The day dawned sunny and warm. As we gathered for breakfast in the hotel in Amiens, I was struck by the impact that COVID has had on those who were about to engage in this event. The last time that I rode with the Wounded Warriors Canada group, there were 100 of us plus support staff from Magic Places. Then the next year, as we were looking to ride to remember the thousands of Canadians who whose final resting place is in the many Canadian Military Cemeteries in the Netherlands with BBR20 (and subsequently BBR21), the 100 slots for the ride were snatched up in just a few minutes. In fact, a second wave was initiated. This year, the fear of COVID and the potential for the conflict in the Ukraine to spill over, less than 50 riders would start the ride.
The challenge of the Battlefield Bike Ride that lay ahead of us offered different emotional challenges for the riders. For some, like Miranda, this was the first time to Europe and the cultural impact was significant. Or for Dave, a retired insurance executive, who had to borrow a bike to prepare for the ride, learning how to ride in a group offered its own challenges. To several others, like Jay, Mike or Steve, for whom this Battlefield Bike Ride was a continuation of their commitment to the very ethos of Wounded Warriors Canada – To Honour the Fallen, to Help the Living. There may have been fewer starting the ride than in the past, but we were all looking forward to the same thing – the tears, the laughs, the camaraderie and the opportunity to recognise those who had given everything so that we could ride.
After the initial briefing by Matt wit Magic Places and Padre Phil, we headed out in our groups. I decided that I wanted to enjoy the countryside without the concerns of the faster groups, I decided to join Jimmy in the middle group.
Heading out through Amiens, it didn’t take long before we ad our first flat. A bad omen for the ride! By the time we got it fixed, several of the ride markers had been removed and, in our haste to catch up with the group, 4 of us got lost. After a while, I decided that we weren’t where we should have been and consulted with Google Maps to get new directions.
Eventually, we reached our first stop at Namps Au Val. Here, during the German Spring Offensive, several Casualty Clearing Stations were relocated. Cemeteries were frequently located adjacent to these centres. This cemetery contained the remains of 408 Commonwealth soldiers, including 24 Canadians, plus 16 French soldiers. Among those buried here is Lieutenant Gordon Flowerdew VC. More information on him is available Here.
After a brief stop, it was off to the Toronto Cemetery. This cemetery had changed hands several times in the last year of the war, finally being secured by the 3rd Canadian Battalion from Toronto in August 1918. This site was particularly difficult for us to reach up a very muddy farm road off the main route. This site contain the 97 Commonwealth burial sites, 22 of which are unidentified. 70 identified sites are of Canadians.
The support crew from Magic Places served a very welcome lunch at the Toronto Cemetery.
Then, it was off to the Australian Memorial. During the initial battle of the Last 100 Days Offensive at Amiens, the Canadian Corps attacked along side of the Australians for the first time. As a result, a large number of Canadians are buried in the grounds of this memorable monument in Fouilloy. Included in the Canadian graves is that of Lieutenant Jean Brilliant VC. He was among those remembered in my earlier post on Heroism.
With the monument visits complete for the day, it was time to return to AMiens and to the hotel. The route back was spectacular along the Somme River
Back to the hotel in Amiens. Day 1 was supposed to be 80 km with 722 m of climbing, but with the detour following the flat, my Day 1 total was 93.5 km of travel with 871 m of climbing. The extra riding justified a beer at the end of the day.
PS: For those who are wondering why this is coming your way now, I tried to get the ride posts out on the day of the rides, but that just wasn’t possible. Too tired at the end of the rides and so much socializing and getting to know people — and then there was the beer!
Honour the Fallen, Help the Living