EX AMIENS DAY — 7 Aug 2022
The dense valley forest hid three patrols of military cyclists pedalling their way on a winding path, skirting a river with high hills on either side. On their minds were areas the enemy could lay ambushes and advantageous spots for observation and recce. Were these cyclists carrying vital communications to the Command Post? Were they attempting to locate enemy machine gun trenches? Or were they ferrying much needed supplies to the front lines?
On this day these particular cyclists were actually retracing the tire tracks of their World War I predecessors.
On August 7th, 2022 the soldiers and officers of 2 Intelligence Company (2 Int Coy) commemorated the Battle of Amiens by conducting Exercise AMIENS DAY: a combined physical training (PT), commemoration and social event that took 2 Int through the Toronto-area training grounds of the Great War-era Canadian Cyclist Battalion.
In early 2022, the Canadian Intelligence Corps drawing its lineage from the Cyclist Battalion, directed all Army intelligence units to conduct local Battle of Amiens commemorations for the first time in Corps history. Being a Toronto based unit, it was only fitting that 2 Int would honour the brave soldiers of the WWI Cyclist Battalion by retracing their historic training route of a hundred years ago. The ride began at High Park, winding south through the Humber River Valley, along Lake Ontario and finally ending at Stanley Barracks, on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition.
The Battle of Amiens began on the 8th of August 1918 which resulted in a 22 kilometer push past the German front lines. The Cyclists had proven their worth while performing duties for the Canadian Independent Force (CIF), under the command of Brigadier-General Brutinel. During the battle, the Cyclists performed tasks such as reconnaissance, moving supplies in support of the motor cars — in some cases providing fire support. On August 9th, the Cyclists were engaged with heavy machine gun fire south of Le Quesnel and Hangest-en-Santerre. They dismounted and provided cover until the armoured cars of the CIF were able to make it forward with support of artillery to clear the wooded area of enemy.
Four of the five Divisional Cyclist Companies trained in preparation for WWI at Exhibition Place located on Toronto’s lakeshore. Known as Camp Exhibition in 1914, the area hosted training for many Canadian soldiers, including infantry and others destined for the Western Front. Training for Cyclists included drill, PT, rifle drill, navigation, scouting, and specialized training such as signals.
The Camp mounted a culmination exercise for all trainees called the “Battle of the Humber”. This exercise took place approximately three miles of each side of the Old Mill just north of Bloor Street.
Conceptualizing the Event
Planning for Ex Amiens Day began in January of 2022. It was only natural 2 Int would pay homage to Toronto’s role in housing, training and shaping the Cyclist Battalion for their subsequent service on the muddy, crater marked French battle fields of the Great War. Using historical material, 2 Int’s planning committee set out the route: a 20km patrol southwards from Lawrence and Royal York Rd, through the iconic Humber River Valley, swinging east along Lake Shore Blvd at the edges of Lake Ontario, and finally concluding at the Stanley Barracks Historic Site on the grounds of the modern Canadian National Exhibition.
Early on, 2 Int recognized that the Company was not the only military intelligence formation in Toronto. HMCS York also has a sizeable contingent of Naval intelligence officers and NCMs. It was only natural to extend an invite to our Naval brothers and sisters who were subsequently generous enough to offer the wardroom at HMCS York for the post-cycle social. With the route and participants confirmed there was only one last piece of the puzzle. What organized cycle event would be complete without matching unit T-Shirts?
Ex AMIENS DAY
On 7 August, 2022 in record heat for the city of Toronto, 2 Int with a contingent from HMCS York embarked on the historic training route. Three patrols departed at staggered start times, with each patrol leader stopping at designated spots to explain the history of the Cyclist Battalion, the Battle of Amiens and discuss tactics that our WWI predecessors may have been contemplating when they were training along the same route. Along the way, the patrols even located a tree planted in Centennial Park in dedication to the Canadian Cyclist Corps. The 20km was completed by all patrols which was followed by a solemn commemoration in front of Stanley Barracks.
But the now weary cyclists had one last leg to complete; a short ride to HMCS York where cold drinks, pizza and chilled bottles of Pol Roger Champagne were waiting for the sunbaked soldiers and sailors who were wet and tired pedalling in humid 30 degree heat. These ‘post ex drills’ we appreciated all the more when participants were reminded that their cyclist forbearers completed the same route in full khaki uniforms, helmets with nearly 100 pounds worth of equipment and weapons, and that the end of their route did not include a festive social, but rather deployment to European trenches, which for some, was a final resting place.
2 Int Coy would like to thank HMCS York for their participation and for hosting us at their wonderful ship, and we look forward to an even bigger Amiens Day in 2023.