Riding into Battle

Canadian Cyclists in the Great War

Reviewed by Beverley Tallon

Posted November 20, 2019

Cyclists were an important component of operations during the First World War. Although they were largely assigned to dispatching messages, road patrols, trench digging, and seeking out the enemy, Canadian cyclists played a shining role at the end of the war, during the Hundred Days campaign. They made important contributions in France at Amiens, Cambrai, and elsewhere.

The original ninety-three-member 1st Canadian Divisional Cyclist Company was composed of volunteers who trained for a mere two weeks at Valcartier, Quebec. Four additional Canadian cyclist companies were later assembled. Of the 1,138 men who became Canadian military cyclists during the war, 261 were killed or injured.

When you read the description of a military cyclist’s full kit, which weighed about forty kilograms, you can imagine their gear, along with a rifle, rain cape, and jerkin, piled precariously atop a bicycle. As author Ted Glenn notes, “It was more like trying to mount a haystack than a bicycle….”

Glenn lives in Toronto, where he is a professor at Humber College and also a cyclist. In Riding into Battle, he describes Canadian cyclists’ military expeditions and day-to-day lives, which previously had largely gone undocumented. Many excellent photographs and maps enhance his narrative.

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This article originally appeared in the December 2019-January 2020 of Canada’s History.

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