If you were involved in the first five Big Battlefield Bike Rides (BBBRs) (2008-2013) you will probably know who I am; but, if you’ve only been involved since 2014, I will certainly have to introduce myself.
My name is Dudley Giles. From 1979 to 2012 I was a military police officer (RMP). I have always enjoyed the sporting aspects of military service and so will have a go at almost anything which is sporting related. In fact, I think I’ve tried most sports the Army had to offer except parachuting.
However, in my youth it was mainly orienteering and rugby and so I came to cycling very late (when my knees and back told me that my running days were over). How I wish I’d been more serious about it earlier. I’m 64 now (there’s a song about that, isn’t there?) and when I started cycling seriously in my 50s I used to try to cycle like I was in my 20s. It didn’t work. Now I’m just happy poodling about and enjoying the scenery.
In 2006-2007 I was in Afghanistan on a 9-month tour and it was when I came back for my first spell of R&R that I discovered this new charity (H4H) and its signature event – the BBBR. I immediately tried to sign up for it but found it was already fully subscribed. Undeterred, I offered my services as a battlefield guide and that’s how the International Guild of Battlefield Guides (IGBG) became part of the BBBR ‘triumvirate’. Help for Heroes ‘owns’ the event, Discover Adventure delivers it on behalf of the charity, and the IGBG provides both input into the route design and – well, if you’ve been on a BBBR, you know what we do during the week.
It was never difficult for me to find professional battlefield guides willing to give their time and expertise for free to support the charity. To be honest, I always had to beat them off with a stick.
I acted as ‘chief guide’ from 2008 to 2013 and rode the event (doing my own fundraising) three times – most memorably in 2010 when I persuaded one of my twin daughters, Emily, to ride with me. And what fun we both had. She also had one of the best lines in the post-event video – “The hardest thing was getting up at 6 in the morning – as a student that’s normally when I go to bed!” – which was delivered, beer in hand, at the pub beside the Menin Gate in Ypres.
In 2011, shortly before retiring, I wanted to set myself one last, physical challenge. But what to do? And then it occurred to me. Sadly, during my 33+ years in RMP, 23 of my colleagues had lost their lives on operations. Some were old friends, some had worked for me, but all were part of the regimental family. So, I conceived the idea of cycling around the UK and visiting their graves (or places of especial significance to their families) to pay my respects. I did it totally unsupported except that, much like the HeroJOGLERelay, I invited people to ride with me for a day or part of a day whenever they could.
I spent a month cycling through all four of the Home Countries (and also went to the Isle of Man) covering nearly 2000 miles. Along the way I met the families and friends of the deceased and I have to say it still remains one of the highlights of my military career. A time for reflection as well as a time to give thanks for just being alive and still able to enjoy it!
In 2012 I set up my own company – Battlefields By Bike – which designs and delivers bike tours with a battlefield theme (I’m not certain where I got the inspiration for that) which I run alongside working for other companies as a freelance battlefield guide.
In 2014 I handed over responsibilities as ‘chief guide’ to Paul Oldfield and took what I thought would be a short sabbatical. Big mistake. I never got back on the roster. 😂😂😂
This year I was intending to reprise my 2011 ‘Redcap Remembrance’ ride but COVID has scuppered that thought. This, then, is my ‘comeback’ year for H4H. I’m going to be cycling from John O’Groats to Downton but – annoyingly – will have to miss the last 5 days because I have a group of Americans coming across for a tour of the WW1 and WW2 battlefields and this starts in Amsterdam on the 15 September. But, hopefully, our route will enable me to visit at least 3 graves of the RMP 6 – Cpl Si Millar in Washington, Tyne and Wear; Cpl Russ Ashton in Coton-in the-Elms, Derbyshire; and Cpl Paul Long in Colchester, Essex. Resurgam.