It’s sobering to think that in all likelihood very few of the people you see here lived to see the end of the First World War. Taken in 1915, this footage shows Italian Alpine Commandos riding their folding bikes in Italy, and has been sent to us by The World As It Was, a Facebook page collating and collecting images from before 1920.
This footage got us curious, so we went mooching round the internet and found this site, which contains some rather wonderful brochures and other images. According to this site, the Italian Bersaglieri were apparently famed for their speed, and as revered as football teams are today. Apparently whole battalions of cyclists were established during WW1, with the bicycle being a useful tool for transport as they could be carried over obstacles, didn’t draw attention to themselves due to noise, and could also be used to carry equipment.
Tackling a variety of terrain and with plenty of carrying thrown in, the footage could almost be from a cyclocross race, and opens with what is surely a Strade Bianche. We’re assuming the film shows military exercises or training rather than actual battle footage, and we can’t help but wonder how useful these bike riding skills proved to be once the scale of the War and the destruction it wreaked became apparent to these troops.
We’re a bit torn about this footage – it’s a real throwback to a time that seems so far from our own that it’s impressive to view. It’s hard to imagine a cycle battalion existing now, with all the gadgetry deployed in wars these days. But nonetheless, it’s still war, so we watch it and share it in a spirit of ‘lest we forget’.