Kiwi cycling stars moved by WWI commemoration trophy in Belgium
New Zealand World Tour riders Jack Bauer and Sam Bewley were presented with a special trophy on behalf of Cycling New Zealand which commemorates the contribution of the New Zealand Cyclist Corps in Belgium and France during the Great War.
The trophy features a cobblestone from the Kemmelberg, the scene of major loss of life by members of the specialist New Zealand Cyclist Corps nearly 100 years ago, but now a famed cobbled climb in the World Tour Classics in Flanders Fields each year.
The contribution of the NZCC, among the thousands of Kiwis who lost their lives in WWI, will be commemorated 100 years on from the Battle at Mont Kemmel at the annual Gent-Wevelgem World Tour race in March 2018.
The trophy, set in timber from the trenches, will be awarded to the men’s under-23 winner of January’s national road race championships in Napier.
“It is always a sobering thing for us as Kiwi cyclists who spend so much of March and April every year in the big one-day Classics pedalling around these fields amid all that went down around here in WW1,” said Bauer.
“To think 100 years is not that long ago but that there were guys like me travelling from as far away as New Zealand to fight over here which says so much about New Zealanders. I am humbled to be part of this presentation.”
Bewley said he not only wanted to attend the presentation but felt a responsibility to do so.
“Firstly I am a cyclist who races at these events like Gent-Wevelgem but mainly being a New Zealander and being here to commemorate people who 100 years ago fought to make it a better world and who shaped our world, our country and made us who we are today,” Bewley said.
“It is special to receive a trophy of a cobblestone that has been on that road for 100 years. It’s had army tanks and New Zealand soldiers walk across that cobblestone and now it is part of the New Zealand cycling community.”
The service of the New Zealand Cyclist Corps remains something of an un-told story both from perspective of both war history and cycling history.
The NZCC, formed in New Zealand, performed a similar function to mounted riflemen as well as conducting scouting and reconnaissance work, but also serving in the trenches as infantrymen.
The NZCC served exclusively on the Western Front, part of the offences in Messines and Passchendaele in 1917 and Spring Offensive the following year. They sustained heavy losses at the Battle of Kemmelberg (Mont Kemmel), and there are a number of NZCC fallen from that battle commemorated at the nearby Commonwealth Cemetery at Messines Ridge. They also played a key role in liberating the village of Marfaux in France, and their sacrifice there is remembered in a special NZCC memorial.
The organiser of the Gent-Wevelgem race, keen to ensure the history of Flanders Fields remains a poignant feature in the region, has worked with the New Zealand Embassies in Brussels and Paris on the project.
The Embassy is planning a service and other activities as part of the Centenary to commemorate the service and sacrifice of the New Zealand Cyclists Corps around the time of the Gent-Wevelgem race next March.