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#BBBR13 Day 5 – Calais to Chatham

Today was a day when i had to ride the first few miles as there were no lifts to the ferry port!  Taking it easy with my team 404 buddy Keith we made it past the old Chunnel digger and completed the published 4 miles in 7.4 miles to the port.
 
 

Once on board a good breakfast, followed by some larks on the deck.  I was beginning to feel a bit better.

On arrival at Dover we had the most magnificent sent off from the port staff and police and friends and family who had turned up.  We set our wheels determindly uphill and set out for the Battle Of Britain memorial at Capel Le Ferne.  Keith was a godsend, helping me pant my way through the incline.  What I did not know, was that this would be the final effort that would finish me off.

But best of all was what came next… A magnificent display from a Spitfire in D-Day landing colours.

We left for lanes rural through Kent.  Stopping here for a fine Kentish Ale…

A few miles later, though…  Despite being on flat level ground, I found that i could not turn over the pedals, even in 2nd gear (out of 20).  My ride was done for that day.

At the Naval memoriarl in Chatham some hours later I found these names on the plaques.  Given my connection with Bletchley Park, I thought I should note them:

 
Afterwards was the end of ride dinner.  By now I could not speak, and not breathe very well.  It was only the following week that i was diagnosed with a loss of about half my lung capacity and function and was advised I probably should have been in hospital.

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#BBBR13 Day 4 – Le Touquet to Calais

I was too unwell after no sleep due to coughing to ride today.  Ashamed I slunk into a corner and took a few photos when I could.
Etaples cemetery:
 

The cemetery at the lunch stop.

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#BBBR13 Day 3 – Amiens to Le Touquet

Day 3 and the lung infection was a unnoticed gathering storm within.  Although unaware of the problem, I was becoming more aware of the symptoms – as I was finding the cycling was getting tougher.  I left Amiens early to get as much of a start as I could but was starting to struggle – coughing more frequently and more deeply.  However in comparison with what some were dealing with, it was a minor issue – so nothing much needed to be said or just – except just get on with (Velominati Rule 5 – MTFU!) it so I was off again and heading north.

Not that many miles into the journey I crashed when, at the precise moment I looked down at my bike computer, the cyclist in front of me stopped!  I missed his bike, but ran over his left foot and took off and crashed to the deck.  Some minor damage to the balls of my thumbs, and my neck. 

Losing time dealing with the wounds that would not stop leaking red stuff, I arrived completely exhausted at Agincourt the lunch stop.  I was uninterested in looking around, just relieved to arrive and get some food down me.  I was checked out for damage and ruled fit to ride (nowt was going to stop me – or so I thought).

Onwards and northwards.

Although we were running late we passed an official cafe stop, just by a lovely river and in broken French i explained where we were from and where we heading.  The cafe grand creme was delightful and helped me on. But…

A few miles from the end of the day, approaching the last water stop about a mile away I found myself doing the wrong thing at a major junction and just for a moment had no sense of left or right, no sense of where I should be on the road and found myself (literally – I could not and cannot remember the manoeuvre) heading down the wrong side of the road to a narrow gap between an oncoming car and a parked car.

I stopped, looked around and saw the support crew watching me.

It was time to stop for the day.

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#BBBR13 Day 2 – Compiegne to Amiens

Arising early and a light (too light) breakfast we hit the road on a nicer day than before.  Fairly early in the day we came upon a group of colleague who were outside this cemetery.  Stopping for the anticipated tour guide it turned out that people were just taking a breather!
But there was an interesting local cross to view…

Moving on we came to the tour stop proper.  In the day\’s still early light a field of crosses were on display down a small country track.  Not for the first time I wished I could have brought a DSLR with me on the ride…

Just before we left, I caught this sight, and just had to take the photo!

My team-mate and companion on wheels – Keith.

Sometime later (!) I staggered into the lunch stop quite late and realised that whilst I could cycle onto Thiepval for the ceremony I would probably be late.  So sacrificing miles for attendance I grabbed a lift and got to Thiepval just in time for the highlight of the week.

This time I had crosses for my Great Great Uncles personalised for me by a friend, and I proudly laid them and then spent a while thinking of them, and others before heading off for the final bit of the day.

Whilst Arthur George has a grave at Bernafay Wood, David Albert (killed on the first day of the Somme) does not.  His name is on the Thiepval memorial, but after the last year\’s research I was albe to go the Newfoundland Park just north of Thiepval at Beaumont Hamel.

Somewhere, in the distance past the memorial is the ground where he fell.  And may even remain to this day (although it is possible he is one of the many \”Known Unto God\” burials.

Continuing on, we cycled the remaining miles to Amiens, and had an excellent dinner with a few new companions we made that evening.

Everyone does the ride for a different reason – it\’s quite something to learn more and more of those reasons…

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#BBBR13 over, what a week

At the weekend my Paris to London bike ride finished with the Hero Ride into London.  If you were anywhere near a TV news channel you probably saw the images of a phalanx of cyclists (over 1400) riding in formation up to Horseguards, to be welcomed by cheering friends and family.

The week was a tough one, cold wet weather on day 1, lengthy days on many cycling days, and plenty of hard work.  Sadly, because of a lung infection, and the consequential (quite severe) asthma attack I was unable to cycle every mile of the way.  I made just over 300 miles in the week, but when your lung capacity is eroded by 40% or so, there\’s only so much you can do!
My main ride ended in Kent when on a level road, I found I could not turn over the pedals even in 2nd (out of 20!) gear.  I was very disappointed at the time, but some kind words from Jamie Hull (one of our heroes cycling with us again this year), and Charlie Chaplin (the trike cycling Sapper from 2012) helped me see it in a better light.  The diagnosis from the quack this week made me realise I *really* had tried as hard as I could.  But it still disappoints!

