A Remembrance Sunday Special
Helen Skelton is on a special cycle ride across northern France to commemorate 100 years since the Battle of the Somme.
Helen Skelton is on a special cycle ride across northern France to commemorate 100 years since the Battle of the Somme. She finds out about the brave cycling battalions that travelled from many parts of rural Britain, to fight there. Helen also meets fellow riders to hear their personal reasons for taking on the cycling challenge.
Plus a look back through the Countryfile archives to the times Britain's countryside connections to war and the role of nature in remembrance and rehabilitation were explored. John Craven reveals the role of the humble tractor in the development of the tank, Ellie Harrison experiences the tranquillity of the National Memorial Arboretum and Jules Hudson witnesses the impact of the outdoors on one soldier's recovery from war.
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
History of the Army Cycle Corps
The Army Cyclist Corps was formed in 1914, merging a number of pre-existing cyclist battalions, from the Territorial Force. Helen joins Professor Huw Bowen to discover more about their role in WW1 and the Battle of the Somme. She learns of the personal stories from the Corps and the lethal consequence of fighting in the battle. Huw reads memoirs from Private John Lamont from Army Cycle Corp from Dumfriesshire which gives a vivid account of what life was like on the front line.
The real ‘warhorse’
Bicycles weren’t the only form of rural transport to be used in the Great War, hundreds of horses were transported from Britain’s countryside to the muddy battle fields of the Somme. The film ‘Warhorse’ tells the fictional story of the role that horses played in the First World War. Matt Baker discovers the tale of a real horse called “Warrior” that played its own heroic part in the war. He finds out more about the horse the Germans couldn’t kill, with the help of sporting pundit Brough Scott, before taking a ride through the landscapes where this real-life legend lived.
Each rider has a heartfelt reason for putting themselves through the journey of more than 250 miles. Many, like Peter Bryant, have relatives who lost their lives in the Great War. We follow Peter training in his home county of Cambridgeshire and learn of his family’s connection to The Somme. Peter has eight relatives who were affected by the Great War. One in particular, Arthur, will be in Peter’s mind on the ride, as it will be the hundred year anniversary of his death.
From tractor to tank
One of the biggest innovations in the First World War was the tank. With its thick armour plating and ability to cross even the roughest of terrain it was an invention that helped to break the deadlock of trench warfare. But how was the tank developed? John Craven heads to Lincoln to where he discovers that cutting edge farm machinery formed the basis of the new weapon. At the time of the war, tractors were still new to farming but their abilities to cope with ploughed fields made them an ideal starting point for the tanks that would follow them.
Many of the riders had relatives who were at the Somme. Helen chats to them on the Ride, as the desire to pay their respects pushes them cover more than 80 miles a day. But Helen has her own story to tell. Her Great Uncle, John Skelton, was at the Somme when he fought in the Battle of the Ancre Heights with the 4th Heavy Artillery Group. With the help of his Battalion diary, and local Battlefield historian Julian Gannon she relives his experience for the first time. At the outbreak of World War One, the Government called on the charity SSAFA - Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association - to take care of the women and children left on home soil. Today the SSAFA still supports fifty thousand families and soldiers affected by war - and helps to organise events like Ride to the Somme. Helen speaks to Dave Bickel who spent twenty three years in the forces and now suffers with PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Helen learns how the charity has been a lifeline for him and so many others over the last 100 years.
Our countryside can play a crucial role in helping those who’ve suffered life-changing illness or injury in the line of duty, as Jules found out a couple of years ago. In the heart of the Wiltshire countryside is Tedworth House - a recovery centre run by Help for Heroes in partnership with the Ministry of Defence. The residents are working to overcome the twin traumas of their injury or illness and dealing with a military career cut short. Through working with nature in the 30 acres of woodland, the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust teaches them skills to equip them for the future. Jules Hudson hears the inspirational story of Corporal Michael Day who was blown up during a routine patrol in Afghanistan. Thanks to Michael’s experience here he now has a whole new career to look forward to teaching outdoor and woodland skills.
Richard and Boo’s story
Many of the riders on the Ride to the Somme have military backgrounds. For Retired Colonel Richard Winstanley, who served in Afghanistan, and his friend Boo Jackson, the ride has an added challenge - not that it’s stopping them. Countryfile catch up with them a couple weeks before the event to see how training is going in Wiltshire Countryside.
National Memorial Arboretum
On this centenary ride we’re remembering all those who served their country at the Battle of the Somme and other brave soldiers who fought in conflicts and paid the ultimate price. A few years ago Ellie visited a very special place in Staffordshire where nature is helping families come to terms with their loss. Ellie meets a family who planted a tree to honour their son’s memory after he lost his life in Afghanistan.
The importance of Remembrance
Helen continues her journey on the Ride to Somme. As the riders enter their third day, the legs are tired but the determination doesn’t waver. As they journey to their final destination, Thiepval cemetery and the monument to those who lost their lives in the Somme, they gather for an emotional service. But for one rider, the journey isn’t over. Peter Bryant has one last stop, Bernefay Woods cemetery, to pay his respects to his great uncle Arthur who died on this day 100 years ago.
|Executive Producer||William Lyons|
|Series Producer||Joanna Brame|