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Army Navy match balls tour Gallipoli's fields of honour to raise money for veterans

28 March 2018
The balls being used at this year’s Army-Navy rugby clash will go on a pilgrimage to the Gallipoli battlefields before being kicked at Twickenham on May 5.

Naval officer Lt Cdr Michael ‘Doc’ Cox and three soldiers – WO2 Adam Finch, Capt Hugo Engelbrecht and Sgt Sid Ney – will carry the balls during a day-long trek around the Turkish peninsula, which was soaked with British and Commonwealth blood during the ill-fated campaign of 1915-16.

The Gallipoli Gallop aims to honour the dead of the Dardanelles, raise money for the Royal British Legion and remind today’s generation of the sacrifices sportsmen made in the Great War: 17 Commonwealth International rugby players died in Gallipoli alone and 106 during the entire conflict, including seven of England’s 1914 Grand Slam-winning side.

One hundred and two years after the guns fell silent in Gallipoli, Doc and his comrades from NATO Land Command in Turkey will set off on Sunday April 22 with the sun rising over what was V Beach in 1915.

From there they will continue west and then north around the peninsula, completing their trek at 7th Field Ambulance Cemetery near Suvla Bay.

Recently I spent a weekend cycling the war graves and was truly humbled at the loss of life during the campaign

Lieutenant Commander Michael ‘Doc’ Cox

The four men reckon the 30.5 kilometre (19 mile) trek over the challenging terrain of the peninsula via 14 Commonwealth War Graves sites – including the imposing Helles Memorial, Lancashire Landing Cemetery and the ANZAC monument to Australian and New Zealand troops – will take eight hours and 20 minutes (six hours of walking, ten minutes at each cemetery to lay RBL crosses).

Once the trek is over, Doc will return to the UK to present the balls to match officials in front of the 80,000-strong sell-out crowd at Twickenham; the match balls will also be used in the subsequent clashes between the UK’s combined Armed Forces team and Oxford and Cambridge universities.

“As the centenary of the Great War coming to an end, we tend to forget those that fought out here,” said Doc. “Recently I spent a weekend cycling the war graves and was truly humbled at the loss of life during the campaign.”

He was also inspired by the fate of a player he used to coach when head of the U23 team, Marine Aaron Moon, whose rugby career was cut short by life-changing injuries suffered on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan.

“The RBL provided help and support to him and his family during the initial dark days of his story, after which he has proven to be one of life’s amazing, inspirational and courageous people,” said Doc.

He’s now looking to become the first amputee professional golfer in the UK.

“For me, remembrance is not about one day of the year, it’s everyday.”

Doc and his colleagues have set a £2,000 target and are already a quarter of the way there.

You can support their efforts at: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Team/GallipoliGallop20172018

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