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Operation Grand Old Duke of York

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Operation Grand Old Duke of York

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RAF Brompton Ride 3

August 21st, 2015

One of the riders who has signed up to our RAFBF Brompton Bicycle Challenge to commemorate 75 years since the Battle of Britain must be a glutton for punishment. Not content with doing Paris-London in four days in September, he has also pledged to complete a suitably grim fundraising challenge beforehand:

To climb a bicycle to the altitude at which the Battle of Britain was fought

Westerham Hill provides the perfect setting for Operation Grand Old Duke of York: located between RAF Biggin Hill and the pub where pilots had their post-dogfight pint, it represents a compelling combination of ale, cycling and military history.

Westerham Hill

Westerham Hill

Back-of-the-napkin calculations suggested he’d need to climb the hill about 40 times, although this has since been updated to 42 (or 16,380ft). The plan is to ride up and down the hill multiple times per session, gradually chipping down the total amount.

Updates after each day’s ride

Updated after each day’s ride

He is quick to note that the challenge, while grim, doesn’t come anywhere near the fighter pilots’ experience. In tribute seems intent on making it as gruelling as possible for himself, opting to hit the saddle at the crack of dawn to simulate the one aspect of the pilots’ experience available to him.

Parts of the blog account of the challenge reads like wartime poetry:

Full moon, deep darkness, the palest glimmer of blue in the east

Instead of thoughts preoccupied with incoming Luftwaffe fighters or whether he would survive the day’s mission, he is able to reflect much more stoically: putting on wet shorts, doing tough climbs and sacrificing the Saturday lie­-in barely register as legitimate complaints:

At first light I was wondering: “Can I climb this hill enough times?”

Geoffrey Wellum, a 92 Squadron Spitfire pilot at Biggin, remembers wondering: “which of us is going to be killed this day?”

The White Hart Inn at 4am

The White Hart Inn at 4am

The RAFBF London-Paris ride will be undertaken on Bromptons. This is a nod to the fact that Bromptons, like Spitfire planes, are both revolutionary pieces of British engineering – the latter of which had an important impact on the Battle of Britain.

The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund provides former RAF personnel with financial assistance to cover living costs, grants to cover unexpected and unaffordable one-off costs, along with various other assistance. As the rider on Operation Grand Old Duke of York correctly notes, this is provided “not just aircrew, but erks, fighter controllers, plotters, radar operators”

His appeals for donations read poetically, too: “If you donate, it’s not for me. It’s for them”


So far he’s climbed 8,190ft of the target 17,000, and he correctly describes this plan as “one of those bright ideas guaranteed to make a difficult situation impossible”

He has three more weeks to raise £1000: we think the sheer audacity of his mission is worth a few quid – donate now!


One Response to “Operation Grand Old Duke of York”

  1. The Grand Old Duke of York Says:

    UPDATE 06SEP15 Yesterday I reached 16,380ft of my 17,000ft target. Nearly there! This week I’m taking a rest by riding Paris-London with Ride25 on the RAF Benevolent Fund ride. Will finish my climbs when (if) I get back!

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