On the march

During the Great War, soldiers were often transported to their station by train. Nonetheless, foot marches remained the principal mode of transport. It was not rare for soldiers to cover several dozen kilometres on foot in a day, carrying their kit, which could weigh up to 25kg. When troops changed of sector they formed marching columns of several kilometers and, depending on the distance to be covered, they reached their destination in stages, over two or three days.

For some soldiers, however, walking is not the only mean of transport. The cavalry squadrons were still quite numerous in the beginning of this conflict. However, in this new type of war, horses were gradually relegated to the background and used mainly for communication or for logistical purposes (transport of material or food for example).

Finally, other soldiers, the bicycling soldiers, used bicycles to get from point A to point B. They could travel between 60 and 100 kilometres a day. The French troops used the "bicyclette Gérard" for this. It was invented by Captain Gérard in 1893 and was special: it could be folded, meaning the owner could carry his bike on his back.

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  • Infantrymen heading up to the front, first quarter of the 20th century, photo, © Cassel, musée départemental de Flandre

  • "Bicyclette" Gérard, a Gérard bicycle, photo published in "L’histoire de la locomotion terrestre. Locomotion naturelle. L’attelage, la voiture, le cyclisme. La locomotion mécanique. L’automobile", 1936, Departmental Archives of Yvelines - mark In-4°1756

    This bicycle was invented by Captain Gérard in 1893. What is particular about it is that it can be folded wheel to wheel in under 35 seconds and the user can carry it on his back. It weights 11 kilos and 1,000 of these bikes were made in autumn 1914.

  • The Battle of Picardy. Cyclists and horsemen awaiting their orders, first quarter of the 20th century, photo, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne

    Soldiers, who had been equipped with bikes, could travel between 60 and 100 km a day.

infantrymen heading up the frontbicycle GérardFrance – Bataille de Picardie. Cyclistes et cavaliers attendant des ordres.