Normandy veterans complete 104-mile cycling challenge

6 June 2020, 17:54

Peter Hawkins and Len Gibbon
Normandy veterans cycle challenge. Picture: PA

The endeavour was the same distance as Len Gibbon’s historic journey from Portsmouth to Gold Beach, Normandy, in 1944.

Two Second World War veterans have completed a 104-mile charity cycling challenge to mark the 76th anniversary of D-Day.

Len Gibbon started his static bike endeavour on VE Day and has been at it every day with his fellow care home residents cheering him on.

The 96-year-old crossed the “finish line” with fellow Normandy veteran Peter Hawkins, 95, at 11.24pm on Saturday June 6 – the 76th anniversary of the Allied landings.

The 104 miles is the same distance as Mr Gibbon’s historic journey from Portsmouth to Gold Beach, Normandy, in 1944.

Mr Gibbon lives at Care for Veterans, a charity in Worthing, West Sussex, which provides care and rehabilitation to physically disabled ex-service personnel and their families.

He has so far raised more than £6,000 for the charity.

James Bacharew, head of fundraising and marketing at Care for Veterans, said Mr Gibbon and Mr Hawkins were both “elated” to have completed the challenge.

“It has been inspirational to see them at their age get up and get out and cycle every day to reach the distance,” Mr Bacharew said.

“Len said ‘bring on the dancing girls’ and that ‘his is a large scotch’ as he finished.”

Normandy veterans cycle challenge
Len Gibbon celebrates as he finishes the challenge (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Speaking prior to completing the challenge, Mr Gibbon said: “Although I’m 96, I still like to be active and take on new challenges. By cycling the same distance as the journey I took 76 years ago, it feels like a fitting tribute to those who were part of the Normandy landings.

“The Normandy landings were like nothing else. You had to climb down this rope netting which hung down the side of the boat. Then when we got down to a certain point, someone shouted ‘Jump!’ and you had to fall backwards, someone caught you and pushed you on to the smaller landing craft to take you to shore.”

Originally from Elephant and Castle in London, Mr Gibbon joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a despatch rider when he was 20.

In early June 1944, he got married and four days later he was posted to Normandy.

Normandy veterans cycle challenge
Peter Hawkins and Len Gibbon on their static bikes (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mr Hawkins, meanwhile, landed at Gold Beach a few days after Mr Gibbon in 1944 and was awarded a belated Legion d’Honneur for “recognition of military service for the liberation of France”.

At Care for Veterans, physiotherapists have been working with Mr Gibbon on his balance and endurance.

His leg strength and overall fitness have improved with physiotherapy and he can now walk around safely with a mobility frame and supervision.

Taking part in this challenge would not have been possible without the physiotherapy.

He added: “Raising money for Care for Veterans means we can continue to help others who need support in later life.”

Mr Gibbon was in Normandy through to the end of the invasion, then went to the Netherlands via Brussels, and was part of Operation Market Garden in September of 1944.

From there, he was posted in Germany, which is where he was when the war ended.

Mr Gibbon’s JustGiving page can be accessed at www.justgiving.com/campaign/lens-d-day-challenge

By Press Association

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