A Regiment on Wheels
From The Strand Magazine - Vol. 2, No.7, July - Dec 1891, pgs 31-38.
WHERE is a house in the Queen's-road, Chelsea, which is not without its history. It stands exactly opposite Chelsea Hospital, and there was a time when gay cavaliers of Charles II.'s reign frequented it, for in those merry days its first bricks revere laid. On the top floor a small apartment- is still to be seen, in the door of which is a small sliding opening capable of admitting the entrance and exit of a head. Not for decapitation, for tradition says that here stood the fashionable hairdresser, whilst handsome lords and fair ladies-placed their heads through the aperture to have their wigs powdered and prevent the spoiling of their silks and velvets. Here, too, cells with iron gratings in the doors may be found. In 1820 the house was converted into a school of discipline, and so it remained until March of last year, when our regiment on wheels brought with them their iron steeds and transformed it into their " headquarters." Its solid mahogany doors and Ornamented marble mantelpieces remain as they were in the days of old its gateway is intact, and probably the same fine trees are flourishing, but outside in unmistakable capitals is written, " Headquarters, 26th Midx. Cyclists," with a substantial flag-staff visible. Its fifteen or sixteen rooms now comprise an armoury, with its repairing bench, arm stands, and innumerable lockers which are leased at a yearly rental of 2s. 6d. to the members. The sergeants' mess is a cosy abode, and the officers' room to which a corner devoted to smoking is attached is furnished in a style approaching luxuriousness with basket and velvet pile chairs. There is an excellent lecture-room, various offices, and the all important canteen, the speciality of which are its pork pies and sausage rolls, dear to the heart and soothing to the appetite of all average cyclists. . Round its walls are many a fine military picture "Floreat Etona" and " The Last Eleven at Maiwand" "General Roberts" and "Lord Wolseley," the "Queen" and the "Prince of Wales." There, too possibly as a reminder to cyclists of the distant climes to which their machines may yet travel on active service. Are picturesquely arranged assegais, Indian knives, and Burmese drums which an enthusiastic cyclist and took down from his oven bedroom and transported to Chelsea. Look into the garden, some 150 yards long, where drills are held when the corps is not at the Guards barracks, and peep in at the stable, There fifty or sixty machines may be easily be accommodated. Such are the headquarters of the only Volunteer regiment on wheels in the country the pioneer corps amongst all volunteers.
We hear the latest invention in the way of military cycles is one by Mr. W. J. Cocks, of Ealing. This cycle has received the approval of some of the military authorities and below we give a sketch of the same. It shows at a glance all the weapons of warfare carried by the cyclist.
The signalling flag is carried in a semi perpendicular position down the front fork. The rifle is to the right of the rider, lying in a central position along the centre of the machine. Not an inch of spare space is lost, as all the distance between the back and front wheel is taken up by a leather valise, which is divided into various parts, the upper portion of which carries a good supply of cartridge cases, and there is plenty of room below for the various travelling instruments required in case of accident to the cycle, and for all other necessaries. The whole thing weighs some thing like 56 lbs. including the rifle. The standing gear is a very important item in the construction of this machine. A single prop or leg is removed by the feet from a spring clip, the upper portion of which engages with the mud guard, passing through the same and putting a break on the wheel thus preventing the machine moving forward or the wheel turning to an angle the cycle leaning on the side prop still out of the vertical, Fixed to the handle bar is a valise, in which can be carried the kit. It seems probable that in time of action the mounted cyclist will be able to get within an easy distance of the field, dismount and detach his rifle in a couple of seconds, put his machine in a place of safety, and be on the scene of action quicker than he could by any other means.
