Canadian “Divisional Cyclist Companies & Corps Battalions” During The First World War.

“Bicycle Infantry” are infantry soldiers who manoeuvre between battlefields using bicycles. The term dates from the late 19th century, when the “safety bicycle” became popular in Europe, the United States and Australia. In 1894 a turning point occurred due to improved resilience of pneumatics and the shorter sturdier construction of the frame.[1] To some extent, bicyclists took over the functions of dragoons, especially as messengers and scouts, substituting for horses in warfare.[2] Bicycle units or detachments were formed at the end of the 19th century by all European armies and the US armed forces. The United Kingdom employed bicycle troops in militia or territorial units, but not in regular units. In France, several experimental units were created, starting in 1886.[3] They attempted to adopt folding bicycles early on. In the United States, the most extensive experimentation on bicycle units was carried out by a 1st Lieutenant Moss, of the 25th United States Infantry (Coloured) (an African American infantry regiment with white officers). Using a variety of cycle models, Lt. Moss and his troops carried out extensive bicycle journeys covering between 500 and 1,000 miles (800 to 1,600 km). Late in the 19th century, the United States Army tested the bicycle’s suitability for cross-country troop transport. Buffalo Soldiers stationed in Montana rode bicycles across roadless landscapes for hundreds of miles at high speed. The first known use of the bicycle in combat occurred during the Jameson Raid, in which cyclists carried messages. In the Second Boer War, military cyclists were used primarily as scouts and messengers. [4] During the First World War, cycle-mounted infantry, scouts, messengers and ambulance carriers were extensively used by all combatants.

 

Canadian Scottish (Black Watch ) 5th Regt. RHC aka CEF FC 13th Batt, men part of the Cyclist Corps, camped on Salisbury Plain, 1914.

Canadian Scottish (Black Watch ) 5th Regt. RHC aka CEF FC 13th Batt, men part of the Cyclist Corps, camped on Salisbury Plain, 1914.

 

British Bicycle Troops.

British Bicycle Troops.

 

Canadian soldiers extensively used Bicycles in the First World War, for quick transport of men and supplies, etc. The photo below shows the Newfoundland Regiment marching through a French village. Numerous men from this regiment died that it was hard to keep up their numbers, despite the fact that recruitment proved easy in Newfoundland. It was said of this regiment, after 90% of them were killed or injured by the Germans at Beaumont-Hamel: It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further. King George V gave the regiment the prefix “Royal” – the only time during the First World War that this honour was given. The original of this photo is captioned: “The Newfoundland Regiment marching back to billet after Monchy.”

 

Footnotes:

  • 1. Leiser 10
  • 2. Leiser 11-16
  • 3. Leiser 11
  • 4. “Danie Theron”. Retrieved 2007-10-07.

 
Charles H. Stewart narrative on the Cyclist Battalions: As the 1st Canadian Division was forming and training at Valcartier Camp, Quebec it was decided that a cyclist unit should be formed to carry out Intelligence work with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The first Canadian Cyclist Company sailed for England with the 1st Canadian Division on October 14, 1914 with all ranks which had volunteered for the Cyclist unit from most of the battalions. As it had been decided that all further divisions must carry a Cyclist Battalion on their establishments, the recruiting was handed over and carried out by the Corps of Guides of the N.P.A.M. (Matrix: Non Permanent Active Militia), whose duties were commensurate with the training needs of the Cyclists.

In addition to the training the Cyclists had received under the direction of the Guides in Canada, a much more intensive course was started in England which consisted of musketry, bombing, and bayonet fighting coupled with the highly specialized role of learning signalling and topography techniques, range-finding, tactics and the use of Lewis guns.

Due to the more static nature of the war in the early years, the Corps duties were not those for which they had been trained. They carried out traffic control, sapping and mining, trench guide, listening posts, battalion runners and despatch riding duties.

Owing to the diverse nature of the Corps duties the Cyclists had undertaken, it had become almost impossible to keep track of them, and to that end the various companies were reorganised into Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalions by May of 1916. For the most part the Cyclists spent from four to six weeks in the lines under intense fire which gave rise to an increase in casualties.

During the last 100 days of the war, the Corps cane into its own. The value of the work they had been initially trained for came into constant use in forming the vital links between the Infantry and Cavalry and keeping in constant touch with the retreating enemy. One unit was attached to the Independent Brigade under the command of Brutinel. All the above duties coupled with reconnaissance duties, proved more dangerous than the early work they had undertaken. 23% of the Cyclists had been killed and the men soon placed “Suicide Battalions” as their nickname.

Five divisional Cyclist Battalions were formed and it is of interest to note that a Canadian Cyclist was the first allied soldier to cross the Bonn bridge into Germany.

