Prior to this, bicycles used in the British Army had been whatever could be procured under local purchase arrangements. Widespread and successful use of bicycles on active service, by both sides, during the Anglo-Boer War convinced the British military hierarchy of the need for a standard machine. Even while the war raged in South Africa, trials conducted in the UK resulted in the introduction of the BSA manufactured bicycle. (87)
A rugged and apparently very reliable, single gear, steel frame cycle, the Mk. I was fitted with carrying clips for the .303 Magazine Lee Enfield rifle, as well as carrying frames and straps at front and rear for personal equipment. (88)
The Mk. II version of the BSA bicycle was introduced in June 1902. It was differentiated from the Mk. I in having a free-wheel hub, a hand applied back wheel brake and a shorter wheelbase than the Mk. I (25 1/2 inches as opposed to 27 1/2 inches). Most of the components of the Mk. II were interchangeable with the Mk. I and the clips for the older Magazine Lee Enfield fitted the Short Magazine Lee Enfield when it was introduced into service in 1907. (89)
The Mk. III version of the bicycle was introduced in 1908. The new version had a Coaster Hub "Military Pattern" in place of the freewheel back hub of the Mk. II. Alterations were also made to the frame, front forks, inside stem, tool bags, steering lock, cranks, handlebars, pedals and saddle. Nevertheless, many components remained interchangeable with the Mk. II and even the now obsolet Mk. I. A Mk. III* version was introduced in 1909, the "*" advance in nomenclature denoting construction techniques used, rather than any change of design. (90)
The definitive British military cycle of the Great War and later was the BSA Bicycle (Mk. IV and Mk. IV*) GS, introduced into service in June 1911. (91) The main difference between the Mk. IV and the Mk. III* and earlier marks was that the Mk. IV came in one frame height only (24 inches). Prior to this, BSA military bicycles had been made in three frame heights to accommodate different sized men. There were a number of other differences between the Mk. IV and the Mk. III* but this had generally to do with construction methods and materials rather than marked design differences. On 13 July 1915, a Mk. IV* was approved. This penultimate mark was fitted with a free-wheel hub in place of a coaster hub and a rear hand-operated brake was fitted. The final development to the Mk. IV* was the approval of carriers for machine guns in May 1917. (92) The BSA Mk. IV and Mk. IV* became the standard mount of the AIF cyclists for the war.
An interesting exchange of correspondence between Commander I Anzac Corps Mounted Troops and CO I Anzac Corps Cyclist Bn. from January 1917 indicates that the Cyclist Bn. had become, by default, "Cycles-R-Us" for the Corps. In response to an information request from Corps Mounted Troops, Major Hindhaugh provided a detailed list of bicycles on charge to his unit which showed that he was responsible for 708 machines as opposed to a unit requirement for 317.Hindhaugh included in his list details of 11 missing bicycles on loan to various units and unaccounted for. In a follow up letter Hindhaugh put a somewhat plaintive request for excess machines to be taken off his charge. Unfortunately, no response to this request has been located. (93)
The AIF Cyclists constituted one of the smallest and at the same time least known sections of the AIF. Approximately 1,600 officers and men served with the cyclist units between March 1916 and April 1919. (94) Eleven cyclists were killed in action, died of wounds or died as a result of enemy action or accidents in action. A further 17 men died of disease. Not a large number, but that is still 25 Australians who now sleep far from their native land.
Reading the war diaries and other sources related to the AIF Cyclists, one cannot help but get the feeling that the only reason that the AIF had cyclist units was because the British authorities insisted on it. Despite this, the cyclists did the best job the could under the conditions prevailing. Rarely employed in the role for which they were established the cyclists nevertheless did a great deal of useful if unspectacular and unglamorous work. One can only admire the extraordinary flexibility of the cyclists in turning their hands to whatever task the army thrust upon them. Discipline and morale in the various units always seems to have been of a high standard. And when finally called upon, in the closing stages of the war, to carry out the role for which they been raised, the cyclists did an excellent job. Their memory, as with the memory of the rest of the AIF, deserves to live on.
