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 H.C.B 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 H.C.B 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:-

1 Honorary Col. in Chief. The Rt. Honourable the Earl of Sandwich D.S.O.  K.C.V.O. He was associated with the 5th Battalion the King’s Royal Rifle Corp. He had been president and chairman of the H. T. F. A. since 1910.
2 Lt. Colonel Commanding Col. E. Roland Herbert. ( promoted and transferred into the 1/1st H.C.B from his rank of Major & second in command of the 5th Battalion the Bedfordshire Regiment.)  [ He was appointed to the H.C.B , 27th Feb. 1914]
3 Second in Command Major S. G. Cook. ( promoted and transferred into the 1/1st H.C.B from his rank of captain in the 5th Bedfordshire Regiment.) [ He was appointed Major 14th July 1914]   

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:-

  A Company :    Huntingdon and Godmanchester   B Company :    Huntingdon and Godmanchester
  C Company :    St. Ives and Somersham         D Company :    St. Neots and Kimbolton
  E Company :      Ramsey and Warboys   F Company :    Fletton - including Stanground and Peterborough *
  G Company :    Fletton - including Stanground and Peterborough *    H Company :    Yaxley and Farcet

* 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.

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 From a local newspaper article dated 27/11/17  -  Hunts Reserve Cyclists.

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.

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From a local paper 20/3/14 = The new Hunts Battalion.

Since 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.

As 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.

The 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 conclusion.

Consequently 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.

The 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.

This 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.

In 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 be sanctioned.

The 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.

In 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.

The 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 cyclist battalion.

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 months.

This 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.

This 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 appointed officers.

The 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 follows-   Huntingdon and Godmanchester 2 companies, St. Ives and Somersham 1 company, St. Neots and Kimbolton 1 company, Ramsey and Warboys 1 company, Fletton and Yaxley - 3 companies.

The 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.

The 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 responsibility.

 May 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]

If you can help with any data on this Huntingdonshire Cyclist please contact me at huntscycles@btinternet.com

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04/11/2013

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