 
1st Divisional Cyclist Company:

  • Organized at Valcartier in September 1914 under the command of Captain R. S. Robinson.
  • Left Quebec 29 September 1914 aboard RUTHENIA.
  • Arrived in England: 15 October 1914.
  • Strength: 5 officers, 88 other ranks.
  • Arrived in France: 10 February 1915.
  • 1st Canadian Division.
  • Absorbed by Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion in May 1916.
  • Disbanded by General Order 208 of 15 November 1920.

MIKAN no. 2004730: War Diaries – 1st Canadian Divisional Cyclist Company: 1914/10/12-1916/05/14.

http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/lac-bac/images.php

 

Copy of Divisional Cyclists Platoon, Military District no. 2, Exhibition Camp November 6, 1917, Toronto Ontario.

Copy of Divisional Cyclists Platoon, Military District no. 2, Exhibition Camp November 6, 1917, Toronto Ontario.

 

2nd Divisional Cyclist Company:

  • Organized at Toronto and Halifax in October 1914 under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel G. Y. Denison.
  • Authorization published in General Order 63 of 15 June 1915.
  • Platoons from Toronto, Montreal, Kingston, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Halifax.
  • Advertised for recruits “possessing more than average intelligence and a high standard of education”.
  • First draft left Montreal 16 May 1915 aboard CORINTHIAN.Arrived in England 27 May 1915.
  • Second draft left Halifax 15 June 1915 aboard CALEDONIAN.
  • Arrived in England 22 June 1915.
  • Strength: 9 officers, 176 other ranks.
  • Arrived in France 15 September 1915.
  • 2nd Canadian Division.
  • Absorbed by Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion in May 1916.
  • Disbanded by General Order 208 of 15 November 1920.

MIKAN no. 2004731: War Diaries – 2nd Canadian Divisional Cyclist Company: 1914/10/15-19.

http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&lang=eng&rec_nbr=2004731&rec_nbr_list=2004731

 

Officers, Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion. January, 1919.

Officers, Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion. January, 1919.

 

3rd Divisional Cyclist Company:

  • Organized in Toronto in January 1916 under the command of Captain G. B. Schwartz.
  • Left Halifax 22 January 1916 aboard MISSANABIE.
  • Arrived in England 30 January 1916 and attached to Canadian Reserve Cyclist Company at Swindon (Chisledon Camp).
  • Strength: 8 offices, 193 other ranks.
  • Reorganized at Swindon in February 1916, commanded by Captain L. P. O. Picard.
  • Arrived in France 27 March 1916.
  • 3rd Canadian Division.
  • Absorbed by Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion on 20 May 1916.
  • Disbanded by General Order 208 of 15 November 1920.

MIKAN no. 2034176: War Diaries – 3rd Canadian Divisional Cyclist Company: 1916/03/24-1916/05/11.

http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&lang=eng&rec_nbr=2034176&rec_nbr_list=2034176,833508

 

4th Divisional Cyclist Company:

  • Organized in Toronto in March 1916 under the command of Captain G. L. Berkley.
  • Personnel obtained from cyclist depot in Toronto.
  • Left Halifax 1 May 1916 aboard OLYMPIC.
  • Arrived in England 6 May 1916 and attached to Canadian Reserve Cyclist Company at Swindon (Chisledon Camp).
  • Strength: 8 officers, 191 other ranks.
  • Reorganized at Swindon, commanded by Captain G. B. Schwartz.
  • Broken up at Bramshott in May 1916.
  • Disbanded by General Order 208 of 15 November 1920.

 

Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion:

  • Organized at Abeele in May 1916 under the command of Major A. McMillan.
  • Formed by amalgamating 1st, 2nd, 3rd Canadian Divisional Cyclist Companies.
  • Demobilized at Toronto in April 1919.
  • Disbanded by General Order 208 of 15 November 1920.

MIKAN no. 2004729: War Diaries – Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion: 1916/05/12-1919/03/31.

http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&lang=eng&rec_nbr=2004729&rec_nbr_list=182377,2004729,3405417,3948109,3923694,3948093,4613764,1090834,1070161,835753

 

 

Canadian Reserve Cyclist Company:

  • Organized at Shorncliffe in April 1915 as a cyclist depot under the command of Captain F. B. Goodwillie.
  • Personnel from 9th, 11th, 12th and 17th Canadian Reserve Battalions.
  • Designated Canadian Reserve Cyclist Company on 19 May 1915 and transferred to Army Cyclist Corps Training Centre at Hounslow.
  • Centre moved to Larkhill in November 1915 and to Chiseldon Camp (near Swindon) in February 1916.
  • Some personnel transferred to the newly reorganized 3rd Divisional Cyclist Company in February and March 1916.
  • Moved to Shorehara in July 1917.
  • Ceased to be attached to Army Cyclist Training Centre.
  • Moved to Seaford in October 1917.
  • Ceased to exist in February 1919.

