Malling cyclists on ‘humbling’ ride along Western Front
by Andy Tong | 20th September 2018
A GROUP of four men have commemorated the centenary of the end of World War I by cycling along the entire length of the Western Front.
The 518-mile trip from the Franco-Swiss border to Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast took 10 days.
Three of the keen cyclists, known as the ‘Lycra Lads’, are retired Kent Police officers, and the group is also associated with Aylesford Bulls Rugby Club and West Malling Baptist Church.
They are raising money for the Royal British Legion and the Christian charity ROPE [Relief for Oppressed People Everywhere], which supports projects to help poor communities in 30 countries.
John Gledhill said: “We are a group of ‘mature’ riders who are not in the first flush of youth – the youngest is 59, most of us are over 60.
“We had fun, burned a few calories and commemorated the sacrifices of servicemen and women from all the nations involved in the conflict whilst raising money for two great charities.”
He added: “We have made links with interested groups along our route, like the museum at Loos-en-Gohelle and Ploegsteert, aka ‘Plugstreet’.”
Along the way they visited the grave of Ronnie Poulton, a former England rugby captain who was killed by a sniper while repairing a trench.
They laid a wreath on behalf of Aylesford RFC, accompanied by the Mayor of Warneton and a police officer who joined them for the day’s ride.
They also stopped at a memorial to rugby players on the Chemin des Dames. A total of 105 international rugby players from the Home Nations and France lost their lives in the Great War, along with a large number from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
The French team suffered a number of casualties in the defeat at Chemin des Dames on the Craonne plateau in May 1917, which is regarded as having turned the tide of public opinion against the war in France.
Other destinations included the Flanders burial site of Harry Wells VC, a former Kent Police officer; Compiegne, where the Armistice was signed; and the Thiepval Memorial commemorating those who died at the Battle of the Somme.
The climax to their trip was attending the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate.
Nigel Thomas said: “It was an incredibly tough challenge, even for seasoned cyclists – let alone the Lycra Lads.
“But after all the pain and effort, you visit the trenches and read the plaque: ‘The blood of 10,000 dead French soldiers soaked up by this land.’ Incredibly humbling.”
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PICTURE: TIME TO REFLECT: (L-R) Nigel Thomas, Paul Sadd, John Gledhill and Andy Smith visit the memorial wall at Verdun