25th County of London Cyclist Battalion
The London Regiment

Back to Formation & History of Army Cyclists 

Back to 26th Middlesex Bn. 

The birth of the London Cycle Corps & the 26th Middlesex Bn.

THE thirty-three years from 1887 to 1920 witnessed the conception, birth, growth, adolescence, and premature death of military cycling (as distinct from mere despatch riding) in the British Army.

For the first twenty of these years, the 26th Middlesex (Cyclist) Volunteer Corps was `the only unit in Britain devoted entirely to the development of cyclist tactics. During the next seven years, its successor, the 25th (Cyclist) Battalion, The London Regiment, was in the forefront of the movement until, on conversion to infantry, it retired to permit its Second Line, already over a year old, to carry on the tradition almost to the 31st March, 1920, when cyclist units, as such, ceased to exist in the British Army.

It is impossible to name the man who first conceived the idea of cyclist soldiers; who first mentally visualised super-mobile troops, able to march 50 or even 100 miles a day, moving swiftly and silently on mounts requiring no fodder or drink and little or no attention. It is however certain that while Professor of Tactics on the staff of the R.M.C. at Sandhurst, in 1887, the idea of the employment of cyclists for military purposes was mooted by Lt.-Col. A. R. Savile* who was, even then, a very keen touring wheeler, and it cannot be disputed that by mustering the first parade in history of cyclists for military purposes on the cricket ground of Saint Thomas's College, Canterbury, in the early morning of April 8th, 1887, he earned the right to be acclaimed the " Father of Military Cycling."

An extract from an unknown periodical reads as follows :-
" The first record that we can find of the use of cyclists for military purposes is in 1885, when they were employed as scouts during the Easter manoeuvres. These gave such practical illustration of their possibilities that the subject of military cycling was warmly taken up in more than one quarter, Col. Stracey, of the Scots Guards, making the cyclists' cause his own, and warmly advocating their recognition as part of the every day military establishment."
The absence of the name of the journal and its date makes it difficult to confirm the first part of this information. The rest coincides with other accounts.

In an article contributed to the "Military Cyclist," in 1906 Col. Savile thus described his command at these Easter maneuvers :
" We were certainly a mixed lot and motley crowd to look at. Some were officers serving in the Army, and others were retired officers ; there were volunteers of all ranks, also members of Cycling Clubs, with a sprinkling of path and road racing men. Everyone who possessed a uniform wore it, altering it for cycling purposes according to his own fancy ; the remainder were in plain c10thes of every pattern, age and colour. Some were armed to the teeth with swords, rifles, bayonets, revolvers, and field glasses ; others seemed prepared to encounter any enemy with the aid of no better weapon than a heavy spanner.
But we were all animated with the same spirit-a keen desire to show that we were rational beings, that we were something better than mere cads on castors. . . .
The General kindly left us to ourselves on the first day of our existence, so that we might organise, for the officers had not yet even seen their men, and as regards military value we were, at the moment, merely an undisciplined mob. It speaks volumes for the intelligence and aptitude of cyclists that on the afternoon of that day we were able to carry out an extensive military scheme, and carry it out well, too.
On the College Cricket Ground I formed my men in two divisions, the right under Lieut.-Colonel Kensington (Royal Artillery), the left under Major Carpenter (late Royal Fusiliers).
Some of the other officers were the veteran Major Knox Holmes (late Bucks Yeomanry), Capt. Cohen (Tower Hamlets Engineers), Lieut. Fox (Middlesex Regt.), Lieut. Graham Gordon (London Scottish), and fortunately also a good many Volunteer N.C.O.'s. . . . After several hours' hard work, the civilians found themselves turned into soldiers; they did some simple drill and listened to harangues concerning their duties in connection with the projected work for the afternoon. Fearful punishments were invented to deal with insubordination and rowdyism, but the gravest crime in our penal code was declared to be ' slackness,' for we all realised that we were on trial, and that we were being closely watched.

At 2 p.m. the Cops paraded again at the same place, and commenced an extensive reconnaissance of the country on the west side of Canterbury. I had a shrewd suspicion that the civilian element' thought they would learn much more about a soldier's work if we tossed up for sides and entered into a mortal combat amongst ourselves on the cricket field. But obedience was the order of the day, and there was certainly much curiosity to discover the practical meaning of the long word, ' reconnaissance,' which had been dinned into their ears a few hours earlier. The ' scorchers ' of the force, too, were quivering with impatience to be in the saddle and hunt for an enemy.

