D-Day heroes complete 104-mile cycle challenge to mark journey from Portsmouth to Normandy

TWO Second World War veterans have completed a 104-mile charity cycling challenge to mark the 76th anniversary of they left Portsmouth on D-Day.

Saturday, 6th June 2020, 3:18 pm
Updated Monday, 8th June 2020, 3:33 pm

Len Gibbon started his static bike endeavour on VE Day and has been at it every day with his fellow care home residents cheering him on.

The 96-year-old crossed the "finish line" with fellow Normandy veteran Peter Hawkins, 95, at 11.24pm on Saturday June 6 – the 76th anniversary of the Allied landings.

The 104 miles is the same distance as Mr Gibbon's historic journey from Portsmouth to Gold Beach, Normandy, in 1944.

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Len Gibbon, who completed a 104-mile static cycling challenge to mark the 76th anniversary of the Normandy landings. He set off from Portsmouth during the Normandy invasion. Photo: Care for Veterans/PA Wire

Mr Gibbon lives at Care for Veterans, a charity in Worthing, West Sussex, which provides care and rehabilitation to physically disabled ex-service personnel and their families.

He has so far raised more than £6,000 for the charity.

James Bacharew, head of fundraising and marketing at Care for Veterans, said Mr Gibbon and Mr Hawkins were both ‘elated’ to have completed the challenge.

‘It has been inspirational to see them at their age get up and get out and cycle every day to reach the distance,’ Mr Bacharew said.

Len Gibbon (right), who completed a 104-mile static cycling challenge to mark the 76th anniversary of the Normandy landings. Photo: Care for Veterans/PA Wire

‘Len said 'bring on the dancing girls' and that 'his is a large scotch' as he finished.’

Speaking prior to completing the challenge, Mr Gibbon said: ‘Although I'm 96, I still like to be active and take on new challenges. By cycling the same distance as the journey I took 76 years ago, it feels like a fitting tribute to those who were part of the Normandy landings.

‘The Normandy landings were like nothing else. You had to climb down this rope netting which hung down the side of the boat. Then when we got down to a certain point, someone shouted “Jump!” and you had to fall backwards, someone caught you and pushed you on to the smaller landing craft to take you to shore.’

Mr Gibbon joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a despatch rider when he was 20.

Normandy Veterans Peter Hawkins and Len Gibbon after they finished their 104-mile cycling challenge, to commemorate anniversary of the Normandy landing. Photo:: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

In early June 1944, he got married and four days later he was posted to Normandy.

Mr Hawkins, meanwhile, landed at Gold Beach a few days after Mr Gibbon in 1944 and was awarded a belated Legion d'Honneur for ‘recognition of military service for the liberation of France’.

At Care for Veterans, physiotherapists have been working with Mr Gibbon on his balance and endurance.

His leg strength and overall fitness have improved with physiotherapy and he can now walk around safely with a mobility frame and supervision.

Normandy Veterans Peter Hawkins and Len Gibbon after they finished their 104-mile cycling challenge, to commemorate anniversary of the Normandy landing. Photo:: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Taking part in this challenge would not have been possible without the physiotherapy.

He added: ‘Raising money for Care for Veterans means we can continue to help others who need support in later life.’

Mr Gibbon was in Normandy through to the end of the invasion, then went to the Netherlands via Brussels, and was part of Operation Market Garden in September of 1944.

From there, he was posted in Germany, which is where he was when the war ended.

Mr Gibbon's JustGiving page can be accessed at www.justgiving.com/campaign/lens-d-day-challenge

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