Normandy veterans set to complete 104-mile cycle challenge

6 June 2020, 02:54

Second War Two veteran Len Gibbon, 96, stands to watch a Spitfire fly over the Care for Veterans site in Worthing to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day
VE Day 75th Anniversary. Picture: PA

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

Two Second World War veterans are set to complete a 104-mile cycling challenge on Saturday.

Len Gibbon, 96, 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 104 miles is the same distance as his 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 and hopes to complete the challenge on the 76th anniversary of D-Day.

VE Day 75th Anniversary
Second World War veteran Len Gibbon, 96, stands to watch a Spitfire fly over the Care for Veterans site in Worthing on VE Day (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Also set to complete the challenge is fellow Normandy veteran Peter Hawkins, 95.

Mr Hawkins 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”.

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 years old.

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

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.

“I’m a keen dancer and am still able to have a dance with the other residents which keeps me young. I love to do the Cha Cha.”

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.

He recalled: “I was on my way to Hamburg, riding my motorbike along the autobahn by myself.

“Suddenly a Spitfire was flying above me, came right down as if it was going to land on the road, then flew back up and did a loop. The pilot shouted down to me with thumbs up, shouting ‘victory!’

“Then I knew it was over. I stood up on my bike, arms in the air, cheering.”

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

By Press Association

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