We will remember them...
As we remember all those who lost their lives in war this weekend, CTC will specifically honour the Cyclists' Battalions and other fallen cyclists at the annual memorial at Meriden in May with a special service at the Cyclists' War Memorial.
Throughout WW1, CTC played an active role in the enrolment of CTC members into the battalions' ranks. The September 1914 issue of CTC’s flagship magazine, The Gazette, contained a form for “members desirous of serving” to fill in so that they could be put on a waiting list for a possible outlet for “active patriotism.” A few months later and CTC had made arrangements for two special CTC Companies to form part of the newly formed Cyclists' Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment.
It may be hard to believe CTC’s role in the call-up of cyclists to the front line, especially given the publication of the real dangers posed there for cyclist messengers. Mr G. Reddick of the Daily Chronicle reported seeing several messenger soldiers killed as they cycled. However, such acts reflected the opinion of the readership of the time that CTC could and should be doing something for the war effort.
CTC has long been remembering fallen cyclists in the war. On 21 May 1921 the Meriden memorial, chosen as being closest to the centre of England, was unveiled and dedicated 'To the lasting memory of those cyclists who fell in the Great War, 1914-1919'.
The opening ceremony was fully reported in The Gazette, which described it as an “event unparalleled in the history of cycling…..never had there been such a concourse of cyclists from all posts of the United Kingdom assembled in the common cause of recognition of heroism of their comrades fallen in the war.”
A fund of £1,000 had been raised for the memorial and Mr G. Herbert Stancer OBE, Secretary of CTC and Editor of The Gazette 1920 – 1944, helped to develop the scheme. Over 10,000 people attended the ceremony; such were the feelings of the cycling community.
At 6 pm, Mr Gritten, the local MP, took to the stand and addressed the congregation:
"My Lords, my ladies, ladies and gentlemen, fellow cyclists. We are met together to perform a solemn function. We are to pay a last tribute to our dead comrades by the unveiling and the dedication to them of this permanent memorial. This occasion is, indeed, unique in the history of cycling. Nothing like this has happened before; and we pray that there will never again be such a great war as to make it reoccurrence necessary." MP WG Howard Gritten.
It was with great sadness that later additions to the inscription would include the Second World War.
Members of CTC Heart of England Member Group have already started planning for next year's Cyclists’ Memorial service at Meriden Green. The 2014 commemorations will, of course, mark 100 years since the start of WW1 and will provide a national focus to remember those who were killed whilst cycling in the line of duty in all conflicts.
Following the Saturday's traditional Audax and leisure rides, an extra special memorial service will take place on Sunday 18 May. An additional plaque will be dedicated by the Bishop of Warwick at the service at 11am. The commemorations will also be supported by the Bulkington Brass Band.
Meriden Cycling Rally organiser John Bennett of CTC Heart of England says they also plan an exhibition of memorabilia: "It would be marvellous to hear from any CTC members if they have mementos they can lend to us for a display in the Meriden Village Hall over the May weekend."
The hall will also house a cinema screen for a showing of Alan Bennett's 'A Day Out' and archive film footage will be shown on the Saturday evening. To know more about the events at Meriden next May or if you can lend any cycling artefacts, please contact John Bennett.
Thanks to CTC's Kay Lakin for compiling the archive information - there will be interview with John Bennett in the forthcoming Heritage Podcast.