21st August 1914. Cyclists ride into War.

Bikes have featured in wartime from the time of the Boer War and continued throughout World War I, when Army Order 477, 1914 authorized the setting up of The Cyclist Corps.

Units had existed before this with the earliest appearing to be the volunteer units raised by the 26th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers of 1881.

Army Cyclist Corps cap badge.

Army Cyclist Corps cap badge.

In fact and sadly, the first Commonwealth soldier to be killed in WWI, was a member of a Cyclist Unit, Today in 1914, before any fighting had began.

The unfortunate victim was Finchley, London-born, 17 years old Private John Henry Parr.(1)

He was part of a reconnaissance cyclist unit despatched to uncover enemy information, which was then reported back to its Commanding Officer.

It is thought he encountered a cavalry patrol of the German 1st Army, and bravely returned fire thus enabling his companion to return.

Army Cycling Corp resting at Courcelle March 1917.

Army Cyclist Corps members, resting at Courcelles, March 1917.

It was over a week after Germany had invaded Belgium that Parr’s battalion was sent to France where they entrained, before marching on the 21st of August, to within 8 miles of Mons, from where they were to retreat days later, having lost 1,000 men.

Poster for 48th( South Midlands) Division Cycling Company

Poster for 48th (South Midlands) Division Cyclist Company

However despite their effectiveness, when the mobile period of the war stagnated, most of the cyclists were allocated to other duties, but they continued until disbanded in 1920.

Cycles were still a quick and efficient means to get about in World War II, as film shows on D-Day, where many soldiers are clutching cycles, whilst wading through water to the beaches.

(1) Parr was killed before the dating of the Order 7.11.1914.

Some Cyclist Units were part of the new 1908 Territorial Force. Most were units of infantry regiments, such as the 7th (Cyclists) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment.

Ref: 1914-18.net/armycyclingcorps. Pic Image in France.

Ref: wikipedia.org/Picture Images of poster and cap badge.

Ref: wikipedia.org/john_henry_parr.

Ref: dailytelegraph.Tom Rowley 3.8.2014. Article on Parr’s great-granddaughter visiting France.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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