ANZACs on two wheels

Eddie Barkla | Bendigo Weekly | 27-Apr-2012

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IN THE FRONT LINE: Men of a cyclist company.
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Researching this year’s ANZAC Day article has taken me into history pages that I had not been exposed to before, and I thank God for peace.
Officers and men for the Australian Cyclist Companies were found from volunteers from existing units and from reinforcements.
On March 11 1916, HQ 1st Australian Division called for a return showing the names of “officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers to fill the following positions” in 1st Division Cyclist Company – eight officers, one warrant officer, seven staff sergeants and sergeants and two artificers.
The total number of bicycles authorised was 202. The two drivers obviously did not need bikes.
The actual final strength of the companies was about 230 as each newly-raised company was to include a reinforcement element of 10 to 20 per cent.
The new Cyclist Companies began to form and organise at the end of March, 1916.
Volunteers were not hard to find. Among those volunteering were a draft of over 200 officers and men of the 4th Light Horse Regiment.
This draft appears to have been made up of most of the 14th Reinforcements of the 4th Light Horse.
These were men who had arrived in the Middle East too late to take part in the Gallipoli campaign.
Many of them obviously decided to transfer to the 2nd Divisional Cyclist Company in the belief that the Middle East was to be a sideshow.
If the only way of getting to the Western Front to see action was to swap their Walers for bicycles, then, so be it.
It is quite likely, however, that many also elected to transfer to the cyclists in the hope that once the squadrons of the 4th Light Horse which were earmarked for the Western Front began to suffer casualties, then they would be able to transfer back to the Light Horse.
This in fact proved to be the case as, following later reorganisations of the cyclist units in Europe, many officers, NCOs and men who had volunteered from the Light Horse ended up back in either the 4th or 13th Light Horse Regiments.
Early problems for the newly raised cyclist companies included both a lack of bicycles for training and also a lack of bicycling experience on the part of many of the volunteers, particularly among the “Mulga Bills” of the Light Horse.
For example, the unit War Diary of the 5th Divisional Cyclist Company, which was raised at Ferry Park in Egypt on April 16, 1916, recorded on April 28, 1916 that the unit’s complement of bicycles was only 40 machines and that “many men had never been on a bike before and a great deal of time is wasted in teaching them.”
Training was based on the British Army’s Cyclist Training Manual 1907 (Revised 1911).
Apparently Captain Hindhaugh’s only preparation for command of a cyclist unit was being given a copy of this manual.
The manual is replete with such items as how to salute while standing by, sitting on and riding the bicycle; drill movements such as “Ground Cycles,” “Take Up Cycles” and “Stack and Unstack Cycles;” and helpful advice on care of bicycles such as “Bicycle tyres should be wiped with a damp cloth after a march, so that all grit, which if left might cause a puncture, may be removed.” (Still good training advice today.)
Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon, God willing.

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