A few years back, I was contacted via e-mail by a cousin I had not known existed. He is technically my first cousin, once removed (so my father’s first cousin), and sadly we pretty much had lost contact with that side of the family long long ago. So I was delighted to hear from my new-found family member. We spent time e-mailing and getting acquainted, he filled in many details of family history for me. His own father, my great-uncle had served in WW I as a medic, and I was thrilled to receive a photo of my great-uncle Stephen in his uniform. One of Stephen’s brothers, Michael, had served in the Fighting 69th, and had died in the Rouge Bouquet bunker bombardment in WW I, memorialized by Joyce Kilmer in his poem, “Rouge Bouquet”. This was also immortalized on celluloid in the 1940 James Cagney film, “The Fighting 69th”.
So the bicycling tie-in: Great Uncle Stephen turns out was an avid cyclist. He rode with the Century Road Club Association back in the 1930s and 40s (possibly even before the war, I’m not entirely sure). Apparently they would go on rides from New York City to Philadelphia: 50 miles out, 50 miles back! Jack’s brother, Richard, has 100-yr-old photographs of these guys, heads down, riding single or double-file on those old country roads. There weren’t many paved roads back then! I asked my cousin Jack if he had ever trained for the Tour de France, and while that doesn’t seem to have been the case, during his tour of duty in France in 1917-1918, he did rent a bike while on a three-day leave, found the bombed dug-out where his brother died, then went back to the town to purchase a wreath that he laid at the dug out with a note “To My Brother and Comrades.” Although Jack doesn’t remember his dad mentioning racing, he does have some official badges listing him as “Judge” and “Referee” at some Six Day bicycle races that were popular for many many years. What extraordinary athletes they must have been. Those old bikes of steel, many with no brakes! And no 27 gears. How I wish I could have known Great Uncle Stephen.