UK

Rugby For Heroes: New Forest Hikers Visit War Memorial Sites

Walkers from the Rugby For Heroes charity are aiming to raise £15,000 to restart its Transition Through Rugby courses.

A group of 30 Rugby For Heroes walkers have been hiking across Hampshire's New Forest to raise funds for charity.

They covered nearly 30 miles over two days, stopping at various First and Second World War sites along the way.

The Rugby For Heroes charity is keen to see its Transition Through Rugby courses restart post-lockdown, and the walkers were aiming to raise £15,000 in order to make that happen.

TV star Nick Knowles is a patron for the charity and joined the walkers during their journey.

He said: "This wasn't just a wander through the New Forest... we were visiting many of the places that were important in the D-Day landings.

"At the end of it, we end up at Lepe Beach where many of the people embarked for those D-Day landings.

"Many young men not knowing their futures and a large number didn't come back," the DIY SOS presenter added.

The route taken on Day 1 of the challenge saw the walkers visit a former RAF base as well as some important chalk markings.

The New Forest is steeped in military history with many soldiers from New Zealand and India buried at St Nicholas' parish church.

One of the men involved in the hike was former All Blacks international Zinzan Brooke who represented New Zealand from 1987 to 1997.

"I was 21 when I first got into the All Blacks," he said. "Part and parcel of that is giving back and, at every opportunity, I used to go the services and the Army side of things – I always supported them. 

"My contribution for that is a little bit but it is something that makes a difference to someone else," he added.

This was the third time that the charity attempted to get the walk completed – with COVID forcing the previous two attempts to be postponed. 

Other military-linked places on the walkers' trail included an observation post and chalk markings used by Second World War bombers on Ashley Heath, the parish church at Boldre, RAF Beaulieu Airfield, RAF Stoney Cross and Boltons Bench.

The two-day challenge came to an end at Lepe Beach, which was the site of many servicemen's departure for France on D-Day.

Lepe Beach in Brockenhurst, which was a departure location for D-Day soldiers, provided the end point of the hike.

Will Temperley, one of the event sponsors, and Julian Lewis Jones, a charity ambassador, spoke about how it felt to visit the memorable beach.

"It's really humbling to stand there where those people stood all that time ago to lay down a wreath to remember," said Mr Temperley.

"I think it is good to have the likes of Peter Jones (historian) to take you through the story back on the day – how they must have been feeling.

"You see the waves and the worry they must have been thinking.

"It really brings it home to stand there and take two seconds to think about what happened," he added.

Lewis Jones said: "It does put everything into perspective really.

"This morning we went to St Nicholas' Church in Brockenhurst and it's where a lot of the Kiwis are buried because they came here to the hospital.

"Just the ages of the guys, it really does put it into perspective.

"[They're] kids really – 19 or 20 years of age – and so many of them."