Where is the centre of England? its not Nottingham, Derby or Worcester, but a small Warwickshire village called Meriden, midway between Birmingham and Coventry. Some say that Meriden is a corruption of Meridian and historically all distance measurements in England were taken from the medieval trig point on the village green. On Sunday the 22nd of May two members of VFP Birmingham got on their bikes and pedalled to this small village to attend the cyclists annual peace rally, a ninety five year old remembrance ceremony in the centre of England. How did they know it was the centre of England? because it says so on the trig point. Alongside is a memorial obelisk and a plaque to all the cyclists who were killed in the First World War and a later addition from the Second World War.
Pre WW1 this was a popular ride destination for many cycle clubs, pedalling out from Birmingham, Coventry and the rest of the Midlands to escape the industrial and domestic coal smoke for some fresh country air and a hot beverage in the local tea-room. Following the carnage of WW1, a memorial to all cyclists who never returned to experience these simple joys, was erected in 1921. Over 20,000 cyclists attended its unveiling. It is believed that the first British soldier to die in WW1 as a result of enemy action was private John Parr, who was a reconnaissance cyclist, and his role was to ride ahead to uncover information, and then return with all possible speed to update the commanding officer.
Since the memorials inauguration, cyclists have gathered every year on Meriden Green around the country’s National Cyclists’ Memorial, to preserve the memory of all those cyclists who were killed in the two world wars. A century later if the weather is good, hundreds still attend this ceremony organised by the CTC Heart of England branch, the local member group of the Cyclists’ Touring Club, and the parish church of Saint Laurence. I have attended this ceremony on many occasions and I keep returning for the straightforward reason, that there is no British Legion claiming the territory, no arms trade sponsorship, no poppy’s to wear, no royalty with their associated pomp and regalia, no hollow sentiment, no over inflated war stories, no cupronickel bling, no regimental standards, no pseudo tears, no blazers, berets, badges or boots, no fly pasts and no belligerent politicians uttering platitudes of peace, in fact nothing at all that glorifies the brutal, banal and barbaric act of warfare. Just cyclists who make their way under their own power in a dignified and urbane manner, to reflect on the inane, fatuous, vapid and vacuous, futility of warfare. Coupled with the fact, that before the war broke out, the dead were ordinary lads who just wanted to ride their bikes. Anyone who is a cyclist knows the simple joy of cycling and the feeling that “this is as close as it gets to freedom”.
An ardent stipulation by the founders of this cycling festival all those years ago, was that militarism should not be represented in anyway and a post ceremony chat with this years event organiser David Cox CTC West Midlands, confirmed that this ethos is still adhered to. It was a breathe of fresh air to reflect on the waste of young lives without a military or military charity presence. After the ceremony it was off to the village hall for tea, homemade cakes and copious amounts of cycling chit chat, from brake blocks to wheel hubs. It was soon time to once again get on the bike and pedal back to the train station, a total of twenty six miles was completed and it was worth every mile. If ever there is an example of remembering with dignity, the needless dead of all wars then this is about as good as it gets. Peace and happiness to all from VFP Birmingham .
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