On the 5 March 2016, a group of eight Veterans; David Murray, Frank Parisio, Ted Chitham, Peter Campbell, Darryl Backwell and four Serving Soldiers from 8/9 RAR, James Jenkins, Sharna Appleton, John McFayden and Adam Timins, led by Arthur Willemse, set off from Toowoomba in Queensland on a marathon Cycle ride to Canberra to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of The Battle of Long Tan. The Support drivers were Robert Cross and John Lennon, without them it would have been a hard 14 days. [Click on images for larger versions]
The Group ranged in ages from 23 to 79. The younger serving soldiers proved to be the fittest and fastest, however, the old and bold showed their guile and endurance.
The Vetride Qld trip was over 14 days and the accommodation varied from Pubs, Cabins and a few motels. The ride was mainly self-funded except for the kind donations from RSL Qld, Searles Garden Products, Monza Imports, Carmen’s Kitchen, FE Sports and DVA Van Community Support Qld, some private donations and a number of RAR Regiment and Battalion Associations tipped in some much need $$$.
Each day’s ride was approx 100 kms. The first 5 days were very hot: we were told (by people in the know) to keep the fluids up, so this is what we did at the end of each day. We did have 2 wet days, one was not bad the other was just horrible, lightning, thunder and a lot of rain, the farmers were happy, but not the cyclists.
On the way to Canberra, the Vetride Qld Group had a rest day in Tamworth, where Gordon Sharp (KIA at Long Tan 18 August 1966) is buried. We made contact with Tony Sharp, the brother of Gordon Sharp, and conducted a graveside service at which two other 6 RAR Veterans, Allan Parr (Long Tan) and Ces Bayliss attended. Tony lives in a nursing home so Ces arranged for him to be taken to the Gravesite.
The service consisted of a Poppy laying, the Ode and a prayer, after which Tony was presented with a Royal Australian Regiment Association sash.
A couple of days later Vetride Qld overnighted in Coolah, the resting place of Paul Large (KIA at Long Tan). With the assistance of Craig Auld from the Coolah RSL Sub BranchAfter the Service we visited Coolah’s Vietnam Memorial Avenue of Red Flowering Redgum trees and commemorative plaques to honour those who died at the Long Tan Battle, he organised to transport us all to the Gravesite and also arranged for Paul’s sisters Sandra and Lorraine to attend.
A similar Service was conducted for Paul, and a Royal Australian Regiment Sash was presented to the sisters, which was quite emotional.
After the Service we visited Coolah’s Vietnam Memorial Avenue of Red Flowering Redgum trees and commemorative plaques to honour those who died at the Long Tan Battle.
Our Qld Vetride Group continued on their way the next day and 5 days later joined with 65 riders from the Vetride Vic Group in Yass where we came under their direction. In many ways it was a reunion with mates served with in earlier days. Their support and care was very much appreciated.
From Yass we all rode into Canberra on 19 th March, this group was made up with Veterans (from Canberra) and some Next of Kin. Vetride Vic was very well organised and even had their own Coffee van, sponsored by Beraldo Coffee, a welcome by all the riders, especially on the cold morning starts.
The local people in the towns were in awe with what we were doing and gave us plenty of encouragement, advice and motivation for the next days riding.
On the last day the entire Vetride Group, rode down Anzac Avenue in Canberra, stopping at The Vietnam Memorial for a Commemorative service. After many group photos, the Group rode to Old Parliament House where in the Members Old Dining Room they sat down to a lovely Lunch provided by some of the Vetride Vic sponsors.
It was a great finish to a wonderful bonding adventure trip.
After completing 1300 km in the saddle, some were more saddle sore than others, even after plenty of BBB. Getting to bond with the current serving soldiers from 8/9 RAR and hear of their service life was a highlight.
In summary it was a great commemorative ride and achievement for all the riders and support crew. Excluding the younger riders, not a bad effort for a bunch of Old Farts.
Arthur Willemse (6RAR) – VetRide (Queensland)
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