Airborne Forces Riders
Roundup of the Year 2021
We crept from 2020 into 2021 with varying degrees of optimism and hope for the year ahead, even while we were still in the depths of winter and yet another lock down. The question in my mind was ‘The New Year cant be as bad as the one we have left behind……. Can it?’
Well, as we all know now, it bloody well can !
That said, I’m sure that we all were determined to make the best of it and get on with life as best we could. Looking back, this year was certainly not a complete flop, although it’s fair to say that missing Arnhem for the second year was a bitter disappointment for those who just could not afford the time off for the 10 day quarantine in Netherlands. All was not lost, and we had a very successful ‘Arnhem in England’ tour. More on that later. Sadly, we also started the year with the loss of one of our own – Dave Pollock (9 Para Sqn RE) – who sadly passed away in March. There was a great turn out of Airborne Riders for Dave’s funeral and the family are very grateful for that great show of love and support. Dave was one of our original Airborne Riders from 2014 and attended every Arnhem trip since then. He will be missed.
So what did we do? My main focus of the early part of the year was planning the Falklands Ride of Respect due to take place in August and Arnhem in September, but I found time for some local rides including the Op Banner Ride of Respect in County Durham with Eights and Aces, visiting over 20 graves of lads lost in Northern Ireland who are buried in the County. I have been on some great rides in the north east and if any of you have never rode up here before I can highly recommend it. I can reach Edinburgh in about 2 hours, the Lake District in 90 minutes and the Yorkshire Dales in less than an hour. Perhaps an AFR gathering in the north east might appeal to a few?
Elsewhere, local rides were also taking place and in July, Jack Hawkins (216 & Pathfinders) organised the ‘Cotswolds Capers’ taking advantage of the light traffic, good weather and great roads. Riders who attended tell me that it was a great ride and good fun, so more of it please Jack. July certainly was a busy month in the Hawkins household as Jack and Tracey got married on July 01 and this conveniently led directly into Airborne Forces weekend in Aldershot. Good planning Jack ! It was a lovely wedding and well attended by friends and family and best of all blessed with great weather too. Congratulations to you both.
In July we also got a Patron – Lt Gen Sir John Lorimer. General John was a biker in the very early part of his career and a couple of years ago in Arnhem was overheard to say that he would like to get a bike once he retired. The seed was sown, and Vic Thorn (2 Para) approached General John at the presentation of new Colours in Colchester to see if he would like to be our Patron. He was probably a bit under pressure at this point as clutched in Vic’s sticky mitts was a new leather cut complete with Airborne Forces Riders patch and emblazoned with the name ‘General John’. The cut fitted well and General John graciously agreed to be the first ever Patron of Airborne Forces Riders. General John has now taken up post as the new Governor of the Isle of Man and we wish him all the very best in his new post.
The 2021 Falklands Ride of Respect was fast approaching at this point and without doubt, the planning and organisation required for this year far surpassed the previous two years. On a positive note, lots of people chipped in to help. They know who they are and for that I am eternally grateful. In addition, this year we had decided that the ride had to be self-funding, bearing in mind that the riders themselves had funded the ride in the two years previously. We did all sorts of fund-raising activities including a live auction at The Last Post veterans bar in Stockton. The support we received from all over the UK and further afield was just simply amazing. We thank everyone who supported us in a thousand different ways which enabled the ride to happen and be the success it was. I wont repeat what has already been written about the ride but at this point with all the bills paid, and money still trickling in, we have raised just over £13,000 for the South Atlantic Medal Association and most importantly, raised awareness of the Falklands war and where the graves are around the UK. It is the 40th anniversary of that war next year and we have proved and demonstrated to the families of the fallen that they are not forgotten. I want to record my personal thanks to the team for their outstanding support. Charlie McColgan, Tony McKie and Phill Damant – you are all a bit mad, but I could not have wished for better company on the ride. Thank you all.
No sooner had we got the Ride of Respect out of the way we were looking forward to Arnhem but things were not looking good. I was in constant contact with ‘our man in Arnhem’ – Frans Amerlaan throughout the year – and he was keeping me updated with the latest Covid advice from the Dutch Government. Here in the UK we were downgrading our Covid measures but because of the Delta variant in UK, the Dutch Government put us on their red list of countries ! We had always said that in the first instance we would always respect the decision of the Dutch people and secondly, make a go / no-go decision on Arnhem by the end of August. Sadly, it had to be no go. So we pulled out ‘Plan B’ which had been prepared since last year – ‘Arnhem In England’. One or two Airborne riders based in Europe did attend the Friday Ride of Remembrance in Arnhem and we thank Frans Steenhuis for making this happen. We hope to be there in 2022 of course, and look forward to riding with the Red Beret Riders and other friends in Arnhem once again.
