'˜I really believe it can transform people's lives'
Serving your country can mean putting your life on the line.
A total of 456 British lives have been lost in Afghanistan since conflict began in 2001.
Naval brothers Steve and Don Shaw are among a group of people who have decided that something should be done to ensure they are never forgotten.
On Friday they will head off on a 3,000-mile drive across Europe in honour of the fallen.
Commander Steve Shaw, 54, of naval command HQ in Portsmouth, is in charge of the project alongside his brother, Warrant Officer 1 Don Shaw, 57, who is based at HMS Temeraire. Cdr Shaw was spurred on by the death of a family member during the conflict.
‘The idea began in Germany with a couple of soldiers,’ he says.
‘They were both serving in Germany at the time. They wanted to drive across Germany to raise a bit of money for Help for Heroes and they surprised themselves by raising £23,000.
‘We met up and we were talking about this event that they were thinking about running in 2012 and that’s where Rally for Heroes was born.’
Rally for Heroes has been running for four years now and involves teams getting together and driving across Britain and Europe with the aim of raising money for military charities.
But this next event is significant because it is honouring all those who have fallen during the conflict in Afghanistan.
‘The idea is that we drive five miles for every service person who has died since the start of the Afghanistan campaign,’ says Cdr Shaw.
‘We take 60 cars of about 120 people including support vehicles on a 3,000-mile trip throughout Europe.’
The rally, which drives a clockwise route around Europe, takes in many famous locations over nine days.
After leaving Portsmouth they travel to Brussels, Basel and Turin with a stop-over at the site of the old Fiat factory featured in The Italian Job film.
Then it’s on to Monaco, driving the legendary Col De Turini mountain pass. Then it’s Girona, where the TV hit drama Game of Thrones is filmed, and across the Pyrenees before finishing in Le Mans.
A specially-commissioned shell-case, bearing the names of those who have died in the Afghanistan campaign, will travel with the rally.
The groups are split into teams of five and they are given a pre-programmed sat nav to ensure that they don’t get lost.
Each participant has to raise a minimum of £1,500 to take part and the aim is to raise a total of £100,000, which would bring the Rally for Heroes total to a whopping £350,000.
Money raised will go to SSAFA and Rally for Heroes also supports the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes.
‘We want this to be a life-changing experience because it’s challenging,’ Cdr Shaw says.
‘People are driving 500-600 miles a day. It’s broken down into smaller groups so there is a lot of interaction.
‘We offer up an adventure because that’s how we get participants involved. The response has been incredible.
‘Some people have lost relatives, others are ex-military. They are a diverse range of people from across the UK and Europe.
‘SSAFA does amazing work. They deal with people that have had life-changing incidents and it extends through to the family. They help people to help themselves.’
‘A total of 456 people have died in Afghanistan.
‘Thousands of people have been injured and affected and some of them aren’t seen because they don’t bear visible scars.’
And Cdr Shaw said those who have served in the military can relate to the cause.
‘It’s the brothers-in-arms approach. We can identify so much with the experiences that people have been having in conflict. We really want to do something to help.
‘Doing something like this ensures that their sacrifices aren’t forgotten and the money we raise for charity helps people to live better and more fulfilling lives.
‘When somebody dies it’s like dropping pebbles into a pond.
‘You get the immediate impact and then all these ripples go out.’
Cdr Shaw felt the immediate impact of that when a member of his wife’s family was killed in Helmand Province in April, 2012.
Sapper Connor Ray, from 33 Engineer Regiment, was injured in southern Afghanistan while searching for explosives.
‘Due to the advances in medicine they managed to keep him alive and bring him back to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, but he died there. He was injured on the eve of his 21st birthday.’
Cdr Shaw says it made him even more determined to make the Rally for Heroes a success.
‘It became more personal. We always want to give something back, so even the smallest thing can make a huge difference.
‘I really believe it transforms people’s lives.
‘It gives a sense of belonging and a greater sense of meaning and it gives people the ability to contribute.
‘At the end of it, there’s such an amazing buzz.’
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
Don and Steve Shaw have both had long careers in the Royal Navy.
WO1 Shaw, a father-of-four and grandfather-of-six, joined in 1975. Younger brother Cdr Shaw, a father-of-two, joined up five years later.
The pair both served in HMS Antrim together back in 1980.
Cdr Shaw says: ‘My brother has always been a strong influence in my life.
‘It’s been absolutely fantastic. Don and I aren’t just brothers, we are best mates as well. We do lots of things together.
WO1 Shaw adds: ‘Lots of people are jealous of us to be honest. We have that relationship at work and away from work.
‘We have always had each other to rely on. People look at us and say “I wish we could be like that”.’
SSAFA, the armed forces charity, provides lifelong support to anyone who is currently serving or has ever served in the Royal Navy, British Army or Royal Air Force, including reservists and their families.
Each year, its professional staff and network of more than 7,000 volunteers help some 60,000 people, ranging from World War Two veterans to the families of young servicemen and women wounded or killed in Afghanistan.
Support them by making a donation at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/rally16 and wave off the team at the rally launch at 10am on Friday, August 5 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.