One Epic Ride for SRACC

One Epic Ride for SRACC

ARNHEM_KMC_GEL_POCKET

On Wednesday 18th September, our friends at the Staffordshire Regimental Association Cycling Club took on their 400 mile challenge fuelled by KMC. It meant much more to SRACC than just a physical challenge as you'll find out.

Lee Davies tells their story... 

So many people to thank and as the dust settles I will over the next few days and weeks thank those people who without their generosity and support this wouldn't have happened. Standing outside the Regimental Museum with the SRACC Arnhem 75 team, who in all honesty, I had doubts whether some of them would complete. but everyone who rolled out just after 07:30 on the 18th September again rolled into the Port at Rotterdam on the 22nd.

With a sense of purpose in our minds, we stood for photographs standing next to our Regimental Mascot, the Regimental Standards for the SRA and the Medals of Major Cain one of the Regiments finest soldiers being held so carefully by his daughter. As I looked at his VC I knew in the spirit of the men of Arnhem we had no chance of backing out of the challenge. It was fantastic support from our own and Regimental Families.

Day 1

A 100-mile ride to RAF Coningsby to spend the night. The ride up to Coningsby gave us only the first time the group had ridden as a full team (98%). We had lunch at 'Grannies' Café at Cotgrave approx. 40 miles which was a welcome recharge for the next stage of the Leg. We pushed on but had a technical issue with one of the Riders saddle posts. The support driver then set of on a mercy mission to find some Carbon gripper paste. We met up with him in Fulbeck for a rest stop and carried out some emergency repairs.We got into Coningsby in good time with an average speed of 16.5mph. We were all booked into the Sgts Mess and prepared for the next day. We were served a lovely meal at the Abbey Lodge, just outside Woodhall Spa. Returned to the Mess for a good and well-deserved night's sleep.

Day 2

Day 2 began with a presentation to the Sgts mess for putting us up for the night. How shocked were we to find that the Mess Manager Jess, was the daughter of a 'Stafford' Dave Bond who served with some of us in the 90's. We moved on to the Battle of Britain memorial flight Tour to see those iconic aircraft. Unfortunately, the Dakota was stuck at Manchester due to engine problems. Instead a photo with the beautiful Lancaster with a presentation to Diane our Tour Guide. It was an absolute privilege to be up close to the historic aircraft. We then moved to Woodhall Spa to lay a wreath at the 1st Airlanding Bde Memorial at Woodhall Spa, the first tears came as I read out an emotional poem that was written by Derek Watts specifically for our ride. The poem was about a soldier's journey from is Home to Arnhem, Steve played the last post and Reveille. It was at that moment we started to realise why we were doing this Commemoration Ride. We thank Patricia Duke-Cox the chairman of the Museum for allowing us to carry out the Commemoration and for providing refreshments.A quick change out of our Arnhem75 ride jersey then the tough ride to Hull with tired legs from the day before. At approx. 18:30 we arrived at the ferry port, onto the ferry to take us to Holland. 71 miles.

Day 3

Day 3 took us from Rotterdam to Arnhem and was, in my opinion the toughest ride just shy of 100 miles with the wind in our faces the whole time. It started of slow with riders adapting to the Dutch infrastructure. Rotterdam is a busy City and we were lucky we had our friend Pete our Dutch Guide to help us navigate out of the City. Catching the River ferry was an experience. We also stopped for a photo opportunity at the Swan Bridge. We stopped at a beautiful riverside Café/Restaurant in Schoonhoven where we treated to homemade soup and sandwiches. We continued our ride on the Dyke road which effectively follows the river all the way to Arnhem. A great relief when we rolled into Oosterbeek and was greeted by a Willy's Jeep at the Airborne Museum by a group of WW2 Reenactors. When talking to them we found that some came from Tamworth. We wished them well and carried on, with the light failing to our accommodation.We arrived just before 8pm greeted by the 'Fast group' with a celebratory bottle of beer. We had made it we were in Arnhem. After a quick clean up we settled down to by a truly magnificent Italian meal prepared by the hosts of our accommodation. At about midnight we settled down for the night.  

