United Kingdom

Normandy veterans, 95 and 96, complete 104-mile charity static bike ride for 76th D-Day anniversary

Two veterans of the Normandy beach landings have completed a 104-mile static bike ride for charity to mark the 76th anniversary of D-Day.

Len Gibbon, 96, began his bike ride on VE Day and finished his journey alongside fellow Normandy veteran Peter Hawkins, 95, today, the 76th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Mr Gibbon has raised £6,000 so far and his 104-mile journey is the same distance as the journey from Portsmouth to Gold Beach that he undertook in 1944.

Len Gibbon, 96, (left) and Peter Hawkins, 95, (right) completed a 104-mile static bike ride for charity to mark the 76th anniversary of D-Day

The two veterans live at Care for Veterans, a care home for physically disabled veterans and their families

Mr Gibbon reportedly said: 'Bring on the dancing girls' when he completed his 104-mile re-enactment of the journey he took from Portsmouth to Normandy in 1944

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 said: "Bring on the dancing girls" and that "his is a large scotch" as he finished.'

Care for Veterans is a charity based in Worth, West Sussex, which provides care and rehabilitation to physically disabled veterans and their familes.

Mr Gibbon, who lives at Care for Veterans, was originally from Elephant and Castle, London, and joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a despatch rider at the age of 20.

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

Mr Hawkins, who also completed the cycle, landed at Gold Beach a few days after Mr Gibbon and was awarded a belated Legion d'Honneur

He married in early June 1944 and was posted to Normandy only four days later.

Mr Gibbon was in Normandy throughout 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.

Speaking before the static ride, 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.'

Royal Navy veteran Michael Barry places a poppy wreath and salutes during a ceremony to mark the 76th anniversary of D-Day in Portsmouth

Remember them: A war memorial pictured today on D-Day's 76th anniversary

Royal Navy veteran Ken Slater salutes a memorial during a D-Day service in Portsmouth today

Mr Hawkins, who also completed the cycle, landed at Gold Beach a few days after Mr Gibbon and was awarded a belated Legion d'Honneur.

In order to complete the cycle physiotherapists at Care for Veterans have been helping him work on his balance and endurance.

Mr Hawkins said: 'Raising money for Care for Veterans means we can continue to help others who need support in later life.

'I’m a keen dancer and am still able to have a dance with the other residents which keeps me young. I love to do the Cha Cha.'

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

The elite bands of brothers who were the first troops into Normandy on D-Day

Operation Overlord saw some 156,000 Allied troops landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

It is thought as many as 4,400 were killed in an operation Winston Churchill described as 'undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place'.

The assault was conducted in two phases: an airborne landing of 24,000 British, American, Canadian and Free French airborne troops shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisions on the coast of France commencing at 6.30am.

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Some 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved. 

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Some 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved.

The landings took place along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

The assault was chaotic with boats arriving at the wrong point and others getting into difficulties in the water.

Destruction in the northern French town of Carentan after the invasion in June 1944

Troops managed only to gain a small foothold on the beach - but they built on their initial breakthrough in the coming days and a harbour was opened at Omaha.

They met strong resistance from the German forces who were stationed at strongpoints along the coastline.

Approximately 10,000 allies were injured or killed, inlcuding 6,603 American, of which 2,499 were fatal.

Between 4,000 and 9,000 German troops were killed - and it proved the pivotal moment of the war, in the allied forces' favour.

The first wave of troops from the US Army takes cover under the fire of Nazi guns in 1944

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