TOMORROW (Friday) ten cyclists will embark on a cycle challenge with a difference, pedalling all the way from Mountjoy to the Somme.
The trip will chart approximately 500km over a ten day period, following in the footsteps of those who went from the area to fight in World War I. During that time the team will visit war graves at Thiepval, visit the Ulster Tower, Vimy Ridge and the Menin Gate.
To commemorate and remember this year’s 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the friends – who belong to Mountjoy Allsorts Cycle Club – decided to make the trip under the encouragement of Alistair Greer.
The cyclists have been preparing for their cycle challenge with hill walks, special fitness classes delivered by Harry Smith from HS Fitness and a boot camp in the Gortin Glens organised by Actifit.
Cyclist Mark Sterritt said, “It was always two years time. Then it was two months away; two weeks away and now the time has come. But we have done the preparation for it and I think if we hadn’t, we would be more nervous for it. It isn’t a race so we are going to enjoy it as best we can.”
Another cyclist Alan Byers admitted, “It will be a tough cycle challenge, but when you look back at what those men faced going to war and the conditions they were in, we are really doing very little.”
Not only will the cycle to the Somme be a fitness challenge for the team from Mountjoy, it will also be a poignant reflection, remembering those who died during World War I.
Cyclists Mark Sterritt, Alan Byers and Alistair Greer all will remember family members who died at the Somme.
Alistair will remember his great-uncle, Private John Greer who served with the 9th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Private Greer was killed on July 1 1916 and is buried at Connaught Cemetery, Thiepval.
Mark Sterrit who has previously been to the Somme will visit the war grave of his great-uncle Joseph Deasley, who fought with the 9th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was subsequently killed in action on March 24 1918, when the Germans launched a counter offensive with the objective of taking Amiens. He is buried at the Ham British Cemetery at Muille-Villette at the Somme.
Mark explained, “My great uncle signed up when he was too young and his mother had to sell two geese to buy him back out of the army. But on his birthday he left the house early, signed up and unfortunately never came back.”
Remembering two relatives during the trip will be Alan Byers.
Alan lost his great-great-uncle, Private William Joseph Ewings, who served with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was killed aged 18 on May 16 1915 during the Battle of Festubert in France.
In this battle the Enniskillen regiment suffered its heaviest losses and in total more than 20,000 men died over ten days.
Private Ewings name is listed on the memorial wall at Le Touret Military Cemetery, Richebourg-L’Avoue along with 13,000 others who fell in this area and have no known graves. His name also appears on the memorial plaque in Sixmilecross Presbyterian Church.
The second relative he will remember is the great-uncle of his wife. Joseph Deery enlisted in Dublin and served as a Lance Corporal in the 9th Battalion North Irish Horse Regiment. He was killed at the age of 24 on October 11, 1918 near Ypres and is buried in Dadizeele New British Cemetery, Belgium. Joseph’s name also appears on a memorial plaque in First Castlederg Presbyterian Church.
Looking forward to the trip Mark said, “It will be good to go back this time around and add a bit of family context to the whole thing.”
Meanwhile Alan explained, “I am expecting it to be a very humbling experience. Certainly anybody I have ever heard of who has been out there, says it is a once in a lifetime trip.”
The team will leave Mountjoy Church Hall tomorrow (Friday) at 12 noon. Seeing the team off will be George Black, NI Chairman of the Royal British Legion and Rev Cowan who will say a few words before they leave.
You can follow the team’s cycle to the Somme by visiting their Facebook page ‘The Big Push: Mountjoy to the Somme 2016’.
• The cyclists are raising money for two charities, the Royal British Legion and Helping Hand. To donate visit justgiving.com/fundraising/The-Big-Push-RBL or justgiving.com/fundraising/Mountjoy-Allsorts