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The 7th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment was formed in 1908 from the cyclist sections of three Volunteer Battalions. With Headquarters in Exeter, by the outbreak of War in 1914 there were Companies of Cyclists at Exeter, Plymouth, Torquay, Crediton, Dartmouth and Cullompton with detachments at Topsham, Woodbury, Bradninch and Silverton. In August 1914, the Battalion was mobilised in Exeter with an initial strength of 463; this had risen to 907 by November 1914. In March 1915 a second Battalion was formed and the original Battalion was renamed 1/7th, the new  being 2/7th. After the war ended, the remnants of the two Battalions were reconstituted within the Territorial Army reverting to the original name of 7th (Cyclist) Battalion but by 1921 there had been a change of heart and the Battalion was disbanded.

The military use of cycles had begun in the mid 1880s when some of the  old Volunteer Battalions had set up Cyclist Sections whose brief was to defend our island should invaders strike - a kind of Home Guard on wheels. However, their role changed in the Boer War, when cyclists effectively carried out a  number of vital tasks and by the start of the 20th century there were some 8000 cyclists in various Companies and Volunteer sections. 

The zest for forming Cyclist Battalions spread to the Boy Scout Movement and the Church Lads' Brigade, usually under the guidance of a Leader who was himself a member of the Volunteers. The extract below comes from "The Captain" ( a very popular magazine for boys) and was published in 1909. The photograph accompanied the article and the original caption has been added:


Troop of Scout cyclists
"A group of cycling scouts. A smart turn-out, all ready for the road."


From "The Captain"

June 1909;

"Both with the Volunteers and with the Territorials I have had great facilities for noting the uses of the cycle for general military purposes, whether for scouting, orderly work, drawing machine guns or carrying the wounded from the field. I have at present in hand a section of lads, whose ages range from 14 to 17 years, specially selected from the local Church Lads' Company, for the purpose of training as cyclist scouts and guides, more especially the latter, as they have to have a thorough knowledge of every road, lane and pathway within a thirty mile radius of home, so that they would be of some real use in an emergency.

Each lad provides his own cycle, to which is fitted a rifle bucket and clip to carry a Martini Henry carbine; and a military carrier is fixed to the back stays, upon which is placed the rider's blanket and waterproof groundsheet, with mess-tin. A waterproof cape affixed to the  handle - bar completes the outfit. At Easter, the section covered 19 miles in 3½ days in the neighbourhood of Chilworth and Albury, with only one puncture to record, which speaks well for the Surrey roads I think.

The lads arranged billets for themselves at farms, also for the detachment of Territorial signallers with whom we were working (the lads, by-the bye, being quite capable signallers) and also cooked their own food. Road reporting, signalling and military map-making was carried out with excellent results.

Every morning to the cavalry call of "Stables" sounded by the section bugler, every lad had to overhaul and clean his cycle."


In 1908, major reorganization abolished local Militia and brought the Yeomanry and these Volunteer groups together under the banner of the Territorial Force. At this point, ten Territorial Cyclist Battalions were incorporated into the Army Cyclist Corps:.



7th (Cyclist) Battalion Devonshire Regiment
Kent Cyclist Battalion (Formerly known as "West Kent")

Essex and Suffolk Cyclist Battalion
Highland Cyclist Battalion
7th (Cyclist) Battalion The Welsh Regiment
10th (Cyclist) Battalion The Royal Scots (Lothian) Regiment
25th (County of London) Cyclist Battalion The London Regiment
6th (Cyclist) Battalion Norfolk Regiment
Northern Cyclist Battalion
5th (Cyclist) Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment

Army Cyclists' badge


The machine was designed to enable the rider to travel as a completely self-contained one-man fighting unit.  Everything he needed could be stowed away on the machine from his rifle to his cape and ground sheet. A small kitbag carried behind the seat held rations and personal items and an emergency toolkit hung from the crossbar. On tarmac roads, in spite of its heavy iron frame, the machine provided fairly fast and effective transport but  on rough terrain and in muddy conditions, riders often had to abandon their machines.

"Cycle Artificers" were used to maintain the machines. These were members of each Battalion who were specially trained as mechanics.


British Army Cycle 1915
The British Army Cycle c.1915


In the summer of 1914, the 7th Cyclist Battalion was, as usual, meeting for its annual training session at Churston when, on 3 August, news came through from Company HQ at Exeter, that the Battalion was being mobilised under its Commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Sanders and the Adjutant, Captain Wrey. The cyclists made their way down the lanes to Newton Abbot then travelled by train to the North of England to take up coastal patrol duties. The Battalion established its headquarters at Seaton Carew and were given responsibility for UK coastal protection from Scarborough to Seaton Delavel in Northumberland.

Plans for the formation of the 2nd line Battalion were drawn up in the early Autumn of the same year and Major Hibberd, senior major of the 7th Battalion, undertook to raise a reserve unit from the Totnes area. This was to have Captain Wilson as its Adjutant.


Recruiting advert for Army cyclists 1914

From The Totnes Times and Devon News

10 October 1914


By 1915, Devonshire Regiment cyclist units were being sent  to France and Flanders. The Scout cycling programme described above had continued to grow and may account for the youthfulness of some of the casualties at the front. As casualty lists show, many individuals were  attached to secondary regiments for a variety of duties but the first real test for the 7th Cyclists came on 18 July 1916 when a number of men were drafted into "A" Company of the 2nd Devons to fight in the Cuinchy sector. As the war wore on and replacement horses became hard to find, some infantry platoons attempted to convert to cyclist units but this did not prove successful.

The end of hostilities found the Cyclist Battalions back on the shores of the North Sea - 1/7th being in Canterbury and 2/7th at Maldon in Essex. The Battalions were not stood down until early in 1919 but that was the end for them - preliminary plans to re-form never got off the ground and in 1921, the 7th Cyclists Battalion was disbanded permanently.


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