Clive Woodward (Bott CEO) and Simon Fry (Bott FD) took part in the 2012 Help for Heroes Big Battlefield Ride, raising over £7,000 for Help for Heroes.
The ride commenced at Portsmouth and made its way through the countryside of Northern France and Belgium, stopping at historic sites to remember those who have fought and died there.
Clive and Simon held various fundraising events in the runup to the ride, and managed to raise a total of £7009. This money will go towards supporting members of the Armed Forces who have been wounded in the service of their country.
Clive penned a short overview of his experiences on the ride, giving a flavour of the trip and highlighting the importance of the Help for Heroes fundraising in providing much-needed ongoing support to our veterans.
Clive's Help for Heroes Diary
After 5 long days in the saddle and with 533km behind us, the culmination of this amazing week saw an aerial display by a vintage Spitfire welcome 265 leg-weary riders to Dunkirk. The week had provided a cocktail of experiences, and put 300 cyclists, veterans and support crew through an emotional roller-coaster that bound a disparate group together under the umbrella of a shared and worthy cause.
After checking in, labelling possessions and packing bags onto trucks we listened to several briefings, enjoyed a buffet dinner and set off to collect our bikes. We were entertained by a Royal Marine Band in the Naval Dockyard, and addressed by a Rear Admiral, before commencing our short ride from HMS Victory to the ferry port. I guess we all knew it would be a special event when we were entertained in the departure lounge by a full pipe band. At 11.30pm on Sunday evening the ferry Sailed for Caen, and after disembarking on Monday morning we were bussed to a small church in Etretat on the Normandy coast. This was to be our start point and we set off around 12 noon following a ceremony attended by local dignitaries and French veterans.
The first 2 days from Etretat to Dieppe and then on to Amiens provided difficult riding conditions with low hanging cloud and cold buffeting winds, but thankfully no rain. This part of the journey contained most of the hills, with a particularly cruel 3-mile 15% climb out of a provincial town to the lunch stop on day 2. The pain of this ascent melted away when at the same venue, 2 of the amputee veterans who had also ground out the climb on hand-bikes, gave their accounts of how their injuries and been sustained and their evacuation from theatre to Camp Bastion. It was clear after these talks that their strength and determination in the face of physical adversity lay, sadly, in the minority. The psychological damage done to others among the ranks of the wounded had left many incapable of seeing any way forward, and it was clearer now than ever that long-term support was going to be needed.
The third day to Arras took in many of the battlefields of the Somme and the spectacular Thiepval Memorial to 74,000 missing WWI servicemen. A poignant moment, when you contrast what happened to the wounded in that war and what H4H is doing to support those returning from current campaigns. The day was brought to life by the professional and engaging oratory of 4 team members of the Guild of Battlefield Guides who told the stories as they happened and shed light on the relevance of each location. The day finished with a visit to the chalk tunnels, which were dug 12 miles behind enemy lines in a failed attempt to break the deadlock of the Somme front line. On this dingy tour below ground in very low light levels, I was astonished at how easily Scott Meenagh (a double amputee from Cumbernauld) walked around.
Day 4 took us to Ypres via Vimy Ridge, (now sovereign Canadian territory), where there was a moving ceremony to the fallen and which was of special relevance to the 26 Wounded Warriors (Canadian equivalent of Help for Heroes), travelling with the peleton. The comradeship and support, already building throughout the week, took a giant leap forward that day, not least because we had to do the ride in fancy dress. The Bude team in garish yellow/green morph suits attempted to look like Cornish piskies...but kept getting mistaken for leprechauns. As the sun came out, the suits were sacrificed for lycra and BBBR12 shirts – much more sensible!
On the approach to Ypres, while riding close to the front I was passed on an uphill stretch by the 2 Steves (members of 'The Battleback Team'), who will shortly be undertaking the RAAM2012. This race across America, some 3050 miles in 9 days, will be completed by 2 teams of 4 amputees on hand-trikes operating in a 24/7 relay format. Given the speed they overtook me, 8 days looks more than a possibility! It was a privilege for me to ride into the city with them and later to witness them taking part in another moving ceremony of remembrance at the Menin Gate, an event that happens every night of the year – not always with 1000 onlookers!
The final day involved a flat cycle from Ypres to Dunkirk via the haunting cemetery at Tyne Cott. To put this place into perspective, 460,000 British troops lost their lives here over a four- year period in a battle to maintain control of the Ypres salient in the heart of Flanders. Sitting on a mound beside the visitor centre, listening to a continuous recording of the names of the fallen, (one every nine seconds) really brings home the futility of war and the tremendous sacrifices made by our forebears. After lunch, I 'out-rode' for Peter Norton GC, (a veteran of Iraq who had lost an arm and a leg in a bomb blast), on our trip west to the coast. Pete is still having surgery 7 years after his injury and takes it all in his stride with an understated resilience. I, having undertaken 1000 miles of training before the ride, could only sit in admiration of the man, who managed to power his 3-wheeled hand bike the final 50km in just over 2 hours with a 4-minute water stop. Pete told me on the ride that his training regime had started 5 days ago in Etretat. The man is a legend! We shared a good cold beer at the end.
Of most importance, the ride had clocked up a profit of £405,000 before it kicked off, and will undoubtedly achieve over £500k by the time fundraising closes in August. What we all learnt was that we all have to do more for these guys, and it united the group around meeting that objective. For every serviceman killed, 10 to 12 return with severe injuries, and most will need a lifetime of psychological as well as physical care and assistance. Above all, they need hope and a reason to get out of bed in the morning, including jobs as well as hobbies. I quickly recognised that the injured don't want sympathy; they just want to be treated as members of society who may have lost a few bits but can still make a contribution.
Byrn Parry, founder of H4H, said himself when we all sat together for the first time in Portsmouth that these blokes (often only in their late teens or early twenties), need hope, education, facilities and long-term support. After the troops have pulled out of Afghanistan and the politicians have turned their minds to other things, the same needs will remain for up to 50 years.
Next year the ride will commence in Paris and end in London at Whitehall. Riders from all of the rides over the last 5 years will be asked to join from all over the UK and make a serious point to the government that this issue is their issue, today and tomorrow. It can't be conveniently forgotten. I will be going again!
Thanks to all for their support.