One hundred years ago this week, three divisional cyclist companies in the Struma Valley were merged to form the 16th Corps Cyclist Battalion (Army Cyclist Corps).
Hardly the most significant event of 1916, but I don’t need much excuse to mention cyclists. My grandfather volunteered for the 28th Divisional Cyclist Company on its formation in Winchester in 1914, served with it on the Western Front in 1915 – including at the Second Battle of Ypres and Loos – then went to Salonika with it, and then served in the 16th Corps Cyclist Battalion until being laid low with malaria and dysentery in 1917.
British infantry divisions began the war with a mounted element comprising a cavalry (or yeomanry) squadron and a company of cyclists who, from November 1914 were cap-badged as ‘Army Cyclist Corps’. In 1916 the decision was taken to consolidate divisional mounted troops at corps level in Corps Mounted Regiments and Corps Cyclist Battalions.
16th Corps in the Struma Valley had three cyclist companies from the 10th, 27th and 28th Divisions which rendezvoused at Badimal – overlooking Lake Tahinos at the southern end of the valley – on 8th, 7th and 9th December respectively. They became:
- 10th Divisional Cyclists – A Company
- 27th Divisional Cyclists – B Company
- 28th Divisional Cyclists – C Company
With just three companies it was a small battalion and, with the impact of malaria, the companies were certainly short of their official strength of about 200 bicycles each. Even so, there was a loss of men as surplus ASC and RAMC personnel were quickly redeployed and in early January 1917 Lt Jones-Savin and 15 NCOs were sent to the General Base Depot as ‘surplus to establishment’. It was not until February 1917 that the Battalion started Lewis Gun training to boost its firepower, with Hotchkiss Guns added in March. On the Doiran Front 12th Corps Cyclist Battalion was even smaller, having just two cyclist companies to draw on, from 22nd and 26th Divisions; 60th Division arrived from France without its cyclists, presumably having already given them up to their corps cyclist battalion.
The Battalion began its existence, under the command of Major Hilton-Green, with a busy round of training, route marches and parades and was soon on patrol in the Struma Valley, keeping an average of 25 men in the advanced front line over the winter.
Cyclists picking tobacco, Struma Front, November 1916; so shortly before the formation of 16th Corps Cyclist Battalion. © IWM (Q 32577)
You will be hearing more about cyclists!
Find out more:
- 16 Corps Cyclist Battalion War Diary (WO 95/4827)
- The lively reminiscences of Pte Francis Ching, originally of 10th Divisional Cyclist Company (IWM recording)
- The Long, Long Trail: Army Cyclist Corps
- The New Mosquito Issue 28 (September 2013) was devoted to Fred Braysher’s army service, the development and use of military cyclists, and 28th Divisional Cyclist Company.