Many battle weary cyclists emerged at breakfast this morning. Some hadn’t quite managed to dry out soggy shoes and most were apprehensive with the longest day of the ride ahead of them. Needless to say, there was unanimous relief to find the French sun ‘doing its bit’ to support us as we set off on the road to Amiens.
The beautiful French countryside was looking its very best in its morning glow and with morale at an all-time high; the perils of the previous day were (nearly) forgotten.
“This is what it’s all about!” Cheered four time ride Veteran Steve Craddock as the support car cruised past blaring out the likes of Queen, Coldplay and Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen!
A very cheeky undulation hit the riders just before lunch, which meant many a puffed peddler was grateful for the feast laid out. After a good carb-loading session, riders were treated to brioche and sugar coated croissants, all agreeing it was important to soak up the local culture.
Lunchtime also offered the opportunity to spend some reflective time at the Carnoy British Cemetery. This is very close to where the British and French lines met and the Battlefield Guides were on hand to explain the history of the individuals laid to rest.
After lunch, rolling guide stops were on offer at Gordon’s Cemetery, the Devonshire Cemetery and Lochnagar Mine Crater, but the push was on for everyone to reach Thiepval for the day’s wreath laying ceremony, especially our handcyclists who had set off at 06:00.
On arrival at the memorial, it is clear to see why it leaves such an impression on all who visit. The majestic and awe-inspiring Thiepval memorial contains the names of 72,191 British and South African men who died in the battles of the Somme but have no grave.
With all 294 cyclists gathered together, the Pedalling Padre Father Roger Dawson led an extremely moving wreath laying ceremony paying tribute to those who were never found. John Normille was one of the individuals who laid a wreath, paying tribute to his Great Uncle whose name is inscribed on the memorial.
Fundraiser, Brian Payne then solemnly read the last post over the bowed heads of those congregated, and as the bagpipes declared the ceremony at a close there was not a member of the ride present who wasn’t deeply moved.
With the riders in a subdued and respectful silence, many then took the time to appreciate the entirety of the memorial and read the names of those lost.
One of our H4H Band of Brothers riders said the memorial was an absolutely profound highlight after two difficult days on the road:
“While I wanted to set myself a challenge and prove I could achieve the 350 miles, paying my respects to the fallen soldiers of past wars has been an ambition of mine. To do it as a part of this dedicated, committed group of fundraisers is even better. It’s amazing to see the support from the public.”
En-route into Amiens, riders had the opportunity for a last rolling guide stop of the day at Beaumont-Hamel. This is the largest battalion memorial on the Western Front and the largest area of the Somme battlefield to have been preserved including preserved trench lines. Having been purchased by the local people to commemorate their regiment after the Great War, the park is now run by the Canadian Government so this was a particularly poignant opportunity for our Canadian allies who have accompanied us on this year’s ride.
Everyone pushed on hard to meet the demanding mileage and pay tribute at the memorials. It is a clear indication of everyone’s motivations for taking part. All 294 cyclists are driven by respect and admiration for our Armed Forces, and a desire to give back to those who have suffered life-changing injuries as a result of their service.
This admiration has brought the team close together and while a little saddle sore, everyone’s up for tomorrow’s challenge – 79 miles from Amiens to Etaples.
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