Thursday, July 25, 2024

Grantham super cycler completes epic challenge for Dambusters 80th anniversary

To mark the 80th anniversary of the Dambusters Raid, two members of Grantham’s cycling club, the Witham Wheelers, took part in a huge challenge to raise money for several charities including the RAF’s leading welfare charity, the RAF Benevolent Fund.

Lincolnshire-based Wing Commander Mike Ainsworth and his teammate Lieutenant Colonel Ian Astley rode to the Dams via the crash sites and the graves of the airmen who paid the ultimate sacrifice on the Raid.

The group’s ride to the dams took place after the RAF Benevolent Fund’s Heritage Ride out of Woodhall Spa on 13 May 2023. They crossed over to the Netherlands on the overnight Ferry after the Heritage Ride, then cycled over 600 miles in seven days, visiting the eight crash sites, 47 graves in five cemeteries, and three of the dams. Fittingly, the route visited the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, where the majority of 617 Squadron’s casualties from the raid are buried on the 80th Anniversary of their sacrifice.

The challenge follows on from the cycle fundraiser Mike did in 2021 to mark the 100th birthday of the then last surviving Dambuster Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, where Mike rode over 5,600 miles to raise money for the Fund.

The annual Dambusters Ride pays tribute to the Dambusters, members of the RAF’s 617 Squadron who were assembled to bomb three dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley on the night of 16-17 May 1943 – also known as Operation Chastise. This year marks 80 years since the risky raid, in which the revolutionary bouncing bomb, the brainchild of engineer Barnes Wallis, was dropped at low level on Germany’s industrial heartland in the Ruhr Valley. The mission was a success, but the cost was high; of 133 aircrew who left, 53 were killed and three became prisoners of war.

Mike said: “I take part in the Dambusters Ride every year – throughout my RAF career, I’ve always felt safe in the knowledge that the RAF Benevolent Fund would be there for me if times got tough. I’ve seen first-hand the incredible support they give not only to serving personnel but also to RAF veterans and their families, so it’s important for me to support the charity.”

He added: “This year is particularly poignant as I’m also doing the ride in memory of Johnny Johnson, the last surviving Dambuster, who passed away last December. He was such an inspiration and will be missed dearly.”

The Dambusters Ride consists of two elements: a Virtual Ride on the weekend of 20-21 May and a Heritage Ride that took place in Lincolnshire on Saturday 13 May.

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