Remembering fallen cyclists of the Great War

Yorkshire has taken cycling to its heart recently with the county's roads hosting some of the world's greatest but on Sunday thoughts turned to wartime as the role of bicycles during the Great War was remembered.

Des and Joyce Hampshire from Wakefield on their tandem. Picture by Simon Hulme

For almost a century St Michael, Coxwold, near Thirsk, has been filled with a sea of multi-coloured jerseys as cyclists throughout the years are remembered. Riders act as bell ringers, offertory collectors, lesson readers, choristers and musicians.

The first Coxwold Sunday took place in 1927, when the service remembered those who fell serving their country and gave thanks for the safe return of others. Since then, it has drawn large groups who, by virtue of their common love of getting out and about on two wheels, have given thanks for the pleasures of cycling and for the glorious countryside their cycles enable them to enjoy.

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Judy Webb, organiser of the Coxwold service and from the North Yorkshire branch of Cycling UK: “This was started in 1927 and it has taken place every year.

Cyclists arrive at the service.

“In the 1920s there were a lot of cyclist services that were set up to remember the fallen cyclists of the 1st World War and also to celebrate the joy and fellowship of cyclists.

“In the 1920s there were apparently hundreds of these services but now there are only two left.

“One of them is ours and the other one is at Meriden.”

The service at Coxwold began in 1927 after two cyclists from Teeside were in the village and met the Revd Gibson Black, vicar at the time. Yesterday a floral tribute, in the shape of a bicycle wheel was placed on his grave.

Cyclist at the grave of Gibson Black

Around 300 cyclists from across Yorkshire and Teesside cycled to yesterday’s 90th annual service. They then propped up their bikes outside St Michael and left them in the sunshine while they attended the 45 minute service, which was led by the Rector, the Revd Liz Hassall.

To mark the 90th Coxwold Sunday, the Bishop of Selby, the Rt Revd John Thomson, was also invited.

Dr Thomson, speaking ahead of the event said: “I’m a keen cyclist and will be wearing a purple tabard that says ‘Biking Bishop of Selby’.”

Ms Webb said the Tour de Yorkshire and the 2014 hosting of the Tour de France had reignited interest in cycling in the county and beyond. She said at the time the service were started there too was a real interest in getting out and about on bicycles.

Cyclists arrive at the service.

“I know that cycling was becoming huge in the years before the war and after the First World War in the 1920s and 1930s that was when cycling attracted a lot of people.”

She said people worked in factories during the week but owning a bike allowed them to get into the countryside at the weekends and realise how pedal power could help them discover new places and get them away from the more mundane.

Organised rides to yesterday’s service of thanksgiving, remembrance and celebration were arranged by local Cycling UK members, previously known as the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), from as far afield as Hull, York, Leeds, Malton and Teesside.

Cyclist at the grave of Gibson Black