The Formation of the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalions.
As a result Army re organisations during April 1908, Richard Haldane, Secretary of State for War, combined the Volunteer (Rifle Corps) and the Yeomanry (Imperial Forces) into 14 Divisions of the Territorial Forces as part of the British Army serving under King George V. Under these Divisions were formed the Territorial Force Associations, which later were to provide the steering force behind the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalions.
It was as a result of these changes that Huntingdonshire lost its only Volunteer Territorial Battalion when it was merged and re organised to provide two companies for the 5th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. As a result of this action Huntingdonshire lost the only connection it had with its own county Battalion.
As a result of an informal discussions that had been going on for some time, it was decided during March 1913, by members of the Huntingdonshire Territorial Force Association, to try and establish an independent Territorial Cyclist Battalion based on recruits from Huntingdonshire. The name of this Battalion was provisionally to be known as "The Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion".
This idea was endorsed by the Huntingdonshire Territorial Force Association's chairman who was none other than the Earl of Sandwich who resided in Hinchingbrooke House. At this time Huntingdonshire was one of the few counties that did not have its own Territorial Battalion. The meeting of the Territorial Association were held in the absence of the public, so information on the formation of the HCB was, even at the time, was very hard to establish. The early formation details were therefore communicated to the general public in a letter explaining the events that had occurred to get the HCB as a Battalion of the Territorial Army.
There then followed a lot of behind the scenes negotiations and letters between the local Territorial Force Association, the War Office, Major De Winton, Brigadier General of the Association Headquarters Eastern Command and Lt. Col. F. N. Butler who was commanding officer of the 5th Bedfordshire Regiment and as such represented the interests of the two companies of the former Huntingdonshire Volunteer Territorial, that had previously been transferred to that Regiment.
Local papers indicate that a series of further meetings took place at the War Office between representatives of the Home Defence Force & the Huntingdonshire Territorial Force Association, and then after a series of special meetings of the Territorial Force Association, held at Huntingdon, Major E. R. Herbert [ Second in Command of the 5th Beds.] and Captain S. G. Cook were instructed in April 1913 to draft and send a letter on behalf of the Huntingdonshire Territorial Forces Association asking the War Office for authority to raise a "Wheel Man Battalion" for the county of Huntingdonshire. This task was done and records indicate that the War Office replied by mid May 1913 refusing the application, but would bear the county in mind if, in the future, such a Battalion became necessary.
At a subsequent meeting of the Huntingdonshire Territorial Forces Association held in July 1913, not to be dejected they made further representation to Colonel De Winton, who in turn sent letters speaking very highly of the proposal the Association put forward and recommended that the Huntingdonshire Territorial Force Association submit a second application to the War Office, which they subsequently did.
It was during this period that the Bedfordshire Association were asked by the War office about the possibility of them raising a further two infantry companies from Bedfordshire and surrounding counties, so as to ensure that should the proposal to raise a "Wheelman Battalion" for Huntingdonshire be agreed it would not harm the recruitment of the Bedfordshire regiment.
By this time it was early September 1913 and the Huntingdonshire Territorial Force Association held more meetings to set about obtaining the required information, and then aided by a letter from Colonel De Winton, received in July 1913, they again, with the aid of Major Herbert and Captain Cook, submitted one final application to the War Office. At a meeting of the Huntingdonshire Territorial Association held in November 1913 in anticipation of approval for the Battalion being given they appointed a perspective officer in order to prepare a scheme for raising men for the proposed Battalion.
By coincidence early in January 1914 at a previously arranged meeting of the Huntingdonshire Territorial Association a letter from the War Office had been delivered that morning giving the provisional authority to raise a "Wheelman Battalion", and requested further details to be provided as to the likely number of Officers and men that it would be likely to recruit. This was quickly worked out and sent back to the War Office, who then approved the scheme in full by announcing in the Gazette that permission had now been given to the Association to raise a Battalion recruited from Huntingdonshire.
Local papers indicate that by Friday 9th January 1914 "officers had been secured and recruiting for the new force will be commenced at once" but the existing two companies were to stay with the Bedfordshire Regiment until after the next camp. This may have seemed premature as during a subsequent meeting to discus the formation of a Territorial Cyclist Battalion that would represent Huntingdonshire [held at the war office on Tuesday 20th January 1914] between Major General Bethune, Director General of the Territorial Forces, Captain S. G. Cook representing Huntingdonshire, Lord Ampthill representing Bedfordshire & Lt Colonel F. N. Butler who commanded the 5th Bedfordshire Regiment, the papers at the time indicated that a decision would be given within the next few days.
In February 1914 permission was eventually given for the T F A to raise the "Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion". One condition imposed by the War Office was that the Bedfordshire Territorial Association had to raise the extra two infantry Companies, a reply stating that they would like the decision deferred for some eight months was subsequently received by the war Office. This action was found by the Huntingdonshire Territorial Association to be totally unacceptable, but in order not to prejudice the formation of the new Battalion agreed to support the enrolment for the 2 companies of men to be raised into the Bedfordshire Regiment as well as to prepare to recruit all the Officers and men. (Huntingdonshire originally contributed 2 companies of men to the Beds. Regt. i.e., about 240 men).