The right division took the area on the north side of. the London Road, extending to Whitstable, and then working along the shore westward ; the left division spread out as far south as Chilham and Challock Lees, detached scouts-these were the racing men and the road record breakers-were sent to various distant places on special missions. A strong body, with advanced guard, moved along the main road towards Faversham, regulating the progress of the two wings, and keeping in touch with them. In a very short time the whole force was extended in fanshape on a front of about 12 miles, the numerous patrols maintaining a system of perfect inter-communication from flank to flank, and the work of gathering information and writing reports proceeded steadily and efficiently. We were accompanied by a host of newspaper correspondents, photographers and horsemen ; the latter found great difficulty in keeping near the cyclists of Capt. Cohen's detachment... On reaching the line of Sheldwich-Faversham-Nag's Head, the whole ' screen ' formation closed inwards and assembled at Faversham under cover of the advanced guard holding the position in front at Ospringe.

Particularly good work was done by a detachment on the extreme left, under T. de B. Holmes, who in later years commanded the 26th Middlesex.
The reports, all in writing, were handed in on the spot, examined and criticised. One well-known rider, who had covered about 50 miles in fast time, attached to his excellent report a strange document, which turned out to be a sheet of signatures of persons who certified to seeing him at certain places and hours-such is the force of habit.
The whole force marched back to Canterbury in one column along the main road, attracting a good deal of attention, and it was apparent that the cyclists were highly pleased with their novel experiences. In truth, it was a good day's work for even a trained force.... Such was the first day of Military Cycling in England.

The writer might safely have concluded with, " Such was the first day of military cycling in the world," for all the Continental armies lagged far behind ours in adopting this new arm, though, as will be gathered later, the British Higher Command did not wax at all enthusiastic for very many years, and probably, at no time, appreciated the full possibilities of cycles in warfare or the keenness of the well informed minds which were striving against official passivity to evolve the technique of this branch.

So impressed were the participants in these 1887 operations that, within a week of their conclusion, Major Wallace Carpenter (late 6th Dragoon Guards Carabineers) made application to the War Office for authority to raise a Corps of Volunteer Cyclists, to be known as " Cyclist Guides," with an establishment of 216 all ranks. At first glance this number would seem to indicate that it was proposed to have 16 commissioned and warrant officers and 200 other ranks, but records show that the odd 16 men were to be musicians. The imagination does not require the aid of a comic drawing, such as was published at a later date, to conjure up a vision of, say, a man precariously retaining his equilibrium on a cycle while beating a bass drum. If the humorously absurd side of this suggestion can be appreciated, there is the satisfaction of knowing that H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge, the C. in C., did not like the idea at all, and that the then Secretary of State for War expressed himself as being prepared to decide, out of hand, that the suggested new arm would be of no use. The sponsors of the idea, however, refused to allow their child to be still-born ; negotiations were continued, with the satisfactory result that in August of the same year Major Wallace Carpenter was provisionally authorised to enrol volunteers for service as cyclists on the clear and typical understanding that no public money would be forthcoming, to aid the venture, for that year at any rate.

Unhappily Major Wallace Carpenter was forced, through ill-health, to retire, and it fell to the lot of Captain (shortly afterwards Major) Percy Hughes Hewitt (also late 6th Dragoon Guards), who had continued the agitation for official recognition, finally to receive on February 11th, 1888, the information from the Adjutant-General, Lord Wolseley, that the offer to raise a Corps of Cyclists had been accepted, and that, to conform to the general practice whereby all Volunteer Corps bore a county designation, the title would be " 26th Middlesex (Cyclist) Rifle Volunteer Corps." Actually the word " Rifle " was dropped, as will be seen from the following, which was the first official notification of the existence of the new unit to appear in the " London Gazette."
This was dated the 24th February, 1888, and read :
" 26th Middlesex (Cyclist) Volunteer Corps-Captain Percy Hughes Hewitt, Reserve of Officers, late Captain 6th Dragoon Guards, to be Major, F. P. Fletcher Vane, Esq., late Lieut. Scots Guards, to be Captain. The undermentioned gents to be Lieutenants, Tom de Bruno Holmes, Martin Diedrich Rucker, Robert Edward Phillips, to date April 1st, 1888."
Either fear of those bandsmen on the part of the Secretary of State for War, or, as suggested by a well informed commentator at a later date, the solicitude of the Treasury as guardians of the public purse, caused the establishment to be limited to 121 of all ranks, and in spite of frequent applications for an increase, the establishment remained at that figure for more than a decade. It is apparent that the granting of monetary aid to Volunteers was not a strong feature of the Administration in those days, for it will be noted that the appointments were postdated five weeks to April 1st-presumably to carry the costs of maintenance into the next financial year. This may not have been the reason. Many who served in the Corps and the Territorial Battalions which carried on its traditions, suspected a flavour of sardonic humour in the allocation by the " Powers that Be " of this particular Saint's Day as the natal one of the unit.

