656 SQUADRON, 4 REGIMENT ARMY AIR CORPS WALKING WITH THE WOUNDED TOUR OF BRITAIN
Walking With The Wounded (WWTW) is a charity established in 2010 to raise funds for the re-education and re-training of wounded servicemen and women.
Their key aim is to help these individuals find a career so that they can support themselves and re-build a life in the civilian work place. They don’t focus purely on those leaving the services today but aim to provide a support network to all injured veterans. They run various events with the most high profile being “Harry’s Arctic Heroes”, which saw Prince Harry and a number of injured ex soldiers walk to the North Pole.
Three members of 656 Sqn were lucky enough to join the 6 injured service personnel that made up the WWTW team. After seeing in the media that the most recent event of “Walk Britain” had a leg that passed through Norfolk to Suffolk finishing in Wattisham, looked like a great opportunity that should not be missed. It also provided an opportunity for younger members of the Sqn to find out more about the charity and the background stories of those involved. Sadly due to the exercise commitments 656 Sqn were unable to all join the team but Sgt North, Airtpr Baker-Wilmot and I, were available to join them.
We met up in the small village of Redgrave just outside Diss on the Norfolk/Suffolk border where the chosen start point was unfortunately placed next to a duck processing factory, which not only gave us an incentive to begin quickly but gave our nostrils a good work out before we set off. The team from WWTW arrived and as expected after being 800 miles into their 1000 mile journey around Britain, were understandably tired. They secretly admitted that it would take a mile or two and a quick coffee for them to perk up.
After only a mile we had our first stop off outside a local primary school, where the team were greeted by group of Union flag waving children. Here they stopped off to talk to the children and described how they had all received their injuries; this being one of the points behind the Walk of Britain event, highlighting and educating people that behind each injury there is ones’ own personnel story. This was followed later on by another similar visit to a school but with an even larger group ofcheering children, something usually reserved for a royal or ministerial visit.
As the morning progressed we all found ourselves mixing much more freely with one another, sharing our stories and listening to the motivation behind the teams efforts. We rapidly found topics of conversation that showed the inevitable military connections with all of the walkers, whether it was mutual friends, operational tours, courses attended or even football. For Sgt North and myself our connection came with Kirstie Ennis, a US Marine Corps who was brought up in Phoenix,Arizona, which for many readers is well known after numerous trips to the USA for Exercise CRIMSON EAGLE. Another member of the team Scott Ransley remembers the AH support when he was on Op HERRICK 14, he was blown up with the Royal Marines by an IED losing vision in his right eye. Alec Robotham another injured Royal Marine, who gained his Private Pilot License, kept joking if he could take one of the Apaches for a quick spin before they continued on their next leg. It was these types of the conversation of shared history that they said they appreciated the most, after having 800 miles of conversation mainly based on the walk itself or their injuries, some light hearted chat was more than welcome.
Over half way through the day we arrived in Stowmarket to a large and very welcoming crowd – apparently swelled by rumours spread by the local RBL that a certain member of the Royal family would be attending, here they were welcomed by the mayor before one of the members WWTW team addressed the audience. Sadly after 800 miles of walking he became geographically embarrassed first describing the town as Norwich before correcting himself and calling it Norfolk. After a quick hint from the mayor he rectified his mistake and crowd soon forgave him and found the funny side.
So after the warm greeting from Stowmarket it was the final push onto camp and this was when all those 800 odd miles began to show. You could see the pain and tremendous effort they had put it in to get that far and at around 1700hrs we made our way through the gates and into Wattisham. Much to the team’s surprise we were greeted by a large number of personnel from all three regiments and local families. They all said the welcome was greatly appreciated as it was the biggest welcome they had received at any military base during the whole 10 week event. They left the following morning with the obligatory picture with an AH before setting off to Colchester on their next stage.
When organising the day I thought it would be a good opportunity to find out more about the charity and the walkers themselves. What I didn’t expect was to be so humbled by not only how well they have dealt with their injuries but also by how far they are willing to push themselves to raise money and importantly raise public awareness for the charity. It was reassuring to see how well they were received by the public, throughout the journey they were stopped by people to add donations and give congratulations and words of motivation. With combat operations over in Afghanistan and a large number of individuals needing the support from charities like WWTW, these events are critical to keeping their mission in the public eye and for us it was awe-inspiring to help keep them company for a part of their journey. For more information on future events please visit their website www.walkingwiththewounded.org.uk