Their story, in their words….
Our goal was to visit the graves of Old Alleynians (OAs), former pupils of our school, who died during the Hundred Days Offensive during the Great War, cycling 500km in 5 days through northern France and Belgium. The trip was inspired by a somewhat difficult to describe connection that Idris and I had to OAs and a passion for history, we felt that the satisfaction we could gain from seeing these graves, going through a physical ordeal ourselves, would give us a greater understanding and bring us closer to their lives and sacrifice. Given that it was the 100th anniversary of the Hundred Days Offensive, we thought we ought to focus our attention to this group of OAs that fell.
The trip and first day begun in Calais after a train and ferry ride at the crack of dawn and was without a doubt the most gruelling of all the days, a combination of a lack of time, experience, extreme heat and rain, and taking a few unpleasant turns down very bumpy ‘cycle’ paths making the journey very tough. With our legs shattered, bodies soaked and morale low, our spirits were lifted greatly by our incredibly hospitable Warmshowers host, who gave us his home and brilliant French cooking for the night.
After the first day Idris and I settled into a rhythm, the next four days of cycling took us through the quaint French and Belgium countryside, with overnight stops in Perrone, Arras, Lille and the final night in Bruges. Our trip went smoothly with us visiting every OA’s grave we intended to, whether he was commentated in a small cemetery off the side of a farm or in a more grandiose memorial. The pain of the extreme heat and weary legs were always cast aside in our routine stops at cemeteries when examining the OA’s memorial. The starkest moment was at the grave of Cecil Harold Sewell VC, standing by his grave and reading of his acts of valour which won him a Victoria Cross in the tranquil French countryside gave us an instant of bliss and understanding of the sacrifices that all of OA’s we visited had made, our sense of school pride had never felted stronger throughout the visiting of the twenty graves we saw.
Overall Idris and I had never felt a greater sense of gratefulness from the trip, firstly towards the Foundation without whom the trip could never have happened. But also, to the OA’s and all have sacrificed their lives in conflict, the feeling of loss never felt more apparent when visiting the cemeteries, Idris and I will always venture to ensure ‘their name liveth for evermore.’ Furthermore our resilience has strengthened tenfold, the feeling of continuing to push up the steepest of hills and to keep ploughing forward despite the obstacles is something that will stay with us forever and will use in all of our endeavours to come.