While I was finalising the arrangements for the main Arnhem in England ride, Bob McKeegan-Brown kindly took on the organisation of Phase 1 – the Double Hills ride in Somerset. Double Hills near Paulton is the location of a Horsa glider crash on 17 September 1944 which killed 21 men from 9 Para Sqn RE and two men of the Glider Pilot Regiment. Several riders attended and paid their respects at the graves on Saturday and the service on Sunday, and made good links with Van Dieman MCC who invited the riders to their new clubhouse. Well done to all who attended and thank you Bob for organising.
A few days later, several Riders attended the memorial to the Tenth Battalion at Somerby in Leicestershire and had a really nice ride out followed by a nice Sunday lunch in the pub in the village. We were back there a week later on the main ‘Arnhem in England’ ride. We based ourselves in Woodhall Spa which was the HQ location of 1 Airlanding Bde in 1944 and for two days visited the base locations and take-off airfields of the units who flew to Arnhem in September 1944. For many of us this was the first time that these locations had been visited, and the locations and the history that goes with them really puts the scale and enormity of Op Market Garden into context. For example, almost 600 men of 10 Bn flew to Arnhem on 17 September 1944 but only 38 returned to Somerby. The rest being killed, wounded or captured. Elsewhere, Riders also took part in other commemorations such as in Donington near Spalding where 1st Parachute Squadron RE were based. Only 11 men answered the roll after Arnhem. Another commemoration Riders attended was the Cromwell Lock Service on the river Trent in Nottinghamshire to commemorate the ten men of 131 Parachute Squadron RE (V) who lost their lives in the river during an exercise on 28 September 1975.
The last formal event of the year was soon upon us. The Ride to the Wall. This is another event that has been cancelled for the last two years so everyone was a little excited to be going this year. In conjunction with other military bike groups, we had all agreed to start from one collective point which would be Whittington Barracks in Lichfield. There were several advantages to this such as secure location, the chance of a cup of tea, decent toilets, and no stupid o’clock starts! Airborne Forces Riders were by far the largest group having 59 Riders and 12 pillions registered to start from that point. We had originally planned to just stay in the background and do our own thing, but when I moved my bike forward to form an AFR line the other rider groups panicked and followed! There was a moment of confusion, but it all ended well as everyone just followed the Airborne Forces Riders and we were at the front and mostly together. I asked our Founder and Past President Titch Cornish to lay the wreath on our behalf at the monument, not because I did’nt want to do it, but because as our senior man, it is fitting for Titch to do it. Also, a big ‘Thank You’ to Ziggy Milemuncher AKA Mike Turnpenny for making the wreath centre, not only for the NMA / RTTW but for all the Ride of Respect wreaths too.
Our traditional gathering by the Airborne statue was extremely well attended for our annual photograph and we joined with Invictus MC for a rare joint photo opportunity which was really appreciated by both groups, and we may make a visit to Invictus HQ in 2022 as a result. One point of note was that we all stood in silence and respect while the Rifles made their collective act of Remembrance nearby. There were several comments made later on social media, of how this was appreciated by them as an awesome display of respect to the fallen of the Rifle Brigade by Airborne Forces. My reply was simple. No matter what Arm or Corps or cap badge, our respect for the fallen has no boundaries, and we are all part of the same team.
What of next year? Events will be posted on the Facebook page events section as early as possible so that we can all plan on attending. It would be handy if someone could take on the organisation of one or two of the rides during the year. Mostly they pretty much run on rails but I cant do everything myself so don’t be shy about taking one on and making it yours. We will have our first ‘Summer camp’ at Hathersage in the Peak District in July. The accommodation venue is full but there are plenty of other places to stay nearby so get booked early. It will be a good couple of days. Of course, we are hoping that Arnhem will happen in September – fingers crossed – but for some of us the big event of the year will be the 40th anniversary of the Falklands war. There will be events all over the UK, and the chosen charity of the Army v Navy rugby is the South Atlantic Medal Association. That will be a match to attend if you can.
So…..Thank you all for a great year. Lets look forward to a great 2022 with blue skies, dry roads and safe riding. Keep up the skills over the winter if you can but whatever you do, ride within your limitations, watch out for numpty drivers and be safe.
Airborne Forces Riders