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This summer, more than 200 charity fundraisers will go back in time, without the aid of a DeLorean or a Tardis.

Instead, they will cycle around 310 miles of Northern France, from Étretat to Dunkirk, following in the footsteps of the British Expeditionary Force and Operation Dynamo, which saw more than 338,000 troops evacuated from Dunkirk, in May and June 1940.

They will be taking part in our largest annual fundraiser, the Big Battlefield Bike Ride (BBBR). But, while many charities organise fundraising rides, we are the only one that operates on the scale of the BBBR, with multiple stops each day to delve into the military history. And tour guides even offer to help riders with family history and ancestry interests.


John Cotterill, 64, from Nottingham, served as an infantry officer for 37 years, but is now a member of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides and leads a team of four tour guides on the BBBR.

He explained: “People come to us and say I have an ancestor we’d like you to research and, if we can, if he died anywhere near where we’ll be going, we do the research and we build the story of that ancestor into one of the rolling guide stops.

Tour guide talking to cyclists
Tour guide John Cotterill in full flow - (pic courtesy Philip Masters)

“At the nearest stop we’ll say where he lived and where he died and, if they’re a bit off the route during a lunch or overnight stop, we’ll take the individual by car to the relevant battlefield or cemetery so we can tell them the individual story. They often lay a wreath then we get them back on the route to continue cycling.

“In a group of 200 cyclists there’ll only be a few with military ancestors who served along the cycle route for that year. But 14,000 British military died in Dunkirk, so there may be one or two people this year who have family members who fought, were wounded or died somewhere near where we’re going.”


In 2022, Philip Masters, 74, from Farnham, in Surrey, who enjoyed a successful international career as a motorsport photographer, joined the BBBR for the first time, riding the Somme battlefields, and John was able to supplement the knowledge the Masters family already had of their ancestors.

Philip explained: “I was glad I did this ride as my family were very much involved on the Western Front. Three members of my family fought in WWI, and I discovered a lot about my uncle Alexander (b1885), my grandfather’s brother. He was killed in November 1914, and I hadn’t really known about him.

“But he was very interesting. He was a captain in the 34th Sikh Pioneers and John’s research described how he died, in a very brave way. He led a company over 600 yards of open ground in an attack into the enemy trenches. He was last seen shooting four Germans with his revolver, with two Sikh soldiers fighting by his side and was subsequently listed as missing after the attack.

Label on a wreath
Philip's message to his ancestor, with, inset, a picture of Alexander Masters - (pics courtesy Philip Masters)

“Once you know rank and regiment, it all happens. John was able to fill in some details I didn’t have and pull it all together. He has excellent access to military history as he’s doing it all the time.

“One of the interesting things he discovered was my great-uncle Wilfred Ingleson (b1899) – my grandfather’s younger brother – joined the Royal Naval Air Service in 1917. He volunteered as soon as he left school at 18 and ended up flying Sopwith Camels, which were difficult to handle. He crashed and was captured by the Germans and spent a large part of the war in prisoner-of-war camps."

He crashed and was captured by the Germans and spent a large part of the war in prisoner-of-war camps ...

Philip Masters


Philip added: “On the ride, John and Terry, another of the guides, took me to Alexander’s graveyard, at the Guards Cemetery, at Windy Corner, in Cuinchy. I had a wreath to lay, and it was very moving. At the top of the gravestone, it reads ‘believed to be’ Captain A Masters as he was moved to the cemetery after four years of war. Initially, they were buried where they fell.”

John believes interest in his research grow year by year since the BBBR began in 2008.

He said: “It’s been noticeable as time has gone on that participants are becoming more interested in the battlefield history; in 2022, almost 100 per cent of the riders pulled in and listened to what we had to say, and we’re keen to maintain that level.”

Man laying a wreath at CWG cemetery
Philip Masters lays a wreath at the grave of his great-uncle Alexander - (pic courtesy Philip Masters)


This year’s BBBR follows in the footsteps of the British Expeditionary Force and tells the story of Operation Dynamo, when more than 338,000 troops were evacuated from Dunkirk, in May and June 1940. Participants will cycle around 310 miles of Northern France, from Étretat to Dunkirk, between Sunday 11 June and Friday 16 June.

The trip also includes transport and transfers throughout the challenge; ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, coach transfers and ferry home; six nights’ accommodation; meals and refreshments; mechanical support; and an exclusive BBBR cycling jersey and medal.

Our Senior Events Fundraising Manager, Jennifer Bott, added: “As a holiday, it’s multi-layered. You get a professional tour of a historic region, with accommodation, food and drink; you get to meet a group of like-minded individuals; and at the end of it you can look back, proudly, on completing a personal challenge; all while knowing you’re supporting our veterans. Does it come much better than that?”

Places are still available on the ride. The final day for applications is 10 March.