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The annual Big Battlefield Bike Ride (BBBR) is our largest fundraiser – and the Charity’s Chief Advocacy Ambassador, Mark Elliott, was among the first to sign up for 2023, continuing his record of attending all previous outings.

Little did he know, when he pressed down on his pedal to start his first revolution of the wheel in the inaugural BBBR in 2008, that, by 2023, he would have covered 3,000 miles and helped raise around £10million in the process.

Cycling has always been a part of our story. Originally it was the Charity’s intention to have just one BBBR to raise £5m for a swimming pool complex at Headley Court.

Then, as those who started the charity – including Mark – began to meet the men and women who had suffered life-changing injuries, they realised there was so much more to do, and, 15 years later, they’re still ‘at it’.

Mark, 61, a former Grenadier Guard, recalled: “We came back from the first bike ride, got to Horse Guards Parade, everybody had had an amazing time, and we’d raised £6.2m! We thought on the Monday morning we’d close up the ‘Tin Hut’ (the Charity’s de facto HQ) and get on with our boring lives.

“But we couldn’t, because money was pouring in; then Twickenham called and told us they wanted to put on a rugby match for us. We went up to meet with them, turned up and there was the England team, Sky cameras, everybody ... and we realised we’d better do something on a solid footing.

“I suppose by summer ‘08 we thought ‘that was tremendous fun, let’s do it again’. We did one in 2009 and then every year since, save for the pandemic years.”

Mark Elliott on a bike
Mark Elliott - Help for Heroes

It’s an important event - it raises a huge amount of money, which enables us to support veterans and their families ...

Mark Elliott

Chief Advocacy Ambassador

Are you inspired to take on the BBBR challenge? Secure your place and sign up today.

Register now for BBBR

Combining wartime military history with camaraderie, June’s BBBR saw 141 riders follow the battlefields along the Somme, starting at Nieuwpoort, Belgium, and finishing, five days later, at the Glade of the Armistice, in Compiègne. It covered more than 300 miles and will have raised more than £500,000.

Among those taking part in this year’s event were an all-female team, the Battlefield Belles; veteran father-and-son duo Michael and Johnathon Bulleyment – who rode a recumbent bike; and veteran Jamie Weller who cycled on a tandem, with pilot rider Simon Snell, as he is registered blind – his guide dog, Freddie, became an unofficial mascot during the week.

Mark added: “I would never have described myself as a keen cyclist before the first ride; I didn’t own a bike. I hadn’t been on a bike since I was about 10. I ran a bit, and, having been in the military for 25 years, I was reasonably fit for an old fella.

“But I wasn’t even a bit of a cyclist. I went on the first BBBR on an old bike and a pair of trainers. I bought myself a pair of Lycra shorts and thought ‘well, you just pedal!’” he laughed.

Next year’s iconic BBBR Dunkirk challenge follows in the footsteps of the British Expeditionary Force and tells the story of Operation Dynamo, when nearly 340,000 troops were evacuated from the Belgian port, in 1940.

It will involve cycling around 70 miles a day over five days, through the countryside of northern France and includes transport, accommodation, meals, mechanical support, a BBBR cycling jersey, and unique history tours and ceremonial memorial events led by our team of historians.

A group shot of participants
The Big Battlefield Bike Ride offers a unique camaraderie - Pic: Mo El-Fatih

Mark has ridden in all the BBBRs, except for 2009 and 2010, when he attended in an ‘official’ capacity: “Well, somebody had to do some work!” he quipped.

“I keep going back year after year because of the camaraderie, the great laughs, the fun … but not the cycling,” he laughed.

“You can go out and ride a bike wherever and whenever you want, but to visit amazing places to visit the fallen, to ride with, not only the wounded, sick and injured, but such a diverse range of people, from all walks of life, is a unique opportunity.

“And we all become great friends and part of the family. If you’re going to raise money, wouldn’t it be terrific if you could have great fun, challenge yourself, ride with amazing people and have a laugh in a great social atmosphere. That’s what we have. What’s not to like?

“You just have to get on a bike and pedal. If you find a hill that’s a bit much, get off and walk. Nobody judges you; no-one’s left behind. It’s not the Tour de France. There are very nice hotels, lunches, beer – lots of beer – a bike and amazing people. I can do that.”

Riding a penny-farthing up the hill
All are welcome to participate ... - Pic: Mo El-Fatih

And he does, annually. But, despite the laughs – and the beer – he never loses sight of why somebody has to do it.

He added: “It’s an important event, too, because it raises a huge amount of money, which enables us to support veterans and their families. It also gives us an opportunity to speak directly to 2-300 people and tell them how we support and help veterans and why it’s so important.

“Everybody who’s ridden on a BBBR effectively become our ambassadors because they’re immersed in our ethos for the duration. They get it; they understand it. And, afterwards, they’re out there in the general public telling people what we do. They’ve ridden with heroes and it’s inspiring.”

But, Mark insists, even after 15 years, he’s no nearer becoming a ‘cyclist’.

He smiled: “I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s turned me into a cyclist; I’ve got a bike and some kit ... I’m just an old man on a bike.”

Are you inspired to take on the BBBR challenge? Secure your place and sign up today.

Register now for BBBR