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The history of the humble bicycle also shows it also played an important role in warfare.

Last weekend’s ANZAC day commemorations shed light on stories of heroism, sacrifice, tragedy and the butchery of the First World War. Interestingly enough – the humble bicycle played an important role on the Western Front in more ways than one.

According to the Australian War Memorial website:

“The AIF had cycling units that were used in many of the major battles during the First World War such as Messines in June 1917, and Passchendale July 1917.  These units were deployed to the front line as well as undertaking cable burying, traffic control and reconnaissance work.”

Understandably, the bicycle of the era was by no means the sturdy machines you see today. There was no such thing as dual suspension to tackle the muddy terrain – and the early models were actually more akin to modern day fixies. It wasn’t until the “Mark IV” came into service that servicemen could finally use a free-wheeled hub – albeit with a hand operated rear brake.

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1st ANZAC Cyclist Battalion. Credit: RSL Virtual Memorial

 

And the riding conditions were nothing short of hellish.

“The terrain these soldiers had to endure seems impossible to contemplate; riding through mud and rubble while under constant threat of shellfire.   These bikes did not have the luxury of knobblie tyres either (tyres that have protruding pieces of rubber for extra grip); but would have been a standard military issue of little or no grip, more like standard tyres.” – Australian War Memorial

The blog BSA Museum – does a fantastic job at uncovering newspaper clippings of the day that describe just what it was like to be a bicycle soldier. They make for a fascinating read.

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Credit: BSA Museum 

 

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Credit: BSA Museum

For further reading be sure to check out the Australian War Memorial’s website about the role of the bicycle in warfare.

Do you have any ANZAC stories involving bicycles? Let us know in the comments below.