Dispatches from Meriden

Cyclists gather at the Meriden memorial in 2014
Cyclists gather at the memorial
An early train from London carried Ed Holt to Meriden where he was welcomed by John Bennett, one of the weekend’s organisers, and a few other members of CTC’s Heart of England

Before setting off on one of the morning’s leisure rides, attendees were encouraged to peruse some display boards that detailed the history and significance of Meriden; the Heart of England and home to the memorial honouring World War I’s fallen cyclists.

Our group was made up of both locals, for whom the Meriden rally is a long-standing annual fixture, and a handful of others who had made a pilgrimage from further afield.  Two ladies had travelled under their own steam to Meriden from South Wales.  Led by Dennis, our motley crew set off along quiet, narrow lanes lined with cow parsley and high hedgerows.  CTC Heart of England’s blue and yellow jersey mirrored that of the rape fields under Saturday’s bright blue, cloud-free, sky.  After a toasted tea cake near Nuneaton we headed back, for those on beans and toast duty had to be at the church hall in time to congratulate and feed the Audax riders.

After a cup of tea, I headed to the village green where two monuments stand facing one another.  At around 500 years old, one marks the traditional centre of England, the other, erected in 1921, commemorates cyclists who died during the First World War.  A steady stream of Audax riders and locals would stop to pay their respects.  Barrie Hodges of Notts DA has come more or less every year since 1972, sometimes leaving Nottingham in the dark of night with a small group of cyclists.  Having served in the army himself Barrie felt it was important to pay respect to ‘the lads’.

Come evening, Meriden’s fish and chip shop did a wonderful job of catering for the Centennial Film show in the village hall.  Three long tables accommodated the hundred attendees who all merrily swapped stories from the day’s runs, and those of years gone by.  The 1950’s British Rail film: Cyclist’s Special, showed us how well catered for cyclists used to be...packed lunches for those going on a ride!  This was in stark contrast to my morning’s underwhelming-lacking-in-facilities train journey.

Sunday’s memorial service

Bicycles and riders slowly started to accumulate from 10am, the flag was flying and the green looked splendid.  The bluest of skies, freshly cut, verdant grass with a magnificent riot of colourful cycling jerseys and bicycles in between.  The jerseys told stories of riders from near and far - Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, Tamworth, Evesham, to name but a few.  As 11 o’clock approached they all abandoned their steads and began to congregate towards the Southern end of the green, just beyond the monument’s shadow.

The ceremony commenced with a brass band, and was led by the Bishop of Warwick.  Dedications were made and prayers said for the glorious dead.  The congregation was parted for a small procession of wreath bearers from the Heart of England monument at the opposite end of the green.  The wreaths were laid by CTC’s Chair David Cox; the ceremony organiser of the past 20 years, Harry Child; as well as representatives from various CTC affiliated clubs.

After the one minute silence, two union jacks were parted, like curtains, to reveal the new inscription:

In lasting memory
of all
who gave their lives
when serving
their country

The service concluded with the rousing Jerusalem and National Anthem.  Those in attendance were duly invited to the village hall for tea and cake, and most came, for the grass outside the hall had to accommodate the overflow.  One of the ladies serving was sure she had poured over 200 cups of tea.

Of those I spoke too, most had been coming to Meriden for some time, though they all agreed that the turn out for this year’s centennial service was especially good. Though I struggled to find anybody with a familial connection to our fallen cyclist soldiers, it was heart-warming to see so many paying their respects.  The humble bicycle, once again, playing the part of a unifying force; a force capable of acting across time and without prejudice.  They were cyclists, and we are cyclists, lest we forget.