Lest We Forget the importance of bicycles during wartime

Lest we forget the important role of the bicycles during wartime

by Amelia Brown for dandyhorse, photos from the City of Toronto Archives

As we spend this Remembrance Day in reflection of people and events that shaped our nation’s history, let’s remember the important part bicycles played in the first World War.

The Second Divisional Cyclists was comprised of platoons from Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Kingston, Winnipeg and Vancouver. They were part of the Canadian Bicycle Corps, which fought at Ypres, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. The Second Division assembled in Toronto under the command of a Colonel Denison.

The Canadian Bicycle Corps, mobile and unassuming on their bicycles, were mainly tasked with reconnaissance missions. However, they were still trained in combat and armed with Lewis guns.

Bicycle corps,  University Avenue. - 1913

Toronto Bicycle Corps during a military ceremony on University Avenue in 1913, photo by William James.

During WWI, bicycles also played an important role on the homefront.

In the second decade of the 20th century, the automobile industry – booming in the early 1900’s – now focused its resources on war efforts. Gasoline was rationed, so Canadians back home relied heavily on bicycles for transport.

In 1917, according to the Canadian War Museum approximately one in eight of the 300,000 factory workers producing materials for war were women. On a bicycle, a woman might ride to her job at the factory producing materials that a man, riding his bicycle on the front lines, would use.

The Canadian Bicycle Corps (and the actual bicycles that transported them) are a small, but important part of Canada’s war history. Indeed, they were the first unit to cross the Rhine in late 1918.

Feature photo (very top) is Tte Second Divisional Cyclists training in Toronto, 1915.

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