On Thursday 30 May 2019 , 9 of HMS Wildfire’s ships company, 4 walk veterans and 5 first timers travelled to Ypres for the annual 100km walk (www.100km.be). Departing in high spirits the uninitiated were particularly positive 100km would be easy, the veterans quieter knowing that ‘smashing’ 100km wouldn’t be ‘a walk in the park’.
Friday, cool and dry, walking over relatively flat roads and footpaths everyone managed their targets of 20 or 30km returning for the evenings ceremonial.
Firstly, Langemark German cemetery, where over 44,000 are laid to rest. AB Jes Harrison laid Wildfire’s wreath adding afterwards “I feel very honoured to lay this wreath. I didn’t expect to feel so emotional it’s so sad seeing all these marker stones”.
Back to Ypres with Surg Lt Cdr Liz Turner laying the wreath at the Ypres war memorial honouring the Belgian war dead.
Onto the Menin Gate for the ‘Last Post’ ceremony sounded daily since the end of WW1 (WW2 occupation excepted) by buglers of the Ypres Fire Brigade. AB Reg Smith commenting “The hairs on the back of my neck always stand up for the Last Post. Reading down the names of the missing can be quite difficult”. The ceremonial completed with a short march back through town and a salute to the dignitaries.
Saturday and Sunday saw temperatures hitting 35 deg C. Tougher days, early starts, harder terrain and distances up to 50km to get the 100 in. Passing many cemeteries often appearing almost from nowhere all immaculately kept. Fatigue and blisters slowed the pace but all back safely, collecting walkers medals with a huge sense of achievement.
Away early Monday, and home via the British and Commonwealth cemetery, Tyne Cot, where over 11900 are laid to rest, over half are ‘unknown’ and thousands more missing recorded on the walls. Leading Hand Nicki Hopkins commented ”Some of the head stone inscriptions from loved ones are very moving. Parents, Siblings and probably the children who arranged them have all gone now, hopefully reunited with their sons, husbands and fathers”.
AB Oli Templeton laid a wreath at Royal Naval Division memorial. The RND, made up of Reservists, fought gallantly as Infantry in Belgium, France and Gallipoli.
A subdued team on the journey home. Tired and mostly suffering from blisters but quietly satisfied. As Midshipman Rob Rowatt remarked “If I’d known 100km would be that difficult I wouldn’t have been so keen to do it!”.
This year nearly 4800 walkers took part walking distances from 15km to 110km, the third highest since the walk began. (The WW1 100th anniversary in 2018 attracted almost 7000 walkers).
The team would like to thank RFCA for their generous grant. The funds were used to support the event in particular purchase of the wreaths, transport and accommodation costs.
RFCA for Greater London
87 Fulham High Street
Tel: 020 7384 4640