A group of cyclists will travel from New Zealand to the Spring Classics of Flanders and northern France in a special tour to remember the service and sacrifice of the New-Zealand Cyclist Corps (NZCC). The group includes family members of the NZCC soldiers who fought and died in Belgium.
The tour is built around the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Paris Roubaix and will include a special wreath laying ceremony at the New Zealand Memorial, on which the Cyclist Corps is remembered, at the Messines Ridge British Cemetery at Messines. The Messines ceremony will also include a number of kiwi pro-tour cyclists who will be based in Flanders for the Sprint Classics.
The tour also comes after the presentation of the NZCC Memorial Trophy to New-Zealand’s Under-23 national champion, James Fouche, in January. Fouche is part of the New-Zealand national team that contested the Nations Cup race at Gent-Wevelgem. The trophy was made from a cobblestone taken from the Kemmelberg, where the NZCC fought and suffered heavy losses placed on wood from the Zonnebeke dugout.
“The history of the New-Zealand Cyclist Corps is not well known in New-Zealand”, said New-Zealand Ambassador to Belgium Gregory Andrews. “This tour, and the NZCC cobblestone trophy, is helping to change that and to acknowledge the bonds between the people of Belgium and New-Zealand through our shared love of cycling.”
The brief ceremony will take place at Messines Ridge British Cemetery at 1500 on Tuesday 3 April 2018, and is open to the public. For more information contact Lisa Houttuin (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the New-Zealand Embassy in Brussels.
The New Zealand Cyclist Corps was created in New Zealand in March 1916 using recruits who were training to join the Mounted Rifles. They were initially intended as a mobile light infantry able to carry out advanced reconnaissance tasks. But the reality of trench warfare meant bikes were of limited combat value.
By the end of the war they had – to quote from their battalion history – “a most varied experience”. They did a lot of invaluable work to support the front line, from traffic control and tree felling, to laying vital communication cables and repairing trenches. They also served as infantry on sections of the Front, under a range of command that was at times quite separated from the rest of the New Zealand Division.
They suffered heavy losses in 1917 in the Battle of Messines where they were used as reconnaissance troops and to clear the way for a cavalry attack of the Otago Mounted Rifles with whom they were in II ANZAC Corps. In the Spring offensive they were used to fill up the gap near Vierstraat during a critical period in the German offensive in 1918. They also played a major role in re-capturing Marfaux in France as part of the offensive of the Fifth French Army in July, 1918. At Kemmelberg, in April 1918, seven of their numbers were killed defending positions on the hill.
Prime Minister William Massey and Sir Joseph Ward visit the New Zealand Cyclist Battalion in France, World War I. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association :New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013352-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.