One hundred years ago: the formation of 16th Corps Cyclist Battalion

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.

Divisional Cyclists

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

Corps Cyclists

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.
IWM photograph (Q 32577): Cyclists picking tobacco, Struma Front, November 1916; so shortly before the formation of 16th Corps Cyclist Battalion.
Cyclists picking tobacco, Struma Front, November 1916; so shortly before the formation of 16th Corps Cyclist Battalion. © IWM (Q 32577)

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Author: SCS Web Editor

Robin Braysher joined the SCS in 2003 and soon after became editor of the Society's journal, 'The New Mosquito', a role he held until 2008. He then became the Society's web editor, a role he seems unable to shake off. His interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Fred, who served as a cyclist with the BSF from 1915-1917, mainly in the Struma valley.

2 thoughts on “One hundred years ago: the formation of 16th Corps Cyclist Battalion”

  1. Lieutenant John Savin Jones-Savin transferred from the Cyclist Corps as described above in January 1917. He joined 11th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and was killed in action on 27th March 1917. He is buried at the Karasouli Military Cemetery and commemorated on the memorial to the fallen of the College at St Johns Oxford. The Welsh Fusiliers were on patrol west of Machukovo when ambushed by Germans. A fellow officer recorded as follows:

    ‘Our fellows got a devil of a mauling from rifles and bombs attempting to fight their way out. Survivors bring back the news and another patrol organised to bring in the missing. They too, by worse luck are ambushed and suffer considerable loss. A black day in patrol records…’

    1. Thank you Nigel. I can provide some more detail on Lt Jones-Savin as he features in the War Diary of 28th Divisional Cyclist Company (WO95 4907). He joined the Company at Béthune from training on 14 October 1915. This was just after their involvement in the Battle of Loos and just a week later they were on their way, via Marseille and Egypt, to Salonika. The Company landed in Salonika on 2 December 1915, spending a fortnight in the Lembet Road Camp. On the 15th they moved to the 28th Division’s position around Givezne/Guvezne on the Salonika/Seres road; Lt Jones-Savin was in charge of the company transport for the move. More exciting duties followed as he led several reconnaissance patrols: one to Langaza to seek out any advanced British positions and one on the road to Lahana, where they were eventually stopped at a Greek army post. The War Diary reports on 30 April 1916 – whilst camped near AHQ Kalamaria – the promotion of Temporary Lieutenant Jones-Savin (ACC) to Second Lieutenant, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, with effect from 04 March 1916 although he was to remain on secondment. Interestingly, CWGC records (Karasouli grave D. 879) shows him as ‘Army Cyclist Corps attd. 11th Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers’. In June the company started its move to the Struma valley and incidences of sickness began to appear, with Lt Jones-Savin reported sick to 84 Field Ambulance on 13 July 1916. He returned from hospital a week later and was soon back on patrol in the lower Struma valley. The War Diary stops at the end of August 1916, so the next mention we have of him is in the 16th Cyclist Battalion Diary, noted above. At his death on 27/03/1917 he was 27 years of age.

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