Miss Scar­lett

Home-made pizza, what bet­ter way to while away a sum­mer evening?

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

I’ve just taken part in a truly ex­traor­di­nary event. My late hus­band, Julian, was with the Royal Anglian Reg­i­ment for 14 years and re­tained close ties to the army and those he served with. He rode the in­au­gu­ral Help for He­roes Big Bat­tle­field Bike Ride in 2008 and, on its 10th an­niver­sary and the cen­te­nary of the end of the First World War, he was plan­ning to ride it again this year with the same team. When he trag­i­cally and sud­denly died last year, his col­leagues asked me if I would ride in his place and, of course, I agreed. Help for He­roes was one of Julian’s favourite char­i­ties for the work it does with sol­diers wounded both phys­i­cally and men­tally.

Our team, The Three Mus­tardeers, in­cluded the Bi­son, a fam­ily mas­cot. Julian was known as the Bi­son in the shoot­ing field, so he came with us the whole way, strapped to my han­dle­bars. We cy­cled 375 miles over five days through the bat­tle­fields of the western front in north­ern France, stop­ping for bat­tle­field tours to learn more about the brav­ery and sac­ri­fice of those young men. The sta­tis­tics were some­times over­whelm­ing and bru­tal. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of men, mostly be­tween 17 and 24, died in the most hor­ren­dous con­di­tions.

Among the 150 rid­ers were a Scot­tish piper and bu­gler, sev­eral wounded sol­diers – in­clud­ing one who cy­cled with a pros­thetic leg, spe­cially de­signed for his bike – a blind man on a tan­dem, a man with no arms from the el­bows, and sev­eral men suf­fer­ing PTSD.

Day 1: at the Ar­mistice clear­ing with Tom, the piper, pip­ing us all into the clear­ing, where the Ar­mistice was signed at 5am on Novem­ber 11, 1918, to come into ef­fect at 11am that same day.

Day 2 – along the val­ley of the Somme river, a very emo­tional cer­e­mony at Villers Bre­ton­neaux, where our cycling bu­gler sounded the Last Post – in­cred­i­bly mov­ing.

Day 3 – 68 miles. The high­light was the cer­e­mony at Thiep­val and the mon­u­ment to all those who died in the bat­tle of the Somme. We were piped in, wreaths were laid, and the bu­gler sounded the Last Post.

Day 4 – the day of the hills! A long, slow hill up to Vimy Ridge, and then on and up a very steep hill to Notre Dame de Lorette, site of the new Ring of Re­mem­brance. One of the most in­cred­i­ble places I have vis­ited – 570,000 names of young men who died.

We learnt about Jack Ki­pling, the short­sighted son of Rud­yard Ki­pling, who did not get into the army on med­i­cal grounds, but was so des­per­ate to fight that his father pulled strings to get him in, and even­tu­ally suc­ceeded. He joined up at 17 and was killed in ac­tion, his body never found. His father never re­cov­ered from the loss and wrote his short­est poem as a re­sult. “If any ask you why we died, tell them be­cause our fa­thers lied”.

Fi­nal day: From Lille to Mons with a very mov­ing cer­e­mony at St Sym­phorien, the mil­i­tary ceme­tery where the first and last man to die in the Great Wars are laid to rest. Then a huge 150-strong pelo­ton, with a po­lice es­cort into the cen­tre of Mons, where we cel­e­brated the end of an in­cred­i­ble week of sto­ries, ca­ma­raderie and phys­i­cal chal­lenge, very happy to have made it in one piece.

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