To commemorate more than 100 years of military history in Western Europe, 10 personnel from IX(B) Squadron cycled 100 kilometres a day for 7 days across France, Belgium and Germany to learn more about the events that shaped the modern day Royal Air Force.
As Saint-Omer in Northern France was the birthplace of IX(B) Squadron in December of 1914, it seemed fitting to start our expedition at the RAF memorial at the entrance to the airfield. The flat terrain of coastal France certainly gave us confidence as we rode to Dunkirk, although the torrential rain soon squashed any hope of a reasonable first day. 50km to Dunkirk and a further 50km onwards brought us to Ypres, Belgium. Ypres is a place steeped in military history, numerous memorials surround the city, The Menin Gate being the most famous and certainly the most impressive. A last post ceremony is carried out every single night here and on the night of our stay, it was impeccably observed by hundreds of visitors.
Every morning started with bike ‘fettling’, day 2 was no different. It’s worth noting that JENGO Dan’s bike, recently pulled out of a canal, was one bike that really needed it. Soon we were on our way again. Day 2 was Ypres to Arras and towards the end of the ride came a horrendous uphill climb to the Canadian National Memorial at Vimy Ridge.
DAY 3 & 4
These 2 days consisted of 200km of relatively smooth riding. Our aim was to climb into the Ardennes on our way back into Belgium. Thick dense forest with reasonably paved roads took us up to Givet, France. The last 20km to the finish were terrible. If you imagine a letter ‘M’ as a cross section of the terrain, I mean that literally.
Day 5 was billed as the big climb day. Nearly 6000ft of climbing. It seemed rough on paper but I can assure you it was worse that it sounded. 50km uphill to Bastogne. Bastogne is surrounded by preserved fox holes and a number of abandoned tanks. A huge American memorial sits on the outskirts of the city.
From our overnight stay, deep in the Belgian Ardennes we headed north to Liege and then crossed the border into Germany. Our overnight stop was Aachen. Aachen was the first German city to be attacked in WW2. The city at the time was poorly defended and after intense grenade battles and heavy aerial bombardment the city fell on 21 October 1944. Surrounding Aachen were hundreds of pill boxes and miles of surviving fortifications.
The last day. I want to take a moment to discuss route planning here, the reason why will become apparent later on. Whilst every attempt was made to ensure the whole route was ridable, it’s very difficult to check 100% of it. We turned off a main road onto a forest cycle path, . The route then indicated an immediate right turn straight up a sandbank. Rich Hartley carried on somehow but the rest of us turned back. Eventually we all arrived our destination, the former Royal Air Force Brüggen, now a private golf course. The guards were really helpful and agreed to escort us on. We rode round to IX(B) Squadron’s former HAS site. Overgrown, but still recognisable. It’s easy to imagine people still working here, although a 700km commute is a bit of a stretch. o ignored
This staff ride could easily have been carried out without the cycling element, but we saw so much more on the road then we ever would have through a van window. The whole route is covered in little villages that owe so much to the people that fought in Western Europe and the roads are surrounded in memorials and broken down tanks that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Thanks to everyone that took part and everyone that made it happen.