Remembering cyclists 100 years on from the start of World War One
In May 2014 Cycling UK specifically honoured the Cyclist Battalions and other fallen cyclists at the annual memorial at Meriden, with a special service at the Cyclists' War Memorial.
Throughout World War One, the Cyclists' Touring Club (now Cycling UK) 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 Cyclist 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.
Cycling UK 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 6pm, 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 W. G. Howard Gritten
It was with great sadness that later additions to the inscription would have to be made because of the Second World War.
The 2014 commemorations marked 100 years since the start of World War One and provided 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 took place on Sunday 18 May 2014. An additional plaque was dedicated by the Bishop of Warwick at the service at 11am.
Thanks to CTC's Kay Lakin for compiling the archive information - there is an interview with John Bennett in the Heritage Podcast.