It is interesting to note that the Corps started with two ex-regular officers, and that all the subalterns were men well known in the cycling world of the day. Lieutenant Holmes (the son of. Major Knox Holmes, who was regarded as the " Grand Old Man " of the cycling world in the " eighties ") subsequently commanded the battalion from 1892 to 1894. M. D. Rucker was an amateur trick rider, besides being an ex-champion, and he it was who astonished the Duke of Cambridge, subsequently, by his success in riding across country on a cycle. Those of a younger generation, who have examined the machines of that day, rather wonder how progress was made on them along roads, let alone across fields.
R. E. Phillips, who subsequently commanded " B " troop, was prominent as a member of the National Cyclist Union, and needed no introduction to either his associates or subordinates. The ranks contained such men as C. A. Smith, who earned his sobriquet of " Bath Road Smith " as the result of his record out and back ride between London and Bath ; Langridge, who was the Captain of the North Road Club ; Stiles, who became one of the first two sergeants of the 26th and, last but by no means least, Gilbertson-Smith who, after promotion to commissioned rank, rose to be the Commanding Officer (and much more beside, as this history will show).

Recruiting was commenced at once, and about twelve men started drilling at St. George's Barracks under ColourSergeant John Johns, who was subsequently transferred from the Grenadier Guards to fill the position of Sergeant-Major of the Corps, which did not officially exist until the 1st April (which fell on Easter Sunday in 1888). Nevertheless, the first muster was held on February 24th. The first parade for field work took place on Wimbledon Common on the 3rd March, while on the Thursday before Good Friday the battalion-thus still being in a pre-natal state met at Guildford for Easter Manoeuvres. We find it reported that although one or two ardent spirits-presumably in company with their strenuous bodies-rode down by way of the Ripley Road, the London and SouthWestern Railway carried the majority. Before following these enthusiasts any further a digression will be made to study their equipment and terms of membership.

Martini rifles and the old pattern triangular bayonets were served out, and members were generously allowed the startling privilege of purchasing (for three guineas) the uniform with belt and pouch, and the large black pouch for reserve ammunition which was designed to fix on the back of the saddle of their machines. This was the only equipment that the individual members of the Corps possessed when they went forth at Easter, 1888.

The form of application for membership of the " Proposed Corps of Cyclists Guides," which was accompanied by a form of particulars (addressed from Temporary Head quarters, 28, Ashley Place, Victoria Street, S.W.), informed all and sundry that the proposed subscription was to be one guinea per annum, and that no entrance fee would be charged to the first three hundred members. To overcome one of the difficulties of the day, it was decided that three different Troops-consisting, respectively, of bicycles and safeties, tricycles and tandems,-should be formed, and that the management of the Corps should be carried on as in a Volunteer Regiment (It should be noted that the proposal form was circulated before the unit had been given a name.) Intending members were very considerately informed that they would be told off to different Troops according to the machines they rode, and the pace at which they travelled. On the form of application various questions had to be answered and importance was apparently attached, quite rightly, to one which sought to ascertain the longest distance ridden in one day by the candidate.
Reverting to the 1888 Easter manoeuvres, the report shows:

" There had been a heavy snowstorm the previous week followed by a thaw, and the roads bid fair to test the training of anyone cycling over them. The Stoke Hotel sheltered the Cyclist Corps for the night, and at 6 o'clock on Good Friday morning the Corps paraded in the yard at Guildford railway station. Spectators were not many as it was a cold grey morning with a promise of rain to come. There was more curiosity amongst those forming up on parade, as to how the others were mounted and equipped, than among the citizens of Guildford, although in their very midst a new arm of the service was parading for the first time.

It must be borne in mind that many Volunteer Battalions had been allowed to form Cyclist Sections, and these formed the bulk of the force ; but any cyclist in a Volunteer Battalion in which a section had not been formed, was allowed to attend the manoeuvres, so the diversity of uniforms and machines was very great. The majority of the Cyclist Corps rode safety bicycles, but there were several mounted on tricycles, including Colonel Savile the commander of the force. Also, many of the good old ordinaries were on parade, their riders dressed in helmet, tunic, trousers and gaiters, with rifle slung over the shoulders, and only those who have ever ridden an ' ordinary' will realise what it meant to mount with a Martini waggling round. Another 'ordinary ' rider had his rifle fixed in a clip down the backbone of the machine, and speculation was rife as to how he would climb on to his saddle over the muzzle of his rifle, which reached above the level of his saddle. There was one section on 'Clavigers,' safety bicycles worked by a crank instead of a chain, so that the riders simply moved their legs up and down like a treadmill; then there was a fearful and wonderful combination known as a Victoria Tandem, consisting of six or eight pairs of wheels coupled together, and carrying 16 men with a large box trailing behind holding engineering tools. This was promptly nicknamed the 'centipede,' but its owners called it the 'Flying Sapper.' It, however, did not fly and soon broke down, a fate which also befell the maxim gun of the Cyclist Corps. This was mounted on a multicycle with two men to ride it, but it broke down in the first six miles, and was not seen again till we got to Dover on the following Monday. The Cyclist Corps formed part of the left column which was to proceed via Alton and Winchester to Luscombe Corner, where the right column, which was to proceed via Basingstoke, was to unite with it, and the whole force to close the main exits from Salisbury on the east side.
The Cyclist Corps formed the advance guard of the left column and started off up the Hog's Back Road for Farnham. The roads were very soft from the snow and following thaw, but Farnham was reached in good time, and the Corps formed up in the Market Place and awaited the main body. This was a long time in arriving, and when it did come in, it was evident that if Salisbury was to be reached that afternoon in time to fight the 1st Wilts R.V., under Col. Lord Pembroke, something must be done to expedite matters, as many of the main body were, in the words of a newspaper correspondent who accompanied the column, 'riders only in name.' The order was therefore given to march to the Railway Station. With this order, the discipline of the Cyclist Corps had its first severe test, for the men were fit and wanted to ride on to Winchester ; but the commanding officer realised that if he was to get his column to Salisbury intact he must train to Winchester. So there was nothing left for the Corps but to swallow their chagrin and obey."

