Europe exploded into war in August 1914 and most motorists had to start using bicycles, the most economical means of transportation during the crisis. By September the government ordered several thousand bicycles from Raleigh, though the war brought manpower problems to the company. The Cycle Trader printed this report in October:
“250 men from the Raleigh Cycle Works have either been called up or volunteered for active service, a result of which shows the patriotic spirit prevailing. The Messrs Bowden, the proprietors of the Raleigh Cycle Co, have always encouraged patriotism amongst their employees. The Company is making the same allowance as the War Office to all the dependents of all employees who have been called up.”
But in spite of losing men, the company responded to the war situation by immediately bringing out some special new models. These included a constable’s bicycle which was fitted with specially strong tyres, was enamelled black all over and made rustproof and sold at £7 10/-. There were also the ‘Scout’ and ‘Military’ models priced at £8 10/- and £6 19/- 6d respectively, both finished in khaki enamel. All these were in great demand and their durability was greatly praised. A member of the 10th Royal Hussars wrote to the company soon after the outbreak of war saying:
“I am at the front and use a Raleigh every day for dispatch riding, sometimes over very long distances. The roads are very much cut up with heavy transport but the Raleigh ‘sticks it’ like a true Briton… I have been over the worst country out here, very often over fields, but my bicycle has never yet dodged its duty.”
Inevitably, bicycle production had to be substantially reduced to cope with Raleigh factory munitions work, although the total number of employees by the end of 1915 had risen to over 2000. Most of the new workers were women, something of an innovation in the cycle industry. In order to make the bicycle side as efficient as possible it was decided to concentrate on the most popular models and drop the rest from the list.
The war produced scares and rumours of all sorts and one such rumour which was quite widespread in the winter of 1916 was that Raleighs might have to give up bicycle manufacture altogether in 1917. Harold Bowden lost no time in sending out a circular to all agents saying that unless something unforeseen and totally unexpected was to happen, deliveries for 1917 would be just as reliable as they had been in 1916. In fact the bicycle side never even came close to being shut down during the war and to make up for the absence of the annual Cycle Show, which inevitably had to be abandoned for the duration, Raleigh began to put on special displays at their London showrooms to serve the same purpose.*
On the home front, with cars and motorcycles needed for the war, the bicycle became the preferred means of independent transportation. Female munition workers earned reasonable wages, and many bought bicycles to help them get to work in the factories. A Raleigh ‘All Steel’ Lady’s Roadster would have been a popular choice for any woman who was busy helping the war effort.
1917 Raleigh ‘All-Steel’ Model C Lady’s Roadster
Frame No 560759
Leatheries ‘Empire de Luxe’ Patterned Saddle
This example was found in France, so rather than being owned by a munitions worker in Britain, she was more likely used by one of the thousands of women who served behind the lines in France and Belgium.
The Model C is in original unrestored condition. Although the nickel parts are quite tarnished, the paintwork has retained most of its box lining and all its transfers (decals). The only part that has not survived is the leatherette chaincase cover.
According to the license plate on the handlebar stem, she was owned by Mme A Madelaine of Bordeaux. Another interesting French item attached to the bicycle is the reflector fitted to the rear mudguard. The Leatheries ‘Empire de Luxe’ patterned saddle is very attractive, and seems to be the same saddle shown in the catalogue picture. She has recently been serviced and fitted with new tyres and inner tubes, and is ready to ride.
This World War One Raleigh is now for sale: this would obviously be an appropriate – and interesting – display item at vintage and military shows, particularly with some war-related period accessories.
World War One was fought on an industrial scale. Munitions were needed in vast quantities to feed the guns and a variety of products were required to supply both military and civilian needs. With men recruited for the armed forces, the industrial workforce changed. Over 600,000 women took on previously male-dominated roles in industry during the war, working alongside men in reserved occupations. Women made an increasingly varied contribution, working in labs, mills and factories, sometimes in hazardous circumstances. Many others travelled to France and Belgium to serve behind the lines, often under fire.
1919 RALEIGH CATALOGUE
1916 RALEIGH CATALOGUE
* Introductory text from – The Story of the Raleigh Cycle by Gregory Houston Bowden
Female munition workers: IWM – http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/9-women-reveal-the-dangers-of-working-in-a-first-world-war-munitions-factory