Their Hearts were Cold as Icicles – They Took our Horses and Gave us Bicycles Yeomanry Second Line Regiments Lose Their Horses

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office HNR 709/9

The Yeomanry were part of the reserve for the British Army. In World War One there were 54 yeomanry first line regiments which increased with second line regiments when war was declared.

The Norfolk Yeomanry (The King’s Own Royal Regiment) started out in 1901 as a volunteer cavalry regiment of the British Territorial Army. During World War One it served dismounted at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.  The second line Norfolk Regiment, the 2/1st Norfolk Yeomanry, was formed in 1914.

In July 1916 all but twelve of the second line regiments were converted to cyclist units. The horses were handed over to the remount depots and the men were issued with bicycles.  Such was the fate of the 2/1st Norfolk Yeomanry which was converted to the 5th Cyclist Brigade, 2nd Cyclist Division in the Wivenhoe area.  The Brigade was part of the 4th Mounted Division based at Colchester.  The 2nd Cyclist Division, in a further reorganisation in November 1916, merged with the 2/1st Suffolk Yeomanry to form the 7th (Suffolk and Norfolk) Yeomanry Cyclist Regiment in the 3rd Cyclist Brigade in the Ipswich area.

In March 1917 its identity resumed as the 2/1st Norfolk Yeomanry but it remained the 3rd Cyclist Brigade and was still based at Ipswich.  In July 1917 the regiment moved to Woodbridge.  In May 1918 the brigade was stationed at Castlereagh and Gort in Northern Ireland and remained there until the end of the war.

Much is known and has been read of the bond that existed between men and their horses in war. The conversion to cyclist units and the loss of their horses was deeply felt by the second line regiments as the newspaper article below, held at the Norfolk Record Office, shows only too well.  It is not clear which regiment the article refers to but clearly the men felt their loss deeply – as, it appears, does the donkey who has been left behind.

The article reads:

Yeomanry’s Steel Chargers

How the Regiment Buried Its Spurs When Its Horses Were Taken Away

Annoyed at the substitution of bicycles for their horses by the War Office, the men of a certain yeomanry regiment have made a grave with wooden railings round it. On it are laid horseshoes, stirrups, stable brushes, body brushes, spurs and curry combs, and at the head is a tombstone.  The inscription reads:-

Born 30.10.1914

Died 4.7.1916

Stranger, pause and shed a tear,

A regiment’s heart lies buried here;

Sickened and died through no disorder,

But broken by a staggering order.

Our hearts were warm, theirs cold as icicles,

To take our horses and give us bicycles.

For Cavalry they said there was no room,

So we’ve buried our spurs in this blasted tomb.

Return If Possible.


The Lement of the Horseless Yeoman of England


Compiled by Daryl Long


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