Lighting a candle. Light was already shining through the stained glass at St Martin’s Cathedral in Ypres. Two hundred people cycling the H4H Big Battlefield Bike Ride knew this simple act – lighting a candle – was both a moment to reflect the sacrifices of those who died in WW1 and those who have made sacrifices serving since then.
A sudden, quiet understanding of the road ahead was apparent after the initial excitement before the ride. Hundreds of thousands of fathers, brothers and sons died on the route. Think about that again: hundreds of thousands.
The H4H Band of Brothers – men and women whose lives have been significantly affected by Service – were riding with supporters, sharing the experience and their experiences. The night before setting off, the cyclists congregated at the Menin Gate. Since 1928 an Act of Remembrance has been held there every night. Three wreathes were laid in memory of the 54,896 individual lives recorded at the Menin Gate, and a special tribute was paid to those who have also been affected by recent conflicts.
Having left Ypres, the cyclists were lulled into a false sense of security for what the rest of the ride has to offer. Flat and smooth roads, as well as hot and dry weather. Seeing the Battlefield Memorials representing, among others, Indian, Portuguese and British Servicemen, you could see how the landscape created a literal hell on earth: no defensive or attacking positions. The only way forward was to dig in, creating trench warfare.
The change in the landscape – the Vimy Ridge – was a fiercely challenging uphill ride under the mid-afternoon sun. At the top: a landscape scarred from war, a memorial to Canadians Servicemen. and two hundred cyclists who were showing their support for our brave men and women. They were just beginning to understand the amazing achievements our wounded, injured and sick make today.
Photo credit Mark Dawson | Help for Heroes