The whole force reached Winchester soon after 12 o'clock, detraining and forming up within eight minutes, which was far less time than cavalry would have taken. The old High Street, which in its time has seen so many different warriors since the Romans first formed a camp there, witnessed the march of the column past the point where the statue of Alfred the Great now stands. En route it met and passed the Mayor and Corporation in full state on their way back from service at the Cathedral, and it is safe to say that each party closely regarded the other, for each, in its way, was an object of curiosity.

After a halt of one hour to allow for lunch, the column moved on towards Stockbridge, which was reached about 2 p.m. It was at this point that real difficulties commenced. The weather broke up, and as the hill by the town was climbed the rain came down in torrents, whilst a strong south-westerly gale-blowing dead ahead-forced the men to lean well over their handle-bars. Roads became very slippery and, as if to try the patience and endurance of the somewhat raw troops still further, it was found on reaching the downs that flints had been freshly laid for some miles, thus obliging the column to wheel its cycles along the path by the side of the road. This succession of evils caused the line to tail out, and by the time the advance guard reached the Pheasant Inn (which is about five miles from Salisbury) it became necessary to call a halt to enable stragglers to rejoin. The rain was still pouring down, but it was known that the enemy were not now far off. Encouraged by this thought, there was a ready response when Col. Savile cried out, 
" Come on, 26th," and the troops, splashing onward through the mud, finally came into action on the high ground above St. Thomas Bridge, sorely diminished in numbers to barely fifty of all ranks.
The 26th itself had only one man missing, a tricyclist, but the remainder comprised the residue of the mixture of various cycling sections, and for this reason the attack originally schemed could not be carried out. In view of this the fighting was very soon over, thus permitting an early descent from the hill to the Bridge, and the occupation of billets in Salisbury.
Weary and soaked through, the 26th nevertheless were delighted to find that they were the only unit to arrive complete-the missing tricyclist having turned up, very wisely, just as firing ceased.
On their way back to Winchester, the next morning, the troops practised road fighting. This completed the work for some of the cyclist sections, which left to rejoin their battalions for the Easter Monday review. The remainder entrained for Farnham, whence they rode back to Guildford, where headquarters was established until the next day.
On the Sunday, which was the real date of the birth of the 26th Middlesex, there was to be no fighting (owing to the protests made to the War Office by a religious society), but it was decided to see how far the column could get on the road to Ashford via Reigate, Oxted, Riverhead, and Maidstone-a distance of some 74 miles.

To prove the vagaries of the English climate, it was a fine frosty morning when Col. Servile, leading the way on his tricycle, moved at the head of his newly-born command.
Luck did not hold, however, for as the day wore on the frost began to disappear, and the roads became a mass of mud and slush. Nevertheless, Capt. Fletcher Vane and the Cyclist Corps (less the unfortunate tricyclist who this time had fallen out at Riverhead), arrived at Ashford tired but undaunted, an hour before midnight.
Sufficient has probably been written to give an idea of the conditions under which the early cyclist soldiers had to carry out their work and training. Regarded by the War Office as harmless but of doubtful utility, and with amusement by the majority of civilians, these hardy pioneers stuck to their convictions and their job. Undeterred by criticism amounting almost to ridicule, they steadily gathered other enthusiasts around them so that, by the 31st October, 1888, they mustered 5 officers and 22 other ranks. That their bricks had to be made with a minimum of straw is shown by a perusal of their first balance sheet. For the year ended 31st March, 1889, it showed that the total receipts from the Government amounted to 50 11s. 0d,, of which 41 15s. 0d. represented capitation allowance in respect of 21 "efficients" at 35/- a head and 2 "proficients" at 2 10s. 0d. each. From this it will be seen that the unit could not indulge in an orgy of spending, but it managed to come out at the end with a balance in hand of 4 6s. 0d., although it had spent 2 14s. 9d. on signalling flags, 3 6s. 0d. on bugles, 6 6s. 0d. at the ranges, and 12 16s. 9d. for c10thing. The majority of the item for c10thing, it must be remembered, was paid for by the men themselves.

