The formation of the Army Cyclist Corps was authorised by Army Order 477 of 1914, which was dated 7 November 1914. More detailed instructions were given in Army Order 478.
A number of cyclist units already existed:
- Some were formed for the Territorial Force in 1908 and later. Of these, most were units of infantry regiments (an example being the 7th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment) while others were independent cyclist units such as the Northern Cyclist Battalion. You will find details of all of the units on this website.
- In addition to this one cyclist company had been formed in war time for each infantry division. So for example, the structure of the 1st Division included the 1st Divisional Cyclist Company. These units were technically of the regular army. All of the new army divisions raised under Lord Kitchener’s instructions in 1914 also included a cyclist company.
- When the Army Order came into effect, all men then serving with divisional cyclist companies (who had been seconded to these units from other regiments) and who were in training as cyclists to provide drafts for those companies would be transferred into the new Corps.
- The Army Order did not affect the Territorial cyclist units or the men serving in them.
- Officers would be seconded from other regiments and corps.
- Men being enlisted for the duration of the war could now be appointed to the new Corps.
- Pay was to be the same as that of the infantry. Proficiency pay would be given to men who qualified as a proficient cyclist and who had the necessary physical endurance, as defined in Army Order 438 of 1914 for the Territorial Force cyclist battalions.
The primary roles of the cyclists were reconnaissance and communications (message taking). They were armed as infantry and could provide mobile firepower if required. Those units that went overseas continued in these roles but also (one the mobile phase of war had settled down into entrenched warfare) spent much time in trench-holding duties and on manual work.
In May and June 1916 the divisional cyclist companies were withdrawn to form a cyclist battalion for each Corps Headquarters (so for example, the IX Corps Divisional Cyclist Battalion came into existence and was a unit of the Army Cyclist Corps).
War diaries exist for most of the cyclist units and are held at the National Archives. There is no published regimental history and no regimental museum.
The regimental badge of the Army Cyclist Corps as depicted on a war grave. This image is from the photostream of member The Chairman 8 at Flickr, with my thanks.