The Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen (CRVV) or Centre Tour of Flanders is a museum situated in Oudenaarde (Belgium) within a stone’s throw of the finish line of the famous cycling classic Tour of Flanders.

From 4 May 2018 till 12 May 2019, next to the permanent collection about bicycle racing and the Tour of Flanders, a special exposition is organized about cycling in the Great War.

 

One year ago the management of the museum made the decision to organize an expo about the bicycle and cyclists during the Great War. The aim was to tell the stories of professional cyclists, the influence of the war upon international cycling and the way the German regime changed the sports experience and in particular the cycling world in occupied Belgium. Next to the sports segment of cycling special attention would be paid to the cycling battalions of the several armies that drove around on the battle fields.

Together with writer Patrick Cornillie, who would write a book about the subject, Filip Walenta of the Karelvanwijnendaele.be project and other amateur historians, the product marketing manager of CRVV Marnix Van Breusegem started the search for relevant stories and items. This was without a doubt the most difficult part of the project as a lot of information was and is still lost about this long forgotten subject.

After months of regular meetings, visits to other museums like the military Camp of Beverlo museum in Leopoldsburg and lobbying with their staff in order to lend some items the final organization and structure of the expo could come about.

An external firm specialized in museum construction was hired to put all items into place. Their plan was to divide the expo into four sections.

TIMELINE 1913-1919

The first part is a timeline, showing the sport events combined with the evolutions in the diplomatic world and later on the battle fields. It starts in 1913 with the very first edition of the Tour of Flanders and its winner Paul Deman, and ends in 1919 with the Tour of the Battlefields and the Versaille Peace Conference on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the immediate cause of the First World War..

 

TWELVE CYCLISTS, TWELVE STORIES

The second part tells us the stories of twelve famous cyclists from all over Europe.

Among them Paul Deman, the first Tour of Flanders winner, who transported spy messages for the allied forces with his bicycle from the front zone to the borders of the Netherlands, and Hélène Dutrieu, the famous and only female military pilot during the war.

The UK are represented by Thomas Jefferson Gascoygne (Whittington, 17 August 1876 – Ypres, 4 October 1917), an English professional cycling champion and world record holder who competed internationally on both bicycles and tandems. Short after the turn of the century he migrated to Australia with his family where lived in the neighborhood of Melbourne. After the outbreak of the War he served in the Australian 21st Battalion and died in 1917 as corporal in the 3rd Battle of Passchendaele.

 

THE BLACK DEVILS

The third part is a special topic about the cycling battalions. The most famous victory of the Belgian carabineer-cyclist battalion during the early days of the War happened on 12 August 1914 when they fought a deadly battle against German cavalry troupes in Halen. The hussars charged with their long sables but were slaughtered by automatic gunfire as the Belgian troupes had a better tactical setup. Due to their dark uniform, quick appearance and skittish actions the Germans called them the Schwarze Teufel or Black Devils.

 

VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE

And the final fourth part is a virtual experience were the visitor can relive what the bicycle heroes went through hundred years ago. One of the characters is again Paul Deman who is carrying secret messages to the other side of the country on his bicycle, being chased by German soldiers.

 

The opening was a huge success and all the invitees, under which of lot of notables and VIP’s, were exited on the subject and the way the exhibition was displayed to the public. At the same time the book by Patrick Cornillie was released with the title “Cycling in the Great War. Heroes on the bicycle and the battle field”. More information about the book can be found at

https://www.playingpasts.co.uk/new-bookspublications/new-books/cycling-in-the-great-war-heroes-on-the-bicycle-and-the-battle-field/

External link : http://crvv.be/cycling-during-the-great-war-2/?lang=en