Raleigh ride to remember World War One heroes

A team of sailors from HMS Raleigh will be setting off on Friday 7 June for a 520-mile charity cycle ride to mark the 100th anniversary of the disbandment of the Royal Naval Division.

Made up of surplus sailors and Royal Marines, the Royal Naval Division (RND) served with distinction in the trenches of Northern France during the First World War as the 63rd Naval Infantry Division.  The Division was disbanded in April 1919. 

Lieutenant (Lt) Adam Wheldon said:  “To commemorate the disbandment we thought we ride from Plymouth all the way to Mons, in Belgium, catching the main ports that the Division was taken from; Plymouth, Portsmouth, Deal and Chatham.”

The cycle ride will see the group of six riders and four support staff, leave Plymouth Hoe at 8am on Friday for the seven-day trip. 

It’s an exciting endeavour and it’s raising money for some great charities; MIND and the Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity.

Chief Petty Officer Leona Morrison

On the first day the team will head to Taunton and then to Blandford, where many of the RND were trained. 

They will then make their way to Portsmouth, where the next day they will have breakfast with the Fleet Commander, Vice-Admiral Jerry Kyd, on board HMS Victory, before heading off to London. 

Lt Wheldon said:  “After three days of pure riding, completing about 320 miles, we’ll have a rest day and we’ll get ourselves to the RND memorial in Horse Guards. The next day we’ll ride to Dover for the crossing, but we’ll go via Chatham and Deal. 

“Then it’s Dunkirk to Mons all in one day, which is about 120 miles and that’s the ride complete.

“We’re also going to visit Passchendaele, to see the new British Cemetery, there’s quite a few graves of the RND there, and we’ll go to the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing and we’ll stay there for the last post at 6pm.”

This is the second time a team from Raleigh have embarked on a long-distance ride.  Last year a group rode around 1,000 miles across the UK to honour Boy Seaman Jack Cornwell. 

Jack, aged just 16-years, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery onboard HMS Chester at the Battle of Jutland in 1915.

Four of last year’s team will again take to the saddle.  They’ll be joined by some new blood, some of whom, like Petty Officer Keith Nickless, are new to road cycling.  He said:  “It’s been a steep learning curve. 

“My first ride I thought what have I let myself in for here, but I’ve got the legs turning and I’ve done the miles, so I’ve got the confidence and now I’m quite excited.

Individually the team have put in around 150 miles a week training, reaching on average speeds of 14 to 16 miles an hour.  Road bikes can get up to 40 miles per hour down-hill.

Warrant Officer 1 John Sharpe said:  “The training is hard. When we do the ride the adrenaline will kick in and everybody will work together to get us there.

“Getting on the bike every couple of days and doing the same training routes, when you know when the hills are coming etc, that’s the hardest part for me.”

The riders are adamant they would not be able to complete the challenge without their support team of two drivers and a Royal Navy doctor. 

Chief Petty Officer Leona Morrison, one of the support drivers, said: “It’s an exciting endeavour and it’s raising money for some great charities; MIND and the Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity.”

Explaining why the charities have been chosen WO Sharpe said:  “We picked MIND because it’s right out there as far as the public are concerned, especially when it comes to mental health.  It’s also pertinent to us as the Armed Forces.  

“We forget ourselves and when things are going wrong we don’t talk about it.  Charities like MIND cover civilian and military personnel and remind us that it’s ok to talk.”

The Royal Naval Division was formed by Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, and comprised of reservists for whom there were no billets at sea.  By the end of the war the Division had suffered over 47,900 casualties.

Lt Wheldon said:   “They were one of the most successful units in World War 1.  Seven months after they were formed, two thirds of the original personnel had been lost, either killed or injured.

“They stuck true to what they were, which was matelots and Royal Marines, and for me that’s why I’m doing the ride, to remember who we are all the way back to World War 1.”