Times man charity Paris ride

PUBLISHED: 15:51 18 March 2009 | UPDATED: 10:08 12 August 2010

WHEELER: Reporter Martin Sawden.

WHEELER: Reporter Martin Sawden.

AS the 152nd British soldier dies in Afghanistan, a Sergeant Major from Kent who fought in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq describes

AS the 152nd British soldier dies in Afghanistan, a Sergeant Major from Kent who fought in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq describes why it is crucial for people to support the young men and women who are making sacrifices for their country. Every year the Royal British Legion holds a 280-mile event - Pedal to Paris - from Greenwich Park to the Arc de Triomphe to raise money for veterans. This year Times reporter Martin Sawden (above) will join members from Sidcup Cycle Centre on the ride to help a new generation of injured soldiers and bereaved families who need help.

"IT'S like a knife through the heart to see protestors. There are 21-year-olds coming back with legs and arms blown off from bombs and mines.

"They volunteered for something that not a lot of people their age would do. The conditions they are living in are horrendous.

"The soldier doesn't decide where they go, if people disagree they should moan at the government. To come back home and have to see protestors is a real kick in the teeth, disheartening - big time."

Sergeant Major Shane Crowhurst, from Gillingham, served for 22 years with the Royal Engineers until August 2007.

While serving in the Army he wanted to raise money for colleagues less fortunate than himself and Pedal to Paris was an "easy choice." He has previously done three and this year will be his fourth.

Members of Sidcup Cycle Centre take part in the massive fundraiser every year and during the four-day sponsored ride they will be joined by reporter Martin Sawden.

He added: "Last year was gruelling, etched on my memory until I die. It started raining the day we left and didn't stop until we got to Paris.

"I looked and felt like a drowned rat, the ferry staff at Dover felt so sorry for us they opened up a staff room so we could get warm."

Five years earlier his platoon were making their way from Kuwait to Basra, three months in the desert living on what they carried on their backs. His wife Marie and two young daughters Sian and Emily waited at home in anguish thousands of miles away.

Washing and shaving out of a bowl, cleaning laundry out of the same bowl, no "cook house" (kitchen) or running water, searing temperatures by day and plummeting extremes at night was the norm.

"We passed tanks that had been blown to pieces, creeping our way to Basra things got full on and pretty scary, all the townsfolk knew we were there," he continued. "We were trying to be peace keepers, extend the hand of friendship but inevitably the situation deteriorated."

Mr Crowhurst will be among scores of fundraisers who will take part this year to raise vital funds for the Legion, which provides financial, social and emotional support to over 10 million soldiers and their families.

He added: "The image of the British Legion is of elderly gentlemen, and those who suffered in the world wars still need help.

"But the Legion now has a young generation of men and women that need looking after. Many have lost their limbs and they need our support.

"No organisation is better placed and knows what we are going through more than the Legion.

"They are working extremely hard as the death toll continues to rise in places like Afghanistan. There effort should not be underestimated or taken for granted.

"It can only provide through events like Pedal to Paris and the poppy appeals. Many soldiers come back from a tour of duty and it's not until 10 or 15 years later that the nightmares start. We have to be here for them when that happens."

This year also marks 65 years since D-Day in World War Two, the biggest amphibious assault ever undertaken launched on Normandy, France.

One of the few remaining survivors is Peter Rose, 87, of Durant Road, Hextable.

He was a tank driver sent to reinforce the British invasion who had suffered heavy casualties along with Canadian and American forces as they landed on the beaches on June 6, 1944. He fought at Arnheim and the crossing of the Rhine where Nazi forces dug in.

At 87, and no longer able to get about as he used to, Mr Rose said: "If you want help the Legion are there, even if you are feeling lonely and just need some company.

"The welfare of all, young and old, is very important to them, and you feel part of a family."

l Keep up to date with Martin's progress in the Bromley Times every Thursday. To support the Times' Pedal to Paris launch donations should be made to the Royal British Legion and sent to: Pedal to Paris appeal, Kentish Times Newspapers, Roxby House, Sidcup, Kent, DA15 7EJ.

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