Sunday, 14 April 2024
Sunday, 14 April 2024

Retired firefighter and army veteran treks WW2 Pyrenees Freedom Trail for charity

A Worcester retired firefighter and firefighting charity fundraiser has recently returned home from an epic trek across the Pyrenees to raise money for the Fire Fighters Charity.

Army veteran Dave Smith Dave (66), from St Johns, is the HWFRS Fire Fighters Charity (FFC) Living Well Coordinator and a retired fire service watch manager, with more than 42 years of fire service charity fundraising under his belt.

In an ambitious bid to raise money for the charity, he has just completed the World War II Pyrenees Freedom Trail challenge, following the difficult and dangerous escape route from Nazi-occupied France into Spain.

Also known as the ‘Chemin de la Liberté’, the trail traces an infamous WW2 escape route taken by Allied servicemen and refugees on the run from the Axis powers. The six-day arduous trek reaches up to 2,500 metres, starting at Saint-Girons in France and completing at Vielha on the Spanish Border.

Dave first set his sights on the trek over 20 years ago and decided that having taken on numerous roles in the FFC, he would sign up for a trip close to his heart and use it to raise funds for the charity.

Linking up with fellow trekkers at Heathrow, they flew out to Toulouse in France and were soon on their way to their first overnight stop at St Girons, staying at the once-infamous Chateau De Beauregard, formerly the SS regional HQ.

Day 1 of the trek took them from St Girons to Aunac across the spectacular countryside, passing some of the remote refuges used to hide those on the run, and all the while ascending.

The going got tougher on Day 2 as they hiked ever higher to their next overnighter at Cabane d’Eychelle, halting to pay their respects at the ‘Col de la Core’, a memorial to wartime comrades or ‘passeurs’ escaping along this route.

Moving onwards and upwards, they carried only overnight gear for the next two nights under canvas. Although well off the beaten track, the news still reached them that Her Majesty the Queen had died – particularly poignant for Dave as she had been the Patron of the Fire Fighters Charity for much of her reign.

Further rugged climbing followed for the next two days, with the spectacular sight of Pyreneean Mountain dogs guarding flocks of sheep to take their mind off the tough going and halting at a memorial to a Halifax bomber that crashed in the war, killing all the crew.

Days 3 and 4 proved tough going over rocky paths and steep gullies, as well as ascending a sheer rock face, finally reaching the Spanish border and what would have been liberty for escaping Servicemen, before descending to journey’s end at Vielha and a welcoming hotel.

The final ‘mission’ before their long flight home was their farewell dinner and comparing notes on their unforgettable experience.

Dave said:

“I’d always dreamed of taking on Chemin de la Liberte and although it was gruelling, I loved every moment of it. It was a great opportunity to raise funds for the Fire Fighters Charity and remember the courageous Allied servicemen and other refugees who made the arduous trip during the War.

“Even though I’ll be putting my trekking boots on the mantlepiece, I’ll still be raising money for the FFC!”

You can find out more about the expedition at Dave’s JustGiving page, where donations are still welcome.

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