A former Poppy Factory colleague, Jonathan Marks, set out on a challenge of a lifetime – cycling to France to visit his Great Uncle’s war grave marking a century since his death – while raising money for The Poppy Factory.
If you would like to fundraise for The Poppy Factory like Jonathan, why not plan your own challenge, or take part in a big event like the London Marathon? Your efforts will help us support more wounded, injured and sick veterans.
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Jonathan’s Great Uncle Charles, died at Montay near to Le Cateau in northern France on 23rd October 1918. A few weeks previously, Charles had seen action at Albert. It was the third time in the war that the Allies and Germany had fought over the town of Albert. Charles had earned a commission and was awarded a Military Cross for his actions in Albert on 22nd August.
Jonathan said: “In all, I cycled four long days to Charles’ grave at Montay British Cemetery in France. It was a tiny thing to do, but in doing it, I wanted to raise money for those in our modern day who need it.
“Rising to the ranks of officer from soldier was supposedly an honour, but in reality it meant becoming a 2nd Lieutenant, which was a pretty sure way to die. It was the 2nd Lieutenants who went over the top of the trenches first.”
“What I have raised has been divided between Help for Heroes and The Poppy Factory – two organisations who are doing fantastic work to re-build lives of those who have served our country.”
Thursday 18th October 2018 – Day one
Using the sustrans network route 5 from Abingdon to Reading and route 4 towards London, I’ve cycled from Eynsham in Oxfordshire to Twickenham, Greater London. I was delighted to have my friend Mike Haggie joining me for the day and am all ready to start day 2 at The Poppy Factory in Richmond, to collect my Great Uncle’s wreath.
Distance: 85 miles
Friday 19th October – Day two
Day two from Twickenham to Rochester, Kent is done. The Poppy Factory gave me a really good send off with photos and a wreath to put in my pannier. Then to Sutton, Surrey where Charles Marks is named on the war memorial. My good friend Ian joined me and we cycled through the busy streets of South London, but some nice cycle routes for parts of the way. We had beautiful sunshine and picked up national cycle routes 1 and 17 from Dartford to Rochester.
Distance: 60 miles
Saturday 20th October – Day three
Day three has been from Rochester to Calais and I’ve been blessed with a super bright sunny weather. Picking up national route 17 on Pilgrim’s Way to Ashford, lunch by the beach in Hythe and a steep climb up out of Folkestone before hopping the on ferry to Calais.
Distance: 60 miles
Ascent: 3,500 feet
Sunday 21st October – Day four
I left my motel early to a “Bon courage” said by the reception monsieur with my pannier-laden bike. Little did he know I needed it. Today has been a very long cycle through a mostly quiet and beautiful France, from Calais to Albert. I have again been blessed with beautiful blue skies and sunshine. I was glad to reach destination as darkness took hold, feeling very tired.
Distance: 93 miles
Ascent: 5,479 feet
Fluids: 4 litres of water and orange juice
Wrong turns taken: one
Times I started cycling on the left: once
Monday 22nd October – Day five
I have cycled from Albert to Elincourt today. It started with a look around Albert, where I know Charles fought on 22nd August 1918. I visited The Lochnagar Crater which marked the beginning of the battle of the Somme in July 1916. I stopped briefly at many cemeteries during the ride with thousands upon thousands of headstones. In one place, I spotted a row where the men had died on 22nd October 1918 (100 years to the day). I paid my respects.
Distance: 42 miles
Ascent: 2,388 feet
Tuesday 23rd October – Day six
No trumpets, no fanfare, no last post. But just a man who has come from England on his bike, to pay his respects 100 years to the day after Charles Marks died. My Great Uncle – his life cut short.
There was a brief moment of emotion (I hadn’t expected that) and I placed the wreath against the headstone. Then off into town to buy breakfast and explore the area!
I returned at lunchtime and was just about to leave after munching a camembert baguette by the grave when two extraordinary things happened.
The first: Two brothers got out of a car. Their great uncle died on the same day as Charles. Their great uncle is one of many thousands who have no known grave, but they knew he died in this area and wanted to visit anyway.
The second: Another man walked in with his friend. His grandfather had fought in this area on 23rd October, and won a medal for his service that day. The man wanted to honour the fallen comrades of his grandfather. Apparently this was an area of intense battle on 23rd and 24th October – the Battle of the Selle.
And so the journey is done – I’m starting homeward bound.
Distance: 46 miles
“I want to thank so many people for the kind words of encouragement who have followed the journey with me. A seed of an idea became a reality, and I am so glad to have done it. To cycle 380 miles to honour one man, aged 21, fallen amongst many, on the 100th anniversary of his death. We should remember them.”
If you’d like to donate Jonathan, visit his Just Giving Page.
More you might like
- Find out more about our Getting You Back to Work programme.
- Read some of the inspiring stories from veterans we’ve supported.
- Explore The Poppy Factory’s rich history.