battle of britain memorial flight
On the 11th of October 2011, a combined team of 22 cyclists from the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and The Red Arrows Display Team set off to cycle across the UK, at its widest point, in just 4 days. The route began at St. David’s Head in Wales and finished in Lowestoft, Suffolk, covering approximately 100 miles per day. The project originally aimed to raise £50,000 to support both the Royal Air Force Association and Fly2help, a leading UK aviation charity.
After the tragic death of Red Arrows pilot Flt Lt Jon Egging in August, it was decided that anything raised over £50,000 would go to a trust set up in his name by his wife, Emma, who rode in his place.
Money raised for the RAF Association provides support to serving and ex-RAF personnel and their families to ensure that their sacrifice does not end in suffering, poverty or loneliness. Fly2help is an aviation based charity that supports people facing life-limiting and chronic illnesses; families who have suffered some form of tragedy and those who are working to recover a sense of self-worth and need a life-boost by allowing them to experience the fun and love of flying.
The Jon Egging Trust will give disadvantaged young people the opportunity to achieve their potential through gaining access to a variety of inspirational activities and experiencing the thrill of flight.
Fund raising for the event started even before the RAF BBMF’s flying display season had begun. Each rider was tasked with raising at least £500 and further money was raised throughout the season at air shows and other public events nationwide. The public could also donate via the website, and their generosity was astounding.
Day one of the Jon Egging Coast to Coast Challenge bought with it no less than 12 punctures courtesy of an ill-timed hedge trimmer along a Welsh country road, and one stumble over the handle bars because of a steep hill followed by a 90 degree bend at the bottom! The 1st day’s route was physically the most demanding, but arguably the most scenic, with an arduous hill climb through the Brecon Beacons commencing at the 80 mile point after stops at Haverford West and Carmarthen. All 22 cyclists completed the first 104 miles, finishing in Brecon, very tired but with a smile of their face. This was promptly wiped off and replaced with howls of discomfort when they were sat in the ice bath shortly after! It was noted that the physio, Flt Lt Ellen Slungaart, had a smile of satisfaction at this point….
The puncture count on Day Two of the challenge hit the 24-tyre mark plus a second unfortunate “over the handlebars and into the hedge” moment for one of the guest riders. A slightly shorter journey (only 97 miles) meant spirits were high as the team left the hotel early after a hearty helping of breakfast and chamois cream application. Chamois cream is used to prevent chaffing in, well, delicate areas, and the physio made it very clear that she would not be assisting with applications. The ride took us through Leominster, Bromyard and Worcester and finished to a very warm welcome in Stratford Upon Avon, where they were treated to beer and recovery shakes, which it turns out don’t mix well! More cold baths were administered and then the doctor and physio had their work cut out with a plethora of aches, pains and ailments. Riding from dawn till dusk worked up an appetite and a lot of food needed to be taken on board to re fuel the riders for the subsequent days. Around 6 to 8 thousand calories were being burnt by each rider!
On day 3 the team were joined by ten riders from The Blades Aerobatic Team as the ride crossed their home county of Northamptonshire as well as a number of other guest riders, taking the number of cyclists up towards 40. The day’s route included a stop at Southam College in Warwickshire, the former school of Flt Lt Jon Egging where the cyclists met all the pupils and staff and were treated to mountains of tea and cake to keep them going. It then went to Daventry, Northampton and Bedford before rolling into Cambridge. Police outriders’ were brought in for the built up areas of the ride to assure safety of such a big group of riders and their skills in turning red lights to green were much appreciated, allowing us to quickly move through all the built up areas and junctions with no delays at all! Finishing the allocated route in the daylight available would have been impossible without them. It looked as though there would be a crash per day as one of the BBMF team fell in a brave, but ultimately flawed attempt to remove a jacket whilst still on the move at some speed!!
The final day. Some sets of legs were really feeling the strain but good morale at embarking on the final ‘big push’ meant the whole team set off from Cambridge on a high, eager to reach the end! Although the Blades had left, there were still a number of guest riders with us. The route took us to Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds, Diss and Beccles and some fantastic scenery between. There had to be the obligatory crash of course, and this time two of our guest riders collided resulting in a nasty leg injury. This was soon patched up and he was able to continue, however, there was an extra crash to mark the final day! Luke, Jon Egging’s brother had a fall just a mile from the finish line, but thankfully he was not hurt. The closer we got to Lowestoft the more people there were on the streets, stood outside their houses cheering us on to the finish. We stopped a mile from the coast to get the obligatory ‘team by a sign’ photo, finishing as we began and then were lead through Lowestoft with the police bikes holding the traffic, people honking their horns and shouting words of encouragement from their windows. As we reached the entrance to the Orbis Energy Centre, we were presented with a huge crowd of supporters and press with a thunderous round of applause!
With everyone gathering on the wall by the sea front for some team photos, Sqn Ldr Dunc Mason took the opportunity to publicly thank both the riders and the support team for all the hard work which had made the week so successful, and to announce that we had thus far reached a total of £75,000. The entire team were treated to food and refreshments in the Energy Centre, where some final words of thanks were said and general back patting took place. After that, all the kit was sorted and we slowly made our way back to Lincolnshire with most people falling asleep straight away!
Although the ride is over there is still more to be done. We’ve yet to have a Grand Total of all the donations made; they are still coming into us. You can still donate by going to www.400in4.co.uk to support our charities. At the moment we are well past £80,000 but would like to be closer to £100,000 when we stop collecting at Christmas. Anything you can donate is going to very worthy causes!
Our thanks go to our sponsors, particularly Merida Bicycles, BAESystems, Rolls Royce and ICAP and also outside agencies such as the Police Forces across the country and the personnel from RAF Coningsby who supported us throughout.