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D-Day pedal raises money for injured veterans

11 July 2016
A team of Royal Navy and French Navy cyclists have raised over £1,800 for charity following a marathon cycle ride from Plymouth to Paris.

The group of 20 – 10 from each nation – set off from Plymouth with the aim of re-tracing the route that the Allied Forces took for the  D-Day landings and the liberation of Paris. 

The five day challenge saw the cyclists ride a distance of nearly 450 miles and raised in excess of £1,500 for the charity Help For Heroes and over £300 for AD Augusta, the French equivalent.

The challenge was organised by long-term friends, Lieutenant Commander (Lt Cdr) Gary Mills, who currently works at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC), and Lt Cdr Colin Castle, the Royal Navy’s representative in Brest, France.  

Stage two was not the longest stage, however it was the most difficult day due to the type of terrain.

Officer Cadet Douglas Wilkie

An additional aim was to strengthen the close bonds and mutual interests of both navies.  

The two men joined the Royal Navy together in 1981, originally as ratings and later both transferred to the Officer Corps, attending the same course at BRNC in 1997. 

The Royal Navy team consisted mostly of staff from BRNC, including four Officer Cadets who are part-way through their initial naval training course and another who had recently passed out of training. 

The other member of the team is based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, Shrivenham. 

Stage one of the challenge consisted of a 41.1 mile cycle from Plymouth to BRNC. 

The team set-off from HMS Drake, after meeting veterans at Endeavour Building, the Help for Heroes funded facility located there. 

The French Navy personnel quickly adapted to cycling in the UK and the team arrived on time to meet Capt Henry Duffy, the Commanding Officer of BRNC, and Royal Navy Chaplain Father David Yates at the Exercise Tiger War Memorial at Torcross. 

There a Service of Remembrance was held for the 749 American Servicemen who died in April 1944 following an attack by German E-boats during the exercise intended as a rehearsal for the D-Day landings.  

Capt Duffy then joined the team by bike to complete the first stage.

After an overnight at the College the team set off for stage two of their challenge, heading to Blandford Army Camp, a distance of 120.7 miles. 

Officer Cadet Douglas Wilkie, one of the Royal Navy team, said:  “Stage two was not the longest stage, however it was the most difficult day due to the type of terrain. 

“The route involved 7,715 feet of climbing; a substantial elevation to pedal up.”

Stage three, from Blandford to HMS Excellent in Portsmouth, started with a generous send off from local Police Officers. 

Sunny weather made for a pleasant cycle through Dorset and the New Forest, consisting of 70 miles. 

The team laid wreaths at the War Memorial at Southsea sea-front and had a tour of HMS Victory, where they met Vice Admiral Jonathan Woodcock, the Second Sea Lord.  

Emergency repairs were carried out so that everyone had a fully functioning bike before stepping onto the ferry for the crossing to Caen.

The team arrived in Caen 72 years to the day after the D-Day landings took place. 

They toured the beaches, observing a parade at Sword beach and attending a commemoration service at the Bayeux Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Officer Cadet Wilkie said:  “The service was a high profile event that was a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by the Allied Forces on 6 June 1944.

“The cycle back to Caen involved stops in Arromanche and at Pegasus Bridge.”

Caen to Paris was the longest stage of the challenge, involving a distance of 149.2 miles and nine hours and 15 minutes in the saddle. 

Officer Cadet Wilkie said:  “The Devon based members of the Royal Navy contingent marvelled at the width of the roads and distinct lack of hills in Northern France.”

The challenged ended with a ceremonial cycle down the famous Champs Elysee to the Palais Invalides where AD Augusta has a facility to treat injured veterans of the French military. 

The group was shown around the facility and met an injured veteran who was being treated.  They were then treated to a reception at the British Embassy.

Further information on the challenge can be found online at: www.facebook.com/FRUK2016navalcyclingchallenge

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