The absolute highlight for me this year was the Spitfire flypast at the Battle of Britain memorial at Capel Le Ferne.  That morning I had risen at 4:30am, cycled into the dock at Calais the promised 4 miles (along with the remaining 3.87!) and gently cruised across to Dover.  The next stage was a 7 mile uphill ride (a bit of a struggle for me by then – thanks Keith!) to the memorial where tea, biscuits and other wonderful refreshments beckoned.  A moving ceremony with the Peddling Padre (Fr Roger), the British Legion standard bearers completed the atmosphere; and then the Spitfire turned up!

I hope to blog a few photos here later, but I need another rest!  But in the meantime, the crosses for my 2 Great Great Uncles at Thiepval will have to do

Bye for now!

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97 years later

I\’m sat killing time in the sun after visiting the wounded warriors stand at Canada day in Trafalgar Square, before a meeting later today. 

In 1916, almost certainly by this time of the day, my Great-Great Uncle David Bryant lay dead on the battlefield of the Somme. 

Although he was known of by family then, my grandfather never spoke of his namesake Uncle (both David Albert) to my father, and it was only in 2009 when my mother found some interesting names on her family history trawl that GGUncle Bryant and his brother (Arthur George) came to light. 

Since then we\’ve pieced together bits and pieces, spoken to the CWGC and the regimental museum. 

David Albert was in the Rifles Brigade just north of Beaumont Hamel, and just south-west of the infamous German quadrilateral which dominated the area. 1st RB on the map below.

Corporal Bryant (he had been recently promoted from L/Cpl although his name is listed as L/Cpl at CWGC) went into attack, and was one of 20,000 casualties on that first day. As with over 72,000 other in the whole Somme Campaign, his body was never identified. He might be a \”Known Unto God\” burial, or he might have been lost in the Somme killing fields for ever.
Somewhere in the distance here:

Three years ago I took my father for the first and last time to Thiepval to pay our respects at the place where he is remembered, and then to Bernafay Wood where his brother (3/9/1916) lies. The following year my wife and I went to repeat the visits.
Last year with Help for Heroes I visited him again, and had the honour to be part of the wreath laying ceremony (in my head it was for him), and all the others.
This year again with Help for Heroes I took custom poppy crosses for them and laid them at Thiepval.

Today, in good weather and having met again with Wounded Warriors of Canada it is time to reflect and remember.

Twenty thousand, in one day. What were we thinking of?

As WW say \” Honour the Fallen, Help the Living\”

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#BBBR13 the Hero Ride (day 6)

I\’m in a red (army!!) shirt. This was a really nice pootle through the city from Blackheath.  All but 1 traffic light set could be completely ignored, cheering crowds all the way.

What a way to finish the week!

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#BBBR13 Day 1 – Paris to Compiegne

We left bright and ready from the basement car park up a ridiculously steep ramp (I walked!) into a drizzly Paris morning.  The morning traffic was, ahem, entertaining; and the pavé even more so, but after a few miles we arrived at our departure point (!).

Then followed the usual (for me) first day experience of a Big Battlefield Bike Ride – a bit of hanging around.  Because of the likely dignitaries who would be coming, the riders need to be there in plenty of time.  But to keep us jolly us we had a French military band who kept us entertained – their choice of tunes was certainly geared to their audience!

 A few shots from around L\’Hotel

 The dignitaries arrived and the speeches start

at this point there is a large gap in the photo record – about 50-60 miles worth!  That\’s because it was mainly cold and wet during the day, and the focus was on getting the miles done!  So here is the memorial and clearing at Compiegne at which we arrived very much later in the day after (for me) a slashed tyre and inner tube, and a few assists at other punctures.

It was now only a few more miles to the hotel, and finally I arrived.  To find I had travelled 7 miles further than I needed and was at the wrong hotel!  A lift back from the DA support crew and straight into dinner.
Unfortunately time was short and I was rushed to the table and spent the next hour or two dining in some very wet cycling gear. It seemed nothing at the time, but that was going to come back and bite me later on…

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#BBBR13 – the official videos

I\’m publishing a few videos of my own here, but Help For Heroes have the official ones on youtube, so – here they are!

Day 1 – Paris to Compiegne

Day 2 – Compiegne to Amiens (fancy dress day!)

Day 3 – Amiens to Le Touquet

Day 4 – Le Touquet to Calais

I\’m hoping day 5 (Calais to Chatham) and the Hero Ride will be up soon 
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#BBBR13 Day 0 – London to Paris

Rising rather early for a bank holiday, it was into the car and down to the station; hoping all the while that FCC and National Rail would not conspire against us and put a replacement bus service (no bikes!) at the last minute.
Hurrah! No!
So on board, and soon exchanging texts with friends to see how their journeys were going – all well.  A good sign (along with the bright sunny weather).

Arriving in Kings Cross just under two hours later it was a short walk round the corner to the meet up point where upon our first surprise awaited us – our bags were to travel with us. Damn!  Wish I had brought the back pack straps for the main bag – it would have made life a bit easier.

Not surprisingly, the meeting point seemed to be the Champagne Bar at St Pancras.  So, there I headed where in short order I bumped into loads of fellow riders from last year, and of course my team mate, Keith

Within 20 minutes of entering France we (all of us – not Keith and me!) had drunk the train dry 🙂

A coach transfer, a briefing, a shopping trip to the WoundedWarriors.CA cycle store (an impromptu popup store from kit bags outside the bar!) and dinner.

The plan was for an early call and then on the bikes after breakfast to head down to the L\’Hôtel national des Invalides for the official start.  However the diggers on the site outside the hotel window (see below) decided to do that for us a few times in the night. Damn!