MIKAN no. 2004732: War diaries – Canadian Reserve Cyclist Company: 1915/05/01-1919/02/28.

http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&lang=eng&rec_nbr=2004732&rec_nbr_list=2004732,835757,835749

 

Service Bicycle Mark IV

Service Bicycle Mark IV

 

Extracts from DHH OH CEF 1914-19, 1962:

The only cavalry authorized for the Expeditionary Force was the Divisional Cavalry Squadron, of 196 all ranks (furnished by the 19th Alberta Dragoons of the non-permanent Militia), which together with a cyclist company, drawn from all arms and services in the camp, formed the divisional mounted troops. The revised establishments brought increases in the Cyclist Company and the Divisional Column, added a sanitary section to the medical units, and produced a new Army Service Corps unit-the 1st Canadian Motor Ambulance Workshop. General Currie was extremely concerned about his shortage of machine-guns, his resources in these weapons being quite inadequate to provide him with the defence in depth necessary to withstand an assault. He formed temporary Lewis and Hotchkiss gun detachments from personnel of the Canadian Light Horse and the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion. The arrival in France of the three machine-gun companies originally slated for the 5th Canadian Division and their allotment at the end of March to positions on Vimy Ridge helped the situation somewhat. In the northern sector Brutinel’s Brigade, still under the orders of the 4th British Division, advanced the line nearly one thousand yards by seizing Bench Farm and Victoria Copse, north of Boiry-Notre Dame, with the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion establishing posts right up to the Scarpe. On the left the Strathconas sent patrols into Inchy on the Cambrai road. Other patrols found the Germans still strongly holding Neuvilly, east of the river. In the meantime the relief of the 6th Cavalry Brigade by a cyclist battalion had left the Canadian right flank open from Reumont to Le Cateau until two squadrons of the Fort Garry Horse were brought forward to fill the gap. The 1st Division completed its move on 18 January, and next day the relief of the 2nd Division began.30 Corps Troops followed and the arrival of the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion back in Belgium on 6 February completed the withdrawal of the Canadians from the Army of Occupation.

On the other hand there was no cyclist unit in the Canadian Militia, or in the 1914 War Establishment for a Division, so that when authority was issued for the organization of a cyclist company on 14th September, to form part of the Divisional Mounted Troops, officers commanding units of all arms and services in the camp were called upon to submit the names of volunteers, from whom the unit was formed……. The 3rd Field Company, partly organized at Valcartier, was now completed. An increase, caused by adding a sanitary section to the divisional medical units and two hundred to the Cyclist Company was disposed of by calling for volunteers who were readily forthcoming.

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.

 

 

Officers:

Cyclist Company Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion:

  • Maj. A. McMillan, D.S.O App. May 12, Ret.16 Dec. 11, 16.
  • Capt. R. S. Robinson App. Dec. 11, Ret. 16 Jan. 25, 17.
  • Maj. A. E. Humphrey, D.S.O App. Jan. 25, 17 Ret. Dec. 22, 18.
  • Capt. F. J. G. Chadwick, M.C App. Dec. 22, 18 Demob.

 

1st Divisional Cyclist Company: (absorbed by Corps Cyclist Battalion)

  • Capt. R. S. Robinson App. Sept. 22, Ret. 14 May 12, 16.

 

2nd Divisional Cyclist Company: (absorbed by Corps Cyclist Battalion)

  • Lt.-Col. G. T. Denison App. May 16, 15, Ret. Sept. 11, 15.
  • Maj. T. L. Kennedy App. Sept. 11, 15 Ret. Apr. 24, 16.
  • Capt. A. E. Humphrey Apr. 24, 16, Ret. May 12, 16.

 

3rd Divisional Cyclist Company: (absorbed by Corps Cyclist Battalion)

  • Capt. L. P. O. Picard App. Feb. 25, 16, Ret. May 12, 16.

 

4th Divisional Cyclist Company: (disbanded)

  • Capt. G. L. Berkeley App. Apr. 28, 16 May 18, 16.
  • Capt. G. B. Schwartz App. May 18, 16 May 24, 16.

 

Canadian Reserve Cyclist Company:

  • Capt. F. B. Goodwillie App. Apr. 3,15 Aug. 3,15.
  • Capt. L. P. O. Picard App. Aug. 3, 15 Feb. 25, 16.
  • Capt. G. B. Schwartz App. Feb. 25, 16 May 18, 16.
  • Capt. G. L. Berkeley App. May 18, 16 Aug. 1, 16.
  • Capt. F. B. Goodwillie App. Aug. 1, 16 Jan. 25, 18.
  • Maj. C. E. Bush Jan. 25, 18 Demob.

 

Spañard

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