A former Cathedral Dean will be cycling to the Somme to mark the anniversary of the World War One battle and to raise money for military families.
Geoffrey Marshall, a retired Dean of Brecon and a former Rector of Wrexham, is part of a cycling team recreating the WW1 cycling battalions riding through France. Their 200-mile plus journey will start at London’s Imperial War Museum on August 31 and end on September 3 at the Thiepval Memorial to the 72,195 missing British and Allied soldiers who have no known grave.
All the cyclists will be raising money for SSAFA, the UK’s oldest military charity, which played a crucial role in WWI supporting families and soldiers upon their return home. Money raised via Ride-to-the-Somme will go towards helping servicemen and women, veterans and their families in need today following more recent conflicts.
Both Geoffrey and his wife Hazel had grandfathers and great-uncles who fought on the Somme (one of Hazel’s was killed) and two family friends from Milford who died there. Geoffrey has been invited to lead two services on the final day of the ride at Pozieres where members of the Cyclist Corps are buried and at Thiepval. The BBC will televise these later in the year.
Geoffrey says, “One great-uncle in whose footsteps I really will be treading (or cycling) was an army chaplain on the Somme; in old age he baptised me in 1948. Great Uncle Hannath (Marshall) was appointed as a Padre on 10 July 1917 and sent to France. On 3 December 1917 he was gassed near Cambrai. He returned to the UK to recuperate but was passed fit to resume active service, joining the 47th (2nd London) Division as a Senior Chaplain for the 2nd Battle of the Somme (21 August – 3 September 1918).”
A keen cyclist, Geoffrey has previously pedalled from Brecon to Paris and across Ireland to raise money for Shelter and Christian Aid. You can sponsor him by clicking on http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/has-Dean
Today cycling is a wide-ranging leisure and sporting activity but in 1914 times were very different. Throughout the UK there were 15 designated cycling battalions who were absorbed into the Army Cyclist Corps. The bicycle was found to be invaluable for reconnaissance and communications work, being lighter, quieter and much easier to support than horses. Most cyclists stayed in the UK as part of coastal defences but lots, with their bikes, headed to France and the frontline; some never returned.
The photograph shows British cyclists passing through the ruined village of Brie, Somme, France in March 1917. Photo by Lt Ernest Brooks. Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org