Yeomanry of the Future

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Yeomanry of the Future is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in the Daily Express No. 3067, 8 february 1910. He explained why bicycles would be better than horses in case of invasion.

Yeomanry of the Future

Daily Express No. 3067 (p. 5)



The article printed in last Friday's "Express" suggesting, as a solution of the problem of Britain's failing horse supply, the substitution of motor-cars for certain Army purpose, has drawn an interesting comment, with a further suggestion, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He writes :—

To the Editor of the "Express."

Sir, — Your interesting article upon the superiority of motor traction over horses for ambulance and commissariat purposes in time of war is very convincing. But I have long held views upon an analogous subject which is suggested by your essay. This is the enormous advantage which would result to the State both in efficacy and in cost by substituting bicycle regiments of thousand riflemen for the Yeomanry cavalry, whose services are confined to the defence of this island.

Were this done, and were the bulk of our artillery drawn (as is the dream of many gunners) by petrol or steam, we should almost eliminate the horse - with the endless worry of buying, tending, and feeding him — from our home military system.

Let me briefly state the case, as far as I understand it, for the bicycle as against the horse in a country which is intersected with a network of roads. Let me premise that the machines which I should recommend would be strong and serviceable, fitted with clips for rifles and a small carrier for essentials. They should have solid but resilient tyres. Each regiment should have its equipment of attendant motors, with full repair shops, cartridge reserves, etc.


1. RAPIDITY OF STRIKING. — Here there could be no comparison, and this is the most important of all considerations in the defence of an island from invasion.

If an ennemy landed at Dover, a force of cavalry starting from London would arrive at the scene of action - I presume that they find their own way - two, or possibly three, days later, when the enemy is established. A force mounted on bicycles would be there within five hours, while disembarkation might still be proceeding.

2. EFFICIENCY AT THE END OF JOURNEY. — The cavalry is done at the end of a long march. The horse has to be tended and fed. Often his forage has to be brought. All this is surely in favour of the bicvcle.

3. PERMANENCY. — The horse may be wounded or killed. The horse may die of fatigue or disease. The bicycle only wants an hour in a repair shop.

4. RADIUS OF ACTION. — Thirty miles or so may be taken as the extreme limit which mounted men can cover in the day and be fit for action at the end of it. Large masses of men could be moved a hundred miles a day easily upon bicycles. This should mean a great strategical advantage.

5. EXPENSE. — At a wholesale price the bicycle I picture should not exceed £7. It should outlast several £40 horses, besides doing away with forage, stables, etc.

6. TACTICAL ADVANTAGE WHEN IN ACTUAL TORCH WITH THE ENNEMY. — The firing line, when dismounted, is not denuded by one-quarter of the men holding horses. Cyclists charged by cavalry can form their machines at once into a ***, and fire from behind them.

These reasons, taken together as they bear upon economy, efficiency, and the large increase of numbers available, seem to me far more powerful than any objections. Of these objections the chief would be that we should no longer have in our Yeomanry a feeder for the Regular cavalry. I am not aware how much it is so now.

Another would be that across country the cavalry would be more effective.

A third is that on the South Downs or on Salisbury Plain the cavalry would also have a ***. These seem small matters as compared to the advantages which I have indicated.

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex.