Talk, Listen, Remember: Battlefield Belles participate in Big Battlefield Bike Ride
Four years, thirty nations, sixty-five million conscriptions, sixteen million lost soldiers and civilians. The numbers involved in the First World War can feel impossible to fully comprehend yet visiting the former battlefields and vast cemeteries can give some perspective on the enormous scale of the conflict, which saw slaughter, carnage, and destruction on a level never before seen in the history of humanity.
On the 13th of June, Big Bear Bikes Director Jane Beeley set out on an epic cycle ride across Belgium and France as part of the annual Big Battlefield Bike Ride. Together with fellow ‘Battlefield Belles’, Jane Eldridge, Belinda Hughes and Liz Cooper, the group set out to raise money for the charity ‘Help for Heroes’. The peloton embarked from Nieuwpoort in Belgium on a 350-mile journey which provided an opportunity for reflection and remembrance.
Help for Heroes have run the Big Battlefield Bike Ride since 2007 and have helped over 26,000 veterans recover from their injuries and move on with their lives.
All the Battlefield Belles have a personal connection with the forces, not least Jane Beeley, who has several serving family members, and sadly lost her godson to suicide after serving with the Army in Iraq. The trip therefore had deep personal meaning for her.
Cycling is an emotive and challenging sport – capable of inspiring powerful emotions in riders and pushing them to mental and physical limits.
Fortunately for the Belles, the cogs ran smoothly throughout the trip.
“The terrain was manageable, and excellent weather made the ride an absolute joy,” Jane says. “It was warm every day, with temperatures hitting highs of 33°C!”
“The encouragement and support the group received from each other, other riders and all the support crew however, was the thing that really kept us on track. Even the motorists were patient with us – no beeping at all – except in support!”
In addition to raising money, the trip was also a chance to enjoy cycling at its best and make friends along the way. The Battlefield Belles were part of a 144-strong pack of riders making their way from Ostend, Belgium, to Compiegne, Northern France. Old and new friends alike could enjoy time together en route and post-ride, everyone would gather together in the evening for a review of the day and to have dinner.
“The camaraderie within the group was amazing. Everyone was chatty and relaxed. It was so well organised that we never felt overstretched.”
Tracing the route made by British troops along the Western Front, the group made scheduled stops at several First World War cemeteries. The peaceful fields, lined with row upon row of headstones, were an extraordinary sight. Here, they took part in moving memorial services. It was an extraordinarily tactile experience; riders were encouraged to touch the headstones and feel a sense of connection to the dead.
Photographs of those who had lost their lives during the conflict made a particular impression on Jane, bringing home both the scale of the loss, and the tragedy of each individual who gave their life in battle.
“At Ypres,” Jane says, “it was so unbearably sad that I had to walk away at one point.”
“Veterans returning from service are often dealing with psychological as well as physical injuries. It’s so important to talk to them, listen to them, and not forget about them.”
This ride helped to raise almost £500,000 for the charity – an amazing amount that’ll go a long way towards supporting servicemen and their families.
The Battlefield Belles have so far raised over £13,000, and even came away with an award for their efforts: “We won ‘Lovely in Lycra’ – not for modelling sportswear, but for staying happy and smiley all the way through the ride!”