Two injured war veterans were among a mass a 150-mile cycle ride to a European war memorial this past weekend in line with this year’s centenary of the First World War which raised more than £15,000 for charity.
Former Welsh Guard Steve Hammond and former Gurkha rifleman Anil Gurung joined three other veterans and one serving soldier at the spearhead of a 30-strong group on Royal British Legion Industries’ (RBLI) ‘Centenary Ride’.
Beginning on the charity’s Aylesford village, which offers accommodation and welfare support to the ex-service community, the six service personnel led the group to Belgium’s WW1 commemorative monument The Menin Gate – a memorial dedicated to the 54,896 commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the nearby Ypres Salient.
The whole group took on the trek in aid of RBLI which, through its Aylesford factory Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company (BBMC), employs more than 100 people – 70% of whom are veterans, have a disability or both.
Both Steve and Anil, who live in Aylesford and Maidstone respectively, work in BBMC’s sign-making department which produces commercial and bespoke signs for the public and private sector – including the vast majority of road signs in Kent.
Steve, who was injured in the Falklands War, will ready his saddle on the 36th anniversary of the sinking of his ship during the conflict – the Sir Galahad – which left him with severely crushed knees and in desperate need of an operation.
The 8th of June became one of one of the bloodiest days of the 1982 war for British Forces after an Argentinean bombing raid sunk the large landing vessel, killing 56.
The 61-year-old then found himself deeply depressed and considering suicide before finding help from RBLI who organised his operation, provided him with accommodation on their Aylesford village, and employed him as a team leader at BBMC.
The father of two said: “Despite facing life-changing challenges, injured ex-servicemen and women still have the drive to go on to achieve amazing things.
“I see veterans every day in BBMC and across RBLI pushing themselves to be the very best they can be.
“On a personal note, without the help of RBLI, I don’t know where I would be right now. So to take on a challenge such as this to help raise money for them – particularly on the anniversary of the event which led to me receiving their support – it is a great privilege.”
Steve will ride a specially-adapted bike alongside fellow veteran Anil Gurung who lost his right leg after stepping on an IED just 20 days before the end of his tour of Afghanistan.
Anil, 31, originally from Nepal, has since gone on to secure a silver and gold medal at the Invictus Games, climb to Mount Everest Base Camp and earn an invite to last month’s Royal Wedding after being employed at the social enterprise.
Those who joined Steve and Anil in leading the group, were RBLI’s Chairman Stephen Kingsman DL, Friend of RBLI Brendan Touhey, Ian Durrant – who lives on RBLI’s village, serving Royal Engineer Morgan McDade, and the charity’s Chief Executive Steve Sherry CMG OBE.
Former Brigadier Steve Sherry said: “As RBLI approaches its own centenary next year, we recognise the importance of looking back to some of the phenomenal achievements and profound sacrifices made by the members of our Armed Forces over the past 100 years.
“We are incredibly thankful to have received the support of numerous businesses and organisations – as well as generous members of the public – from across Kent who have made this ride happen.”
“It was incredibly humbling to travel the journey which was made by so many who ultimately lost their lives during the Great War.”
Setting off from the Capel Morris centre on RBLI’s village on Friday at 9 am, the group will arrive at The Menin Gate in time for the renowned Last Post ceremony.
RBLI’s chairman Stephen Kingsman DL laid a wreath on behalf of the charity’s trustees, Steve Sherry one on behalf of the charity’s senior management team while Steve Hammond did so on behalf of the veterans.
To support Steve and Anil, and other veterans and people with disabilities through the services of RBLI, donate to the cause at: www.tinyurl.com/rbli-ride