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Stand of Colours of the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion Association

February 13, 2015

by Casey Anderson

The Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion was formed from the Canadian Divisional Cyclist Companies and existed from May 1916 until the battalion was disbanded on 15 November 1920.  Ironically, the “gas-pipe cavalry” was done-in by peace and not war.  As has been outlined in other historical texts, the Cyclists were an instrumental unit of Brigadier-General Raymond Brutinel’s “Independent Force” (also known as the Canadian Automobile Machine Gun Brigade or simply “Brutinel’s Brigade”) in the 100-Day offensive which brought about the conclusion of the First World War, and the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion distinguished themselves in the offensive.  Today, the Intelligence Branch of the Canadian Armed Forces perpetuates the Canadian Cyclists as they were originally formed from the Corps of Guides troops massed at Valcartier Camp, outside Quebec City, and were intended to fill what we would recognize today as a tactical field intelligence/reconnaissance role on the battlefield.

A cyclist of Brutinel's Brigade, at Rockliffe (Ottawa) on the occasion of the Governor General's inspection. MilArt photo archives

A cyclist of Brutinel’s Brigade, at Rockliffe (Ottawa) on the occasion of the Governor General’s inspection. MilArt photo archives

An un-named officer of the Canadian Cyclists. Note the distinguishing patch (also termed a 'battle patch' by the troops) on the sleeve of his service dress.

An un-named officer of the Canadian Cyclists. Note the distinguishing patch (also termed a ‘battle patch’ by the troops) on the sleeve of his service dress.

The Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion Association took a stand of flags (a “battalion” and “King’s” Colour) into use at their Annual General Meeting in August of 1934.  The Union Jack, in cotton (140cm in length and 67.2cm in height), was used as the King’s Colour.  The “Battalion Colour” was a field of white cotton emblazoned with the triangular battle patch of the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion (126.8cm in length and 88.5cm in height).  Although the Battalion was formed from all of the Canadian Corps’ Divisional Cyclist Companies, the Battalion was primarily comprised of men from the 1st (Red), 2nd (Royal Blue) and 3rd (French Grey) Divisions; therefore, their combined divisional patches formed the basis of the triangular Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion patch.1

The "King's Colour". Courtesy of the author.

The “King’s Colour”. Courtesy of the author.

The 'Battalion Colour'. The battle patch was believed to be sufficient symbology for immediate recognition. Courtesy of the author

The ‘Battalion Colour’. The battle patch was believed to be sufficient symbology for immediate recognition. Courtesy of the author

Neither flag was emblazoned with battle honours.  In spite of the heavy losses taken by the Cyclists, the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion had not yet been awarded battle honours.  This is peculiar as other Commonwealth Cyclist Battalions were considered to be “bicycle infantry” and were therefore eligible for, and awarded, battle honours.This is even more unusual as the Cyclists’ role in Brutinel’s force can only be described as combative in nature; all other combative units in the force were awarded multiple battle honours in the final 100-Days offensive. The Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion was likely not awarded battle honours because the battalion had been disbanded by the time the government was awarding battle honours in the late 1920s, and had no formal predecessor at the time in a position to advocate for it.2

Recruiting poster that promised the glamourous side of service. Courtesy of the author

Recruiting poster that promised the glamourous side of service. Courtesy of the author

Brutinel, Founder of the

Brutinel, Founder of the Canadian Automobile Machine Gun Brigade.

What is unclear, is whether Commonwealth Cyclist Battalions of the First World War were officially entitled to Stands of Colours or were they treated in the same fashion as Rifle regiments which received Battle honours but do not carry Colours? Nonetheless, the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion Association chose to adopt these flags as “Colours”.  Insofar as the author has been able to discern, the only legal definition of a Colour is a flag or piece of bunting which has been consecrated in a ceremony.  The Cyclists were justifiably proud of their service and the flags provided the Battalion Association with an outward symbol of that pride.  To that end the Battalion Association ensured that the proper ceremonial protocols which transform flags into Colours were followed.  The Battalion Association’s stand of Colours was consecrated by Bishop Robert John Renison (Anglican) in Toronto, Ontario on 27 June 1937 in a full consecration ceremony at that year’s Battalion Association Annual General Meeting.  The ceremony likely took place at Trinity College at the University of Toronto, where Bishop Renison presided.  The “Colours” were used at every subsequent  Battalion Association meeting, given pride of place at all of their events, and treated for all intents and purposes as a Stand of Colours.

Line-up of cyclists parading next to the Autocars purchased by Brutinel. MilArt photo archives

Line-up of cyclists parading next to the Autocars purchased by Brutinel. MilArt photo archives

Significantly (and symbolically), the “Colours” were deposited at the Canadian War Museum by the unanimous decision of the surviving members of the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion Association on 16 April 1987.  The decision to deposit the “Colours” was significant because it was an acknowledgement on the part of the men of the Battalion Association that they would not live forever.  Its symbolic importance must also be recognized: Colours can either be laid-up (as is the case with most retired Colours), or deposited (placed into safe-keeping).  Those Colours which have been deposited (as opposed to laid-up) can be retrieved at a later date when the unit is revived to serve the nation again.The “Colours” of the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion Association remain deposited in the archives of the Canadian War Museum today.

One of the few photographs showing the Cyclists at the Front. Courtesy of the author

One of the few photographs showing the Cyclists at the Front. Courtesy of the author

They were deposited by the Battalion Association’s National Secretary Capt (Ret) Wilfred Dancy “Dick” Ellis (then aged 91), who was at that time one of the final surviving members of the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion. In 1934, the same year as the Battalion Association adopted its “Colours”, Capt Ellis (then the Association’s National President) purchased a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne and donated it to the Battalion Association.  It was Capt Ellis’ wish that the champagne should be consumed jointly by the final two survivors of the Battalion.  Incredibly, Capt Ellis would go on to be one of these two survivors.  Ellis (then 96) shared the bottle in 1992 with Billy Richardson (98) in Toronto and reminisced.  These two men had also been members of the Corps of Guides before transferring into the Cyclists.  Captain Ellis was the final known surviving member of both the Corps of Guides and the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion when he died on 14 August 1996.


1. For more information on the Battle Patches of the Canadian Expeditionary Force refer to Clive Law’s “Distinguishing Patches, Service Pubilcations, Ottawa.

2. The author intends to query this issue with DND.

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