War was ‘the worst sport of all’

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The simple words say it all.

“From the greatest sport to the very worst I have ever been involved in.”

Succinct, and epitomising the British stiff upper lip, they are the recollections of a cyclist on his journey from the saddle to the Somme, painting a poignant picture of the impact the First World War had on its heroes.

Sergeant-Major Arthur Clifford Baynes’ speech summed up the feelings of members who were welcomed back into the bosom of Sharrow Cycling Club in Sheffield from the battlefields at a special victory dinner in November 1919.

“The spirit of Englishmen was of sportsmanship, and never would they see the weaker men go to the wall,” he told members as they paid tribute to the two fellow cyclists killed in action.

This glimpse into the spirit of the time comes courtesy of an article uncovered by modern members of the 125-year-old bicycle club.

The group stumbled upon a wealth of materials after delving into its archives in preparation for the 100-year anniversary of the Great War this year.

Club member John Collins, 68, of Lodge Moor, Sheffield, said: “Because we’re Sheffield’s oldest cycling club, individual members have kept a wealth of archive material over time. With the 100-year anniversary of the First World War coming up I started researching scrapbooks.

“The article really captures the attitudes of the time. They didn’t want a heroes’ welcome. They just thought of it as doing their duty. It’s fascinating.”

The roll of honour which accompanies the cutting details the death of CG Dodworth of the 3/1 West Riding Division of Cyclists, killed in September 1917.

But the identity of the other fallen member commemorated at the dinner remains a mystery.

Mr Collins said: “From the article we know there were two members killed, but we don’t know the second man’s name. We’re hoping relatives might come forward so we can find out more.”

The club’s research has also shed light on varied roles each of the 18 members played in the conflict. From the Queen’s Own Yorkshire Dragoons to the famous Blackwatch, to cyclist companies, they witnessed the horrors of warfare from different corners of the globe.

But they were all drawn back to the South Yorkshire group by their love of biking.

Records have revealed that many returning members, dubbed the Sharrow Soldier Cyclists, were back out on ride-outs as soon as they could.

Mr Collins said: “They came back and got straight back in to cycling. I think it probably provided a lot of them with comfort after what they had seen at war.”