A perusal of " The Drill of a Cyclist-Infantry Section," issued with Army Orders dated 1st April, 1890, shows that considerable latitude was given to officers commanding cyclist sections "owing to the different sizes and types of cycles employed." It defined that there were four types of machines used in military work:
(I) Bicycle. A rear-driving, front-steering safety bicycle, measuring about two yards in length, and carrying one man. Its weight varies from 35 pounds to 55 pounds.
(2) Single Tricycle. A rear-driving, front-steering cycle (sic), measuring about two yards in length, and not more than 40" in width, and carrying one man. Its weight varies from 50 pounds to go pounds.
(3) Tandem Tricycle. A rear-driving, front steering tricycle, carrying two men ; it measures about 7 ft. in length, and not more than 40 ins. in width. The weight varies from 75 pounds to 110 pounds.
(4) Multicycle. Those at present in use for military purposes are made in sections with four wheels, carrying four men. They can be joined together so as to carry 6-8-10, or 12 men. Their length per section, carrying four men, is 7 ft. 6 ins., and their width is 3 ft. 3 ins. Weight per man is 52 pounds."

The foregoing recital can only add to one's admiration for the men who could be so far-sighted that, handicapped as they were, they could still appreciate the potentialities of cyclist soldiers.

Before leaving this text-book there is one more definition which must be recorded. It runs thus : "Steering man. The steering man of a cycle is the man who holds the steering handles." It seems well that this explanation was included as otherwise there might have been some confusion.
While on the subject there are certain points in " The Standing Orders of the 26th Middlesex," in 1893, which are worth recording. Order No. 1 of Section VI. laid it down that "no cyclist is to reply to an Officer or non-Commissioned Officer when reprimanded, even though such Officer or non-Commissioned Officer belongs to a different troop, nor is he to argue on the propriety or injustice of any order he may receive from a non-Commissioned Officer, whom he is commanded to treat with the greatest respect." The nature of his remedy is set out, but many readers of this history will feel that, having paid 3 3s. 0d. for a uniform and an annual subscription of 1 1s. 0d. for membership, it must have seemed a little hard to the recruit to take an undeserved " telling off "without retort ; but this must have been as nothing when compared with the London District Order which ordained that "members when in uniform are forbidden to smoke pipes in the public streets before 5 p.m. from the 1st October to the 31st March, and 6 p.m. from the 1st April to the 30th September." The present generation knows nothing of the odium attaching to pipes in those days. Presumably cigars, or cigarettes (which were not very popular at that time), could be indulged in at any hour.
To latter-day soldiers, Standing Order No. 6 would appear mild in view of the offence with which it deals "The Commanding Officer strongly impresses upon the members of the Corps the absolute necessity of keeping silence in the ranks when drilling ; and he will severely deal with anyone who disregards this order."

Although comment in a light vein has been made on one or two of these orders, the instructions as a whole, even read in the light of nearly forty years afterwards, are most comprehensive and prove, if proof is necessary, that the whole question of organisation and discipline was seriously and minutely studied.


Easter manoeuvres continued to provide the main annual field training. In 1890 we see that Gilbertson Smith (then a Sec.-Lieut. and Actg.-Adjt.) signed a parade state at Charing Cross Station on April 3rd, showing that, counting officers, "A" troop mustered 22 and " B " 9. This figure increased by one to thirty-two at Dover three days later, and seems to have been the highest attained during that Easter.
In this year we find that Headquarters was moved to Hare Court, Temple. It was not, however, to remain there for long as records show that the unit in 1893 was attached, for the purposes of War Office control of finance and official returns, to the 12th Middlesex (Civil Service Rifles), but had its own separate Headquarters at 2, Queen's Road, Chelsea. It had an Acting-Adjutant, who deputised for the Adjutant of the 12th Middlesex in all matters except the issue of public moneys (From x888 to 1893 it had been attached to the 14th Middlesex - Inns of Court.).