Table 1. Establishment--Cyclist Company 1916 Offi- WO SSGT/ Arti- OR Total Bicy- cers SGT ficer cles Capt (OC) 1 -- -- -- -- 1 1 Capt/Lt (Adjt) 1 -- -- -- -- 1 1 Interpreter 1 -- -- -- -- 1 1 WO2 (CSM) -- 1 -- -- -- 1 1 SSGT (CQMS) -- -- 1 -- -- 1 1 Artificer -- -- -- 2 -- 2 2 Driver -- -- -- -- 2 2 -- Med Orderly -- -- -- -- 2 2 2 CPL (Sig) -- -- -- -- 1 1 1 PTE (Sig) -- -- -- -- 4 4 4 PTE (Batmen) -- -- -- -- 2 2 2 Total 3 1 1 2 11 18 16 Platoons x 6 LT 1 -- -- -- -- 1 1 SGT -- -- 1 -- -- 1 1 CPL -- -- -- -- 2 2 2 PTE -- -- -- -- 26 26 26 Batman -- -- -- -- 1 1 1 Total 1 -- 1 -- 29 31 31 Table 2. Establishment--Cyclist Battalion 1916 Officers WO SSGTSGT OR Total Bicycles HQ 3 2 4 15 24 21 Attached 1 (a) 1 (b) -- 3 5 2 A Coy 4 1 5 89 99 99 B Coy 4 1 5 89 99 99 C Coy 4 1 5 89 99 99 Total 16 6 19 285 326 320 Table 3. Establishment--Cyclist Company (Battalion Sub-Unit) 1916 Officers WO SSGT/SGT OR Total Bicycles HQ 1 1 2 2 6 5 1 Platoon 1 -- 1 29 31 31 2 Platoon 1 -- 1 29 31 31 3 Platoon 1 -- 1 29 31 31 Total 4 1 5 89 99 98
My thanks to Annemarie Driver, Curator of the Canberra Bicycle Museum, for giving me access to the Museum's resource centre and for making available to me the Museum's small but extremely helpful holding of military cyclist related material.
(1) Bean, pp 41-42
(2) A&NZ Forces C.R. No. 136/117 (from AWM27 303/2)
(3) This changed later in the war when junior officers were gazetted straight to the Cyclist Corps. Officers appointed to the Cyclist units in 1916 and 1917 continued to be carried against their parent units as "detached for the duration of the war.
(4) The Cycle Grenadiers remain on the order of battle of the Swiss Army and are in fact viewed as the elite unit of the Swiss Army.
(5) http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/5265/militaryhpvhistory.htm, Military History of Human Powered Vehicles
(8) Theron holds such an exalted place in South Africa's military ethos that the Army's main field training establishment was called, at least in the pre-apartheid days, the Danie Theron Combat School.
(9) Maree, op. cit.
(10) http://www.huntcycles.co.uk/, Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalions
(11) Military History of Human Powered Vehicles, op. cit.
(12) Fitzpatrick, Jim 1980 The Bicycle and the Bush, pp.214-220.
(14) The officer appointed to command the 3rd Aust. Div. Cyclist Coy. was Captain Henry Egerton Clunies Ross, a distant relative of the Clunies Ross family of the Cocos-Keeling Islands.
(15) Unit War Diary, 5th Australian Division Cyclist Company, AWM4 12/5/1-12/5/4 Roll 128.
(17) Cyclist Training Manual 1907 (As Revised 1911). Quoted in Fitzpatrick The Bicycle in Wartime an Illustrated History, pp. 105-106.
(18) 5th Aust. Div. C.R. 18930/Q/8 of 14 June 1916, "TRAIN ALLOTMENTS 5TH AUSTRALIAN DIVISION."