The final result of all this effort was that the War Office finally gave permission announced in the Gazette directly to the Huntingdonshire Territorial Forces Association to raise its own Cyclist Battalion this was to be based on companies from the following areas :
Huntingdon (2) ; St. Ives and Somersham ; St. Neots and Kimbolton ; Ramsey and Warboys ; Fletton and Yaxley (3).
It was later to be confirmed that the two companies of the old Huntingdon Volunteer's Territorials, both officers and the 240 men, could, if they wished, transfer back to the newly formed Cyclist Battalion, with recruiting for their replacement being undertaken, reluctantly, by the Bedfordshire Regiment. The men were also given the chance to take their discharge. The local men jumped at the chance to join their own County Battalion and returned more or less to a man.
It was then proposed to the war office, by the Huntingdonshire Territorial Force Association that the new Battalion should consist of the following senior officer establishment:-
These were eventually to be in charge of 8 companies, each comprising of 2 officers, [ a Captain and either a Lieutenant or Second Lieutenant] a Colour sergeant and 54 men.
The 8 Colour Sergeants appointed on the 14th August 1914 were:-
A. H. Walton, G. Buck, W. Dawson, J. Buckley, C. Mayes, A.M. Chesterfield, C. J. Wiles, E. W. Baxter.
There was also to be included as part of the Battalion one sergeant Major (J. J. Blake), 17 motorcyclists who were to be trained as signallers, a machine gun section comprising of one officer and 15 men, its use being to provide both machine gun support and to aid the transportation of baggage.
A Regimental band of about 20 men was also allowed for within the establishment, this band was comprised mostly of the men from the Old Fletton Victoria Prize Band who almost to a man joined the 1/1st. Battalion en block. They were under the direction of the Fletton Bandmaster Sgt. Joe Hackney.
This then gave the Battalion a total of 20 officers and 483 men plus Dr. J. R. Garrood from Alconbury Hill (Surgeon-Major & medical Officer); Rev. K. D. Knowles R. D, former Rector of Brampton (Chaplain)
In May 1914 the 8 Companies were given the lettering A to H and were raised to be from the following areas:-
* Their drill hall was the old Coffee Palace at Fletton.
The above description is a brief outline of the events that led to the formation of the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalions and to how they were initially set up as a Cyclist Battalion. Sadly no actual documents have been found to substantiate the above account which has been constructed from local papers.
The Hunts. Cyclist Reserve
Battalion has now been formally recognised by the War Office. Lt. Col. J. L.
Stanley, the newly appointed commanding officer, has entered upon his duties and
at the training of the men is being a put upon a definite footing. Lieutenant
Wootton has been appointed as acting adjutant and Colour Sergeant Grover as
acting Sergeant Major. Captain Welstead and Lieutenant Meredith were gazetted on
Tuesday. The men are kept actively employed in company drill, musketry
instruction, route marching and physical exercises, whilst the N. C. O.
promotion classes, held nightly, are largely attended. It is hoped that the bulk
of the men will received a uniforms next week. Large consignments of equipment
having already been received. A good number of bicycles, which are being
supplied by the Humber Company, have been delivered. Lord Sandwich has placed
Hinchingbrooke Park that the disposal of the Battalion for drill purposes,
Portholme, owing to the heavy rains, being unsuitable at the present time. It is
understood that the list of promotions will be issued shortly.
a local paper 20/3/14
new Hunts Battalion.
the formation of the Territorial Force as an effective branch of the British
Army serving under his Majesty George of V., and the merging of the Hunts.
Volunteer Battalion into the Regiment of a neighboring county, the inhabitants
of Huntingdonshire have felt justifiably aggrieved at thus practically loosing
their identity as a unit of force reared and fostered within its own borders.
Now happily, at last, a sense of injustice has been removed, and the county has
once again an opportunity of testifying to its usefulness and loyalty by the
formation of a Battalion of a wheelmen, who undoubtedly will act up to the noble
and historic traditions which have made the county a notable figure in the
history of our native of land.
the meetings of the Hunts. Territorial Association are not open to the public,
nor do I remember ever seeing a representative of the Press present, which I am
sure is to be regretted, I have been requested to review the events which have
led to the consummation of such a desirable issue.
idea of forming a Cyclist Battalion for the county was brought before the
Association in March of last year, primarily the effect of a casual conversation
between Major de Winton, Brigadier General, Eastern Command, and Captain Cook,
which led to another informal conversation between the Brigadier General,
Colonel Linton, and Lieutenant Colonel Butler, the subject matter of which was
reported to the meeting. After some discussion it was decided to call a special
meeting of the Association to consider the advantage and advisability of raising
a Cyclist Battalion, the members deemed it of vital importance to the county
that no unavoidable delay should impede the progress of the suggestion, but that
every facility ought to be afforded to bring the matter to a practical an early
a few weeks later this meeting was held, when Major Herbert and Captain Cook
were instructed to draft and forward a letter to the War Office asking for
authority to raise a Cyclist Battalion in Hunts.