From July 11th to 25th such men as could manage it attended the annual Bisley Camp. The particulars relating to this were signed by Gilbertson Smith, who, to prove his versatility, signed them as Lieutenant and Acting-Quartermaster. With delightful optimism, probably quite justified, he called for the names of any members who were willing to go down on the day before the camp opened, or early on the day itself, to form a fatigue party. Members were informed that for 2 10s. 0d. they could be allotted a space with two others in a bell tent for the whole period. This sum covered the provision of a camp bedstead complete with a pair of blankets, mattress, bolster, basin, washstand, looking glass, lantern, strip of matting, water can, chest-ofdrawers, bath, pole strap and other items which the "geligraph " has not clearly defined. Extra to this comprehensive list, a camp table could be hired for the fortnight at an inclusive charge of 2/6.
To the more frugally minded, a reduced tariff of 1 1s. 0d. must have appealed. For this sum the subscriber got a quarter instead of a third of the bell-tent space and the use of a ground sheet, mattress, bolster, pair of blankets, water can and basin. These figures included free storage of machines. To those who could not soar to the heights of permanent residence, the sum of 2/- a night was charged, this including the use of Government Stores such as were provided to the payers of 1 1s. 0d.
If these temporary campers came down by road, 6d. per night was charged for storage if they rode a tricycle, and 3d. if they were true bicyclists.
Meals were charged for at figures which compare only favourably with those which would have to be paid to-day, but the tariff for liquid refreshment makes present day mouths water. Whiskey was 3d. and 4d. ; Brandy, 4d. and 6d. ; Gin, 2d. and 3d. ; and Beer, 11/2d. per glass.
On Thursday, 6th July, 1893, the Battalion paraded as part of the Guard of Honour on the occasion of the marriage of H.R.H. the Duke of York (now H.M. King George V.), and from the circular sent by the G.O.C. from the Horse Guards, dated July 8th, it is apparent that this was no light work, for, after conveying to the force under his command the heartfelt thanks of Their Royal Highnesses for the magnificent muster and also for the able manner in which all the duties were carried out, he added that he was commanded to express the sincere hope that none of the troops suffered in any way from the long hours during which they were under arms.

The life of the Volunteer in those days appears to have been largely made up, on the lighter side, of smoking concerts and sports meetings, for practically the only records available at the time of writing this history deal with functions of this nature. It has not been thought fit to include particulars of these, as although doubtless of interest to the participants they can give little real idea of what Volunteer service really consisted.
Field tests, camps and manoeuvres were the outstanding features of training, though parades and drills at Headquarters contributed largely to the general efficiency.
We find it noted that, in May, 1892, the 26th Middlesex team did remarkably well in the bayonet exercise competition at the Military Tournament by obtaining the fifth place, despite one slight error on the part of a four months' recruit.
Signalling was always regarded as a very essential part of a cyclist's training, but it was not until October, 1891, that a special class to deal with the subject was formed.
In October, 1891, " B " troop made a successful attempt at the Cyclist Volunteers' Challenge Cup, which required one officer and twelve other ranks, with full equipment carried on the men and cycles, to cover too miles. " B " troop, by making the excellent time of 11 hours 23 minutes 54 seconds, took the cup and set up a record.

A week after this performance, "A" troop, commanded by Captain de Bruno Holmes, decided to make an attempt to better this time and a team, led by Lieut. Gilbertson Smith, started from Hitchin on Saturday, 25th October, through Harlow, Clifton, Caldecotte and Beeston, straight along the Great North Road to Kate's Tavern, thence to Peterborough, returning the same way to Beeston and from there direct to Hitchin through Biggleswade. It must be remembered that only solid or cushion tyres existed in those days and, in accordance with the conditions of the test, each man's cycle was fully equipped with rifle, sword, knapsack, and overcoat, in addition to weights representing 10 pounds of ammunition, and that the same machines had to be used throughout. The weather was unpropitious, the team starting in a fog which did not lift until Buckden (26 miles) was reached. At this point, flooded roads-the water reaching over the cyclists' pedals made the going very difficult. Nevertheless the whole team covered the first 50 miles in 5 hours 6 minutes, and after a hasty meal the return journey was commenced under more favourable conditions, the final point being passed 10 hours 57 minutes 12 seconds from the start, thus beating "B" troop's time by 26 minutes 42 seconds.
In 1894, Major-Commandant T. de B. Holmes (who had been O.C. since 1892) retired, leaving Gilbertson-Smith (then a Captain) as senior officer. At this time, however, he was not prepared to assume the command so the next senior officer, Captain C. E. Liles, did so. This officer had joined in 1892 and had formed " C " Troop, the nucleus of which consisted of men recruited by him from the famous North Road Cycling Club. Major Liles, like his predecessors, made strenuous efforts to increase the strength of the Corps, and it is reported that in the early part of 1895 the unit was nearly at its full strength (121). The Easter manoeuvres took place in the Windsor district and nearly 70, all ranks, took part in the operations. On the Saturday after Good Friday, they participated in the march past of the Windsor troops before Prince and Princess Christian in the Park, gaining, according to a contemporary, "high encomiums from the spectators and military authorities for their soldierly appearance and their steadiness under arms."

