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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

1914 BEF cyclist companies - from where?


mark.conrad

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Each of the original 1914 BEF infantry divisions had, as part of its "mounted troops," a cyclist company. In wartime Orders of Battle these are listed separatedly from the cavalry squadrons, and were numbered according to their division (1st Cyclist Company, 2nd Cyclist Company, ...).

Peacetime Army Lists do not contain these cyclist companies. I'm sure they were not from the Territorial cyclist battalions that were supposed to be for home defence.

So, where did they come from? Did regular infantry battalions and/or cavalry regiments have a number of men intended to form the cyclist companies upon mobilisation? Were they reservists?

Thanks in advance,

Mark Conrad

New Jersey

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Mark

Regular infantry divisions each formed a cyclist company from men drawn from the infantry battalions within the division in May 1914. Together with the cyclist companies formed after the outbreak of war by the Territorial and New Army divisions they became the Army Cyclist Corps in November 1914. As you rightly surmise, the Territorial cyclist battalions were solely for home defence and remained outside the ACC.

Charles M

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Mark

By a coincidence there has been a question and answer in today's Daily Mail (page70) about Cyclist Battalions. They were apparently agreed to be formed as early as 1913 by the Territorail Forces Association , the particular one subject of the question (2/1 Hunts Cyclists' A Company) came into being in Feb 1914.

If you can't get a look at this article I may be forced to type it here,but I'd rather not !

Sotonmate

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This is worth a look too :) www.huntscycles.co.uk "MO"

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This discussion sparked a thought.

The formation of divisional cyclist companies seems to coincide with the demise of the mounted infantry battalions, which were formed by combining detachments provided by infantry battalions. Is there a connection here?

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Interesting thought, Bruce. I can't answer from the cyclists' perspective. The period when these units were formed comes soon after the creation of the divisional cavalry squadrons, which were designed to provide a screen in the immediate vicinity of the infantry division, as well as facility command and control within the division. Neither were functions that were assigned to mounted infantry battalions. The significant changes in the roles of the independent regular cavalry formations, coupled with the need to assign regular cavalry units to support the divisional cavalry concept, may have prompted a desire to minimise the drain on regular cavalry to the infantry divisions. It is likely, but I cannot confirm this, that there was a need on the part of infantry commanders to build up the functionality of the divisional cavalry from within their resources, thus minimizing any sense of being beholden to the attached cavalry. The only perspectives from infantry commanders that I have seen suggest that their liaison with, and appreciation of, divisional cavalry was good during the first weeks of the war. Just a few more thoughts for consideration. It is interesting to note that France, Belgium and Germany all introduced the concept of infantry cyclists within the independent regular cavalry formations. The British did not.

Robert

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Mark

I just noticed that you were from NJ and therefore unlikely to be able to buy a copy of the (London)Daily Mail,so I will enter the gist of the item here. It comes as an answer to this question posed in the newspaper:

"A distant relative of mine.....was in 1917.....with the 2/1 Huntingdon Cyclists' A Company. Who or what were the Cyclists ?'

This reply came from Robert Sutherland of Edinburgh:

"........The Huntingdon Cyclists' Battalion (HCB) owes its origins to the reorganisation of the Volunteers (Rifle Corps) and the Yeomanry (Imperial Forces) into the Territorial Forces Association. This took place in 1908...

In 1913 the local Territorial Forces Association met to agree the formation of an independent Cyclists' Battalion.......the HCB received permission to form in February 1914............

Eventually it would comprise eight companies and, in common with other Cyclist Battalions, carried the nickname of the "Gaspipe Cavalry", a scurrilous reference to it's mode of transport.

Territorial Army formations of the type formed by the HCB weren't used,in the main,as part of the Army serving in France and other overseas theatres during the early stages of WW1. Their principal purpose was Home Defence,ostensibly against the threat of invasion,but also as a contingency against possible insurrection at home.

However, this wasn't to last,and eventually the shortages of manpower at the Front caused the deployment of Territorial soldiers and units to the Western Front.

At the outbreak of WW1 the HCB were deployed in the East Coast (UK) as part of the East Yorkshire Mounted Brigade...........

Unlike other formations the HCB was not transferred to France as a single unit. HCB members were transferred individually and are recorded as having served with as amny as 30 different Battalions and

formations.................."

I hope this item for one unit gives you the feel for the system. It has intrigued me along the way also. I think our thanks are due to Robert for putting this item into our attention.

Best wishes

Sotonmate

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