(19) War Diary, 5th Cyclist Coy., op. cit.
(20) AWM27 303/30, "Organisation Cyclists and Mounted Troops."
(22) War Diary I ANZAC Corps Cyclist Battalion.
(25) Letter from OC I ANZAC Corps Mounted Troops to CO I ANZAC Corps Cyclist Battalion included as annex to June 1916 section of I ANZAC Corps Cyclist Battalion War Diary.
(26) I ANZAC Corps Cyclist Battalion War Diary, op. cit.
(28) War Diary, op. cit. Also AWM Roll of Honour Database. LCPL Leslie is buried in Bernafay Wood British Cemetery, Grave No. E.32.
(29) War Diary, op. cit.
(31) ibid. Also AWM Roll of Honour Database. PTE Stephenson is buried in Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L'Abbe, Grave No. V.D.27.
(32) War Diary, op. cit.
(33) ibid. Also AWM Roll of Honour Database. LT Hales is buried in Dartmoor Cemetery, Becordal-Becourt, Grave No. I.F.19.
(34) War Diary, op. cit.
(35) ibid. Also AWM Roll of Honour Database. PTE Millar is buried near LT Hales in Dartmoor Cemetery, Grave No. I.F.11.
(36) Bean, C.E.W., 1946 ANZAC to Amiens, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, pp.316-317.
(37) I ANZAC Corps Cyclist Battalion War Diary, op. cit.
(42) History of the New Zealand Cyclist Corps.
(44) 2nd Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Order No. 15 of 22 July 1916.
(46) War Diary, 5th Cyclist Coy., op. cit.
(47) History of the New Zealand Cyclist Corps.
(49) AIF Nominal Roll and AIF Roll of Honour Database.
(50) ibid., CAPT H.D. McHugh was appointed OC Cyclist Reinforcement Details.
(54) ibid. The NZ Working Bn. was an ad hoc unit raised at the end of March specifically to carry out Corps and Army level works in preparation for the Battle of Messines. When the works were completed on 19 May the battalion was disbanded.
(58) Although the AIF cyclists left XXII Corps, the two squadrons of the 4th Light Horse who had formed part of the II ANZAC Corps Mounted Regiment remained to form half of XXII Corps Cavalry Regiment. General Godley, formerly GOC II ANZAC and now GOC XXII Corps expressly requested this of General Birdwood and his request was granted. See Smith, Men of Beersheba, also Bean, Official History Vol V.
(59) D.A.G. A.I.F. 25/150 of 6 and 10 January 1918 (AWM27 303/25).
(60) Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion War Diary.
(61) "Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion Report of Personnel Working at R.E. Dump During February 1918," by LT O.S. Symon, Officer I/C Cyclist Working Party, included as Annex I to February 1918 Section of War Diary.
(62) Australian Corps Order No. 55 dated 6 April 1918.
(63) War Diary, Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion. Also see "Report by LIEUT. I.G. Trout on work done by platoon attached to 5th Australian Division."
(64) War Diary. Also AWM Roll of Honour Database. CPL Callanan is buried in Aubigny British Cemetery, Grave No. B.16.
(65) ibid. PTE Crosbie is buried in Bonnay Communal Cemetery Extension, Grave No. B.17.
(66) 5th Australian Division G16/175 of 17 April 1918.
(67) "Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion Statement Showing Personnel on Detachment as at 31st May 1918." Included as Appendix 1 to May 1918 Section of War Diary.
(68) "Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion Operation Order No. 1." Included as Appendix 3 to May 1918 Section of War Diary.
(69) War Diary. Also AWM Roll of Honour Database. PTE Hitchens is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery, Grave No. LXVII D.30.
(70) "Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion Personnel on Detachment" for the months of June, July and August 1918. Included as appendices to relevant sections of War Diary.
(71) "Report of Lieut., H. Raphael whilst I/C of Platoon of Cyclists attached 5th AUSTRALIAN Division, during month of August, 1918." Included as Appendix 3 to August Section of War Diary.