In November, of that year, we find that the bayonet team of the 26th, under Sergeant F. H. Summers, was considered so efficient that it was pressed to give an exhibition at the annual Stanley (Cycle) Show at the Agricultural Hall. The press comments on this were very complimentary.
Easter manoeuvres in 1896 were held in the Shorncliffe district, the Corps riding the whole distance to the coast. The 73 miles were covered in a little over 9 hours, inclusive of halts, which, bearing in mind the loose surface of the roads, the weight of those early cycles and the loads carried, was a very good performance indeed. The unit in those days - in fact for some time previously-had possessed a Gatling gun, carried on a rigid mounting between two solid tyred safeties.
The gun itself appears to have been fitted to a form of wooden stretcher with four handles-presumably to allow of its being removed from the cycles and placed in any position.
That there were incidents to break the general monotony of field training is proved by the following which is extracted from what appears, according to the colour of the paper, to have been an issue of " Cycling" of 1895. It would seem that a dispute arose at Oxted, Surrey, between a party of excursionists and the landlady of an Inn in the village, as a result of which one of the trippers was given in charge.
The entire constabulary of the village, which consisted of one officer, was engaged in handcuffing the man, when the latter knocked the police force down with a single blow, and made off at full speed.
Brandishing his baton, the constable called on all and sundry to assist him "in the Queen's name." While he was thus wasting time, Sergeant Summers, of the 26th, who was conducting signalling practice with his squad in the vicinity, chased and caught the fugitive, while Cyclist Burns and others helped the force to restore law and order in the village. Some very good fun appears to have then resulted, in consequence of which three other civilians were put under arrest. History does not record exactly how the single policeman dealt with his four captives, but the men of the 26th appear to have done their duty.

In 1897 the unit, for the third time, gave a display at the Royal Military Tournament at the Agricultural Hall, providing an excellent opportunity for Sergeant Rule, while riding at speed, to perform his spectacular act of picking up a wounded man from the ground. In the same year the Corps formed part of the Guard of Honour at the jubilee of Queen Victoria, a parade which lasted twelve hours.
Easter manoeuvres in 1897 were carried out in the Folkestone district, and in '98 at Knapp Hill, near Woking. On both occasions the N.C.O.'s and men were quartered in local schools.

These operations do not call for any particular comment as they seem to have followed the general line of field training.
A new element of competition had made its appearance in the form of the Annual Military Cycling Tournament which, promoted by the Gamage Cycle and Athletic Club, was held at Wood Green. Needless to say, the 26th was always well represented and managed to carry off the majority of the awards.

Although trained particularly with a view to moving, wherever practicable, on wheels, the Corps did not neglect the ordinary " foot slogging " side of military routine. In fact, far from neglecting it, they seemed to have entered, with their usual enthusiasm, into a competition designed to encourage marching, for we see that, in February, 1899, five teams-each consisting, it is believed, of one Sergeant, one Corporal and six men-set out to cover a course of nearly 15 miles. The winners, under Sergeant Summers, completed the full distance in 2 hours 44 minutes 55 seconds, with the second team less than eight minutes behind them.

It seems safe to say that, if this performance was carried out in full marching order, the weight was considerably lighter than that carried by troops 2o years later.

The Easter manoeuvres of '99, at Woking, are memorable for the fact that a Maxim gun, the motor haulage of which was the joint invention of a Mr. Charter, of the Cyclometer Company, and Sergeant " Jack " Rule, of the Battalion, was used for the first time. The motive power was supplied by a motor tricycle, the engine of which, from the illustration, appears to have been a single cylinder two stroke. The gun was mounted between two wheels and was attached to the back of the tricycle by a hollow tube which, with a super-imposed saddle, acted as a trail when the gun was in action. The hollow of this tube was utilised to carry a pole and tackle so that, in the event of the disablement of the motor-tricycle, the gun could be pulled by four cyclists. The team consisted of eight men, each of whom carried a box containing 25o rounds of ammunition.
In 1899 the 26th Middlesex removed its Headquarters to 69, Lillie Road, West Brompton, where it had far better accommodation than hitherto. In this same year Gen. Sir F. Maurice, K.C.B., conceived the idea of testing the capabilities of cyclists to repel or hold up an invading force. He prepared a scheme which presumed an enemy landing at Brighton, and arranged that the cyclist defenders should proceed by about forty independent routes to converge on a defensive line running from Newick on the east to Coolham on the west. The 26th Middlesex played a very important part and, from Gen. Maurice's report, it is apparent that he was satisfied with the results of the operations and the part played in it by the Corps.

This period cannot be passed over without making reference to the part played by the unit in the South African War. Of the 81 men on the strength of the unit at the 1st November, 1899, 18 volunteered for active service, and all of these were duly accepted and ultimately served-nine of them with the famous City Imperial Volunteers, who were more commonly known as the C.I.V.'s.*

In 1900 the agitation, which had been proceeding since the formation of the Corps, resulted in permission being granted for the establishment to be raised to 240. Records show, however, that the actual strength was only about half this total.
Having started on the good work, the authorities seem to have determined not to let it rest for, two years later, though the number enrolled still stood at only about 120, the establishment was raised to 361.

