During the 1942 advance in Malayia, the Japanese troops were able to travel far greater distances, carrying far heavier loads than the Commonwealth troops. This was simply because they used bicycles.
By 1944 British troops were also issued with bicycles for the same reason. The humble bicycle also made it possible to rush infantry to any breakthrough, far quicker than by marching. There were two hooks along one side, where you could hang your ‘bondook’ (rifle), and troops would rest on the handlebars when walking, to ease the load of their packs.
Sunday 25 June, 1944 Pvt Burt Dawe. Normandy
“………….We all debussed, and after much waiting we were allowed to embark. The number of our ship was L.C.I. (Landing Craft Infantry) L377.
What a job it was to get all 122 bicycles on board! We managed to get a meal on board, so that we could prolong the life of our 24 hour (ration) packs. The sea had calmed a little, but a good many of the men fell victim to sea-sickness. That’s where our ‘bags vomit’ came in useful.
Monday 26 June
As dawn broke, the shores of France loomed into sight. What a thrill! Yes; at long last we were going to see action. The landing craft beached on GOLD BEACH, near Ver-sur-mer. The houses facing the bay were all in ruins and we could see that the artillery had played a very important role in the first stage of the battle.
The Captain of the ship bellowed forth “Disembark immediately. You bicycles will be brought ashore for you!” How delighted I was to hear that the bicycles were being attended too. It was a wet landing. We were up to our waists in sea-water. A very good start we all thought. But our worries were just starting.
There wasn`t going to be a fire to dry our clothes, there wasn`t going to be a hot shower or bath and there wasn`t going to be a hot meal awaiting us. The bicycles were eventually brought ashore. What chaos!
The 5th Welch, the 2nd Mons bicycles and our own were all mixed up. To get back your own, which you had ‘nursed’ for weeks, was an impossibility. Beach Officers shouted “Get hold of any b___ bicycle and get off the beach! The hun will be shelling us any minute now!”
The bicycle I took was the property of the 2nd Mons.”