(72) 5th Australian Division G.234 AAA of 8 August 1918.
(73) Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion War Diary.
(74) War Diary. Also AWM Roll of Honour Database. PTE Fontana is buried in Herbecourt British Cemetery, Grave No. A.9.
(76) ibid. Also AWM Roll of Honour Database. PTE Norman is buried in St. Pierre Cemetery, Amiens, Grave No. XIV.C.3.
(77) "Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion Report on Education Scheme for Month of October, 1916." Included as Appendix 2 to October 1918 Section of War Diary.
(78) War Diary. Also AIF Staff and Regimental List November 1918.
(79) "Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion Operation Order No. 1." dated 17 November 1918. Included as Appendix 4 to November 1918 Section of War Diary.
(80) "Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion Syllabus of Training for the Week Ending 30th November 1918." Included as Appendix 7 to November 1918 Section of War Diary.
(81) War Diary.
(82) Ellis, p.53.
(83) Glyde. See also Colour Patch Register.
(84) History of the New Zealand Cyclist Corps, op cit. See also Thomas and Lord.
(85) Cossum, p30.
(86) AWM25 103/3 "Correspondence Relating to Bicycles for the Australian Corps."
(87) Munitions of War: B.S.A. & Daimler.
(88) List of Changes in British War Material 1901-1917.
(89) ibid. Although the bicycles were fitted with carrying clips for the rifle, photographic evidence suggests that cyclists, both Australian and British, preferred to carry their rifles slung across the shoulder. This makes eminent sense, especially in the forward areas.
(91) Photos of British and Indian troops between the wars and as late as 1941 riding or wheeling bicycles, show them using what are immediately identifiable as BSA Bicycle (Mk. IV) GS machines. This is a tribute to the durability and longevity of these rugged machines.
(92) List of Changes, op cit. See also AWM25 385/23 "Correspondence Referring to Tests for Fitting Lewis Guns to Bicycles."
(93) AWM27 235/1
(94) The best figure I have been able to come up with is 1621, based on original unit establishments, War Diary entries and later embarkation rolls. There was an inordinate amount turmoil in the cyclist units, however, throughout their existence and thus the figure quoted is very much speculative.
Bibliography and Sources
Anonymous, no date List of Changes in British War Material 1901-1917, HMSO, London.
Bean, C.E.W., 1937 Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Vol. III The
Australian Imperial Force in France 1916, Angus and Robertson Ltd, Sydney.
Cossum, J.K., 1997 Australian Army Badges Cloth Insignia of the Army in Australia, 1860-1993, published by the author, Hobart, Tasmania.
Cox, Reginald H.W., 1982 Military Badges of the British Empire 1914-18, Ernest Benn Limited, London.
Ellis, W.D. (ed), 1965 Saga of the Cyclists in the Great War 1914-1918, Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion Association, Toronto.
Fitzpatrick, Jim, 1980 The Bicycle and the Bush, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
--, 1998 The Bicycle in Wartime An Illustrated History, Brassey's Inc., Virginia, USA.
Frost, George H., no date Munitions of War: B.S.A. & Daimler, B.S.A. Co. Ltd., Birmingham, UK.
Glyde, Keith, 1999 Distinguishing Colour Patches of the Australian Military Forces 1915-1951 A Reference Guide, published by the author, Claremont, Tasmania.
Hunter, Doug, 1999 My Corps Cavalry A History of the 13th Australian Light Horse Regiment 1915-1918, Slouch Hat Publications, Rosebud, Victoria.
-- http://www.digiserve.com/peter/kcb/index.html, The Kent Cyclist Battalion
-- http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/5265/militaryhpvhistory.htm, Military History of Human Powered Vehicles
-- http://www.huntcycles.co.uk/, Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalions
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|Title Annotation:||Australian Infantry Forces|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2002|
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