Day 4

The Commemoration day and from the start emotions were running high. Due to fatigue and the late start we changed the route to 20miles omitting the Para Drop on Ginkle Heath. It was a shame, but I think the extra rest time was need for the team. We proceeded to our first memorial which was at the CWGC Cemetery at Oosterbeek. I distributed the Poppy Crosses to all the team and the name slips of all the graves of the men of the South Staffords. We then moved into the cemetery to meet a most wonderful lady Wilhelmina Reiken a young girl of 9 when the battle of Arnhem began, now 84 she gave us a personal account of her experience and spoke about her toy dog that comforted her and the grave she has tended for 75 years. She also told us that she now after many years of trying to get possession of the Helmet Trooper Edmond wore during the battle and was placed on the cross of his temporary grave. 

We were privileged to hear such a personal account of the battle and the effect it had on her and the Dutch people. We invited her to attend our small act of remembrance to honour not just the South Staffords men but all that fell in the battle and are buried in the cemetery.

After the Service, each member of the team was given a laminate with the names of South Stafford soldiers that were buried in the cemetery. They then went off on their own to lay the crosses and reflected themselves on the sacrifices that were made. I can say that it was an emotional experience.
With the Cemetery Commemoration complete we then moved on to the Old 'Lonsdale' church. This was the location the South Staffords defended the perimeter and the area surrounding the church where 2 men of the Regiment, for their actions were awarded the Victoria Cross. We carried out 2 Wreath Laying Ceremonies, the first was at the Bench of the 'Lonsdale force'. This is where Francis Clarkson, the daughter of one of the Victoria Cross recipients, Major Robert Cain, spoke to the group about her father again a real privilege to have Francie and her and her family with us.

We then laid a wreath at the Church memorial on behalf of the civilians in our party. This was supposed to be at the People of the Gelderland memorial at the Airborne museum but due to a clash in events we were unable lay the wreath at that location. The wreath was laid by one of the civilians in our party in respect to the Dutch people who were killed in the Battle and the thousands who suffered afterwards.

The final commemoration was a mile or so down the road at the location where the second of the two Victoria Crosses were won. The Jack Baskeyfield tree. As we approached the junction where he gallantly defended his position, we noticed that crowds had gathered on the roadside. When we asked the locals, we were told the 'Race to the Bridge' vintage vehicle convoy was soon to pass through. Undeterred we continued with our memorial service the Last post and silence was impeccably observed even by the growing crowds. We completed the service just in time before the first of hundreds of vehicles from the period came trundling through headed up by some reenactors on of all things Bicycles which was a great surprise. 

During the procession we decided that after the last vehicle had gone through, we would tag on to the back of the convoy and had our own race to the bridge. We all pushed as hard as we could to keep up with them, but unfortunately the group got split. We eventually all regrouped and crossed and re-crossed the bridge.
That then was it, the commemorations were complete. We headed back through Arnhem and Oosterbeek on route to our accommodation. We had a little free time to sort out our selves for the final leg the next day. We all enjoyed a few beers at a local festival a few hundred metres from out where we were staying. Talking to the local residents who were very appreciative of our efforts both now and the soldiers of the 1st Airborne Division back in Sept 1944.

Day 5

The final day, was an early start with us heading back to the port at 08:30 hrs. The mood was a little subdued as we would have loved to stay longer especially for the official ceremony at the CWGC Cemetery. We unfortunately had a 100 mile ride to complete to finish the challenge. We rolled out of Arnhem and retraced our route from a few days before. At the Airborne Museum I pulled the group up and thanked them for their efforts and support it had been a fantastic trip with it going mainly to plan.
With the wind behind us the pace quickened once we were on the Dyke road which would take us all the way back to our rendezvous with our Dutch guide 'Pete'. We stopped for some more hospitality at the restaurant in Schoonhoven. The final stretch to go but before that we presented Pete with a Commemorative Jersey and made him an honorary member of the SRACC. We arrived at the Port in good time and with no incident and that was it. The riding complete. We said farewell to our friends Les and Pete thanking them for all their efforts. All that was left was some celebratory drinks on the ferry and some celebrated into the early hours.

Day 6

The Ship docked early the next morning but due to technical issues disembarkation was delayed. Finally of the ship we met up with the road transport to take us back to Lichfield. An issue with the Bike transport delayed our departure, so the decision was made to send the majority back on the mini- bus and the Bike Van would follow on as soon as it could. Bikes loaded the support vehicles arrived back at Lichfield at around 15:00hrs. All team members and support crew safely back home. Bikes recovered and kit unloaded we all said or good- byes. Mixed feelings as we all were glad to be back to normality but already missing each other's company. 
It truly had been a fantastic adventure. 
Arnhem 75 SRACC Commemoration Ride… Job Done!
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