The March

Long March 2010

MARCHING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF HEROES

With their rucksacks packed and bootlaces tightened, over 100 Royal Air Force personnel are preparing to commemorate the 65th anniversary of The Long March, the forced movement of Commonwealth Prisoners of War in 1945 Germany.

Arriving in Zagan, Poland, on Monday 25th January, the team of volunteers from RAF Stations Leeming, Marham and Halton spent their first day getting ready; they face a 60 mile march in the company of 5 RAF veterans with firsthand experience of the hardships of the journey from prison camp Stalag Luft III. Keen to listen to their stories were some of the Service’s newest recruits, several Aircraftsmen still in training at RAF Halton. Simon Marshall, 20, hopes to become an RAF Regiment Gunner after his course.

“The history of the RAF is a key part of our training at the moment, and I wanted to know what it was like for the veterans” he said. “You learn more about yourself doing something like this, and it’s made by the mates that you march with – it going to be hard, but worth it when we get to the end. You really feel like you are following in the footsteps of heroes.”

His Halton colleague Simon Tanner, 23, will go on to be an Aircraft Maintenance Mechanic after trade training. “It’s cold here, but for the last month we have been marching 12 miles a day in the woods at Halton, so I think we should be prepared for it. In any case the RAF is all about camaraderie – the humour and the banter is what keeps you going”.

Also taking part in the march will be 18 Combined Cadet Force and Air Training Corps Cadets, bridging the generations from the oldest veteran of 95 to the youngest participant at just 13. Cadet Erene Procopiou, 16, was carefully packing the bear mascot of 1374 (East Barnett) ATC Squadron beside her socks, as she and friend Stephanie Gullon talked about the days ahead. “It’s great to hear the veterans’ perspective and then get to see some of it for ourselves” said Steph.

At 17 fellow Cadet Chelsea Day wants to become a pilot after her A Levels. “I wanted to come on this march to challenge myself, to push myself and prove I can do it. The weather does worry me a bit though - my toes may be freezing!”

The marchers will first hold a memorial service at the Stalag Luft III museum before they complete Day One’s 21 miles to the Barn in Lipna, where they will camp overnight in the same building the Prisoners sheltered in 65 years ago.

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