Amongst the smartest things which our fighting cyclists are capable of doing with machines is the forming of a zereba for the defence of a road, as shown in our illustration. This is for the purpose of resisting cavalry, and is formed by some twenty or thirty machines, which are stacked on to one another; the men getting behind the cycles and firing at the approaching enemy. So clever are they at forming these cycling squares, so to speak, that the whole thing can be accomplished Hunts cyclists gun Cyclists Gun in some five or six seconds. Indeed, taken all round, the military cyclist is not only a very ingenious fellow, but a good way ahead of the ordinary infantry men; in fact, he is really an infantry man on temporary wheels; for, when engaged in fighting, he dismounts from his machine, places his cycle on the ground, or hides it in a hedge, and combats on foot. We have spoken of the ingenuity of the cyclist. The Writer of this article went to Dover last Easter for the purpose of following this regiment on Wheels, in order to see what practical use they would be in time of warfare. Had it not been for the cyclists, the bridge over the railway at Lydden which communicated with London would have been blown up, and all further supplies to the besieged town stopped. This was no doubt due to the fact that the men on their bicycles under command of Captain Holmes were able to reach the spot which the enemy desired, whereas had infantry men been singled out for the task, they would have been too late, and the enemy already in possession.
Not the least interesting Weapon carried by the cyclists, and used for the first time at the Easter manoeuvres, is the Gatling gun. This particular gun used is capable of discharging shot at a distance of one thousand yards at the rate of six shots a second easily. It weighs 97 lbs., the ammunition being carried in cases for the purpose. It is transported to and fro on a gun-carriage composed of four safety machines coupled to one another, and ridden by four men. Not only is this quartette of cycles useful for this purpose, but an ambulance may also be carried with it. With this weighty load, over a smooth road, it can be ridden at the rate of nine miles an hour. This idea of the best means of getting a Gatling to and fro belongs to Sergeant Watkins, and with this Weapon he did some deadly Work (imaginary, of course) at Dover.
A somewhat amusing incident was witnessed by the writer, who stood by the side of the Gatling on the hill some few miles from Kearsney, near Dover. The gallant sergeant found his ammunition exhausted; there was no more to be had. It suddenly occurred to the officer in charge of the men, who had now left the machines on which it had been carried, and were lying on the ground ready to let go at the enemy with their riffles , that the impression might be conveyed that the Gatling gun was still blazing away by the men firing in quick succession one after the other. This was done, and the result of this ingenious subterfuge was that many of the enemy imagined that they were still being annihilated by the murderous weapon.
The Duke of Cambridge, who is a strong adherent of military cycling, singled out this regiment on wheels for his special approval at the late Easter manoeuvres. When he saw the Gatling gun on its carriage, he gave the command that the gun should at once be put into action. The men sprang from their machines, dismounted the gun, placed it ready for firing, took up their positions, the whole thing being accomplished in twenty seconds. 'The Duke encouraged the men by saying most heartily, "Very creditable, very creditable."
A story, however, may be told which will show that there was a time when our Commander-in-Chief had his doubts of the efficacy of cycles being adapted for military purposes this happened in 1887, the first appearance of military wheelmen at Dover.
Some two or three miles from the seaport town there is a picturesque little village called Keursney, and amongst its sights is a particularly steep hill leading to St. Radigund's Abbey. The Duke chanced to pass where the military cyclists were congregated together, and approaching the officer in command, good-humouredly looking up at the hill, his Royal Highness said, Well, I've no doubt your men are a capable body, but I question Whether any cyclist could possibly mount that hill-." Now it so happened that there was a very fast rider present, an exceptionally powerful man on wheels, Mr. M. D. Rucker. This little fact the commanding officer knew, and asked the Duke for permission to put his remarks to the test; this was readily granted, and away Mr. Rucker went on his machine, the Duke himself watching him for a considerable distance until at last he rode away himself. Some time passed by, when again the cyclist body found itself near to the Duke: once more riding up, he asked, "Is that man back yet?" when our smart cyclist immediately stepped up with a salute, and said, "Yes; sir, here I am." We are probably right in saying that this was the foundation of the Duke's faith in utilising cyclists for military purposes, as having sent a horseman with him, at the first six-barred gate, which was locked, the cyclist lifted his machine over, leaving the unfortunate "galloper " behind, his horse refusing to take the gate.
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