In 1904, Major C. E. Liles, who had held the appointment of Commandant from the 13th February, 1895, retired and was succeeded by Gilbertson Smith. This officer had received his majority in 1896, and had acted from that date, not only as second-in-command but also as Brigade Signalling Officer, in addition to carrying out the duties of Acting Adjutant.

In this year (1904) the Battalion was attached to the 2nd (South) Middlesex V.R.C., and a year later moved to its new Headquarters in the Horseferry Road, Westminster.

The Contribution of the 26TH Middlesex to the City Imperial Volunteers (1899-1900).
In the dark weeks of mid-December, 1899, the British forces, under Buller at Colenso, Methuen at Magersfontein, and Gatacre at Stormberg, had suffered three disastrous reverses within a few days, and a great wave of depression swept over the nation.
It was during " the black week " that the Lord Mayor of London (Sir Alfred Newton) offered to raise a Regiment of Infantry, together with Mounted Infantry attached, and to c10the, equip and transport them by sea to Capetown at the expense of the City of London. On arrival they were to be taken over by the War Office. This offer was gladly accepted, and the composite unit given the proud title of " City Imperial Volunteers ". The Infantry Battalion was placed under the command of the Earl of Albemarle (Civil Service Rifles).
The various London volunteer regiments were each invited to supply a small contingent, proportionate to their strength at the time. Volunteers were so many, and com petition so keen, that the battalion was, in physique, up to the standard of the Foot Guards, the minimum height being 5' 8".

To give an idea of the composition of this really unique force, it should be noted that "C" Company, alone, had about 30 colour-sergeants and sergeants serving in its ranks as privates.
The C.I.V. ranks and names of the seven men who were originally accepted from the 26th Middlesex and of the two who joined when the battalion received a draft from England, later, were: Lance-Corporal C. Broadbent and Privates S. A. M. Fisk, W. Foden, J. Fyson, R. Gillard, W. G. Jones, F. W. Wheeler, Hickman and Reid.
Parades were continuous until Saturday, the 2oth January, when, at 7.30 in the morning, the battalion marched out of Wellington Barracks for Nine Elms, entraining for Southampton and embarking on the Union Liner "Gaul," which sailed the same evening.
The 26th Middlesex men were finally posted to "C" Company, in which they found their comrades comprised volunteers from the H.A.C., the L.R.B., 2nd South Middlesex, Civil Service Rifles, and K.R.R. Cadets.
On the 16th February, the Battalion arrived in Table Bay, and after a few days at Green Point Camp (outside Capetown) entrained for Orange River, where garrison duties were carried out in order to acclimatise the men. It was not long, however, before orders were received for the battalion to move to Springfontein and join the mobile column under Lord Roberts, prior to commencing a long march to Pretoria, by way of Bloemfontein and Kroonstad. On May 29th, 1900, it received its baptism of fire at the Battle of Johannesburg. This engagement drove the Boers back and enabled Lord Roberts to enter Pretoria on the 5th June. After a few days of well-earned rest, the battalion once more pushed out through Pretoria to attack General Botha, who commanded the hills in the vicinity of the city. The Battle of Diamond Hill, in which the battalion took part, drove him off the range. A return was then ordered to Pretoria, where a partial refit was carried out.
After this the battalion went on trek again and while at Frederickstadt, came in contact with the enemy, De Wet having broken through the military cordon.

Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the hardest, trek carried out by the infantry, then took place. A flying column was formed under Lord Kitchener, and marched hard on the heels of the ever elusive De Wet, covering 224 miles in the first fourteen days. It did some good work, but failed to hold De Wet, who escaped through the Magalisberg range of mountains. It was on the conclusion of this forced march that 1,000 miles of trekking in South Africa was completed. The battalion then marched back again to Pretoria, bivouacking outside the town, and enjoyed another well-earned rest for nearly a month. Whilst stationed there, Kitchener called upon the C.I.V. to furnish him with a dozen cyclist orderlies, and these were detailed under one of the 26th Middlesex men.

Little else of interest remains to be related. The unit eventually sailed from Capetown on the 7th October in the Cunarder "Aurania," reaching Southampton on the 27th, but not landing until Monday, the 29th.

On marching out from Paddington Station the members of the battalion were astonished to see Volunteers lining the streets, also a fair number of other people. The crowd gradually got thicker, and at Hyde Park Corner it formed a solid mass. It was here that they passed between the lines of the 26th Middlesex, and were able to recognise many old friends. H.R.H. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII.) greeted them from Marlborough House. In Trafalgar Square and along the Strand, difficulty was experienced in keeping "fours" and from the Law Courts onwards it was a case of push all the way, in single file, to the Guildhall. It was a royal welcome home. 

'The London Cycle Battalion'

Copyright Simon Parker-Galbreath - Please acknowledge these web pages, and/or the original source.