A 62-year-old Falklands War veteran from Bury St Edmonds is to follow in the steps of the British Expeditionary Force, at Dunkirk, in World War II, while raising money for the Armed Forces charity Help for Heroes.
Simon Cairns, who received support from the Charity when he was diagnosed with complex PTSD in 2011, is participating in Help for Heroes’ largest annual fundraiser, the Big Battlefield Bike Ride (BBBR), which, this year, tells the story of Operation Dynamo when more than 338,000 troops were evacuated from Dunkirk, in May and June 1940.
Cairns, who survives on his war pension, served for 10 years in the Royal Engineers and cleared minefields during the Falklands War in 1982. He also saw service in many other parts of the world, including Cyprus, Germany and Denmark.
He will cycle more than 300 miles of Northern France, from Étretat to Dunkirk, between Sunday, 11 June, and Friday, 16 June. And, between now and then, he will be undertaking a variety of fundraising activities, including collections at Tesco Ipswich Copdock Interchange, on 25 February, and at the cycle shop and café Maglia Rosso, in Hawstead, on Saturday, 29 April.
He’s broken every bone in his body ‘except my back and right arm’ and jokes he’s ‘more metal than bone these days’, but he’s determined to complete this summer’s ride, after being forced to retire last year with an injury that, subsequently, necessitated a replacement knee operation.
“I’m determined to get fit. The ride is so therapeutic; it’s inspirational and transformational. The best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve made friends for life on the last ride.
“Being with veterans – and people who aren’t veterans but who are there to support the cause – and just listening to some of the stories on the ride, about people who have overcome their own demons and physical challenges, was the best thing for my emotional and mental state. It’s cathartic.”
And Cairns, who is married with three grown-up children, has personal and poignant reasons to raise funds for the Armed Forces charity.
“We lose too many veterans to suicide in this country because they’re not looked after and that’s not fair. I’ve lost friends for no other reason than people don’t recognise they have PTSD. I’ve been there. I was in a desperately low place before I was diagnosed, and I want to prevent the loss of more life.”
Help for Heroes champions the Armed Forces community and helps them live well after service. The charity helps them, and their families, to recover and get on with their lives. It has already supported more than 27,000 people and won’t stop until every veteran gets the support they deserve.
To support Simon’s fundraising efforts, please visit justgiving.com/Simon-cairns5.