reply to this communication was received towards the middle of May, in which the
Army Council expresses their thanks for the offer, but regretted that they were
at present unable to avail themselves of the proposal, but would bear it in mind
in the event of a further cyclist battalions being required.
reply was considered at the meeting held in July. It did not, however, daunt the
Association. Various representations were made to Colonel De Winton, who sent a
letter to the secretary of the Association, in which he spoke very favorably of
the proposal, suggesting that the matter should be kept the front and a second
communication be sent to the War Office a little later.
the meantime the Bedfordshire Association were invited to take over the
responsibility of raising two more infantry companies in order to leave Hunts.
a free field to ensure the complete success of their new unit, should it
Hunts Association desire to record their grateful thanks to Mr. John Cator, MP,
or for South Hunts., who was good enough to have several interviews with Colonel
Seely, Secretary of State for War, in consequence of which we were requested to
furnish the War Office with more particulars. Accordingly, at the meeting held
early in September, it was decided to send further information by submitting
certain correspondence to the War Office, including a copy of the letter which
had been received in July from Colonel De Winton, and also to ask that the War
Office would receive a deputation from the Hunts.
Association upon the subject of the proposed Cyclist Battalion.
consequence of these various negotiations, which were so energetically
conducted, as well as by the unfailing persistence of Major Herbert and Captain
Cook, admirably supported by the Association, another communication was received
from the War Office, intimating that they were now willing to accept the offer
of the county, providing the Beds. Association would undertake to raise the two
infantry companies now raised in the county of Huntingdonshire.
difficulties now seemed all but swept away and the meeting in November appointed
to prospective officers a committee to draw up a scheme for the raising of the
Beds. Association, at the same time, received a similar letter, and about a
fortnight later they wired a request that the final decision on the requirement
that they should undertake the raising of the two companies postponed for eight
was considered most undesirable and might have or rendered our efforts of no
avail, so a resolution was passed expressing strong disapproval of this delay
seeming that officers and men throughout the county were waiting for enlistment,
but in order to meet the wishes of the Beds. Association, the Hunts. Association
were prepared to continue to support the two infantry companies pending a
decision as well as to raise the cyclist battalion, and would undertake to
accept no transfers from the men of the present companies, excepting time
expired-men, until after the next annual training. Copies of this important
decision were sent the War Office, Col. De Winton, Lieutenant Colonel Butler and
the Secretary of the Beds. Association.
action bore fruit in the shape of a letter from the War Office arranging a
conference on the subject, the Beds. Association
being represented by Lord Ampthill and the Hunt. Association by Captain Cook,
when a long discussion took place with Major General Bethune, Director General
of the Territorial Force. It eventually transpired that on the very morning the
Hunts. Association met in January
of this year a letter arrived containing provisional authority for raising of
the new Battalion, the names suggested being the Huntingdonshire Cyclist
Battalion, with a request that a report should be forwarded as soon as possible,
with the number of recruits likely to enlist and a nominal role of officers of
for the new unit, whereupon the secretary was instructed to inform the War
Office that we were quite certain that the requisite number could be raised, and
also that twelve the gentleman had already intimated their desire to be
Hunts. Association also desire to acknowledge their appreciation of the generous
spirit of the Beds. Association,
evidenced by their letter in December, saying that our proposal was entirely
agreeable to them and expressing their cordial thanks for members their wishes
in so handsome a manner. Shortly afterwards the announcement that the new unit
of the Hunts. Cyclist Battalion had
been sanctioned appeared in the Gazette. The companies were to be distributed as
following names were submitted to the War Office for approval:- Honorary Colonel
Right Hon. the Earl of Sandwich; Senior Officer in command, Major E. R. Herbert,
Second Officer in Command, Captain Cook.
County will, I trust consider this result highly satisfactory, that within
twelve months, through the steady perseverance and the unremitting attention of
the Territorial Force Association, coupled with the indefatigable labour and
untiring zeal of Major Herbert and Captain Cook, the county of Huntingdonshire
has now it own Territorial unit, under its own name, and bearing its own
I, in conclusion, express the earnest hope that, as these efforts have been made
so willing would to the end generously the young men of the County will be as
enthusiastic in support of their new battalion. Only so can they adequately
reward these endeavors by rallying round the officers in good numbers, thus
providing once again that the little county will not shirk its responsibilities,
but will provide an effective branch of his most His Majesty's Forces and will
be worthy of the confidence the Army Council and the Empire have placed in them.
Finally, may the County "Wiresides" become as effective in days to
come as were Cromwell's "Ironsides" in days gone by, though we trust
the time may be long distance ere the stern of necessity arises.
Article by T. Coxon. [Member of the Territorial Force Association]
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