As I write this I am physically shattered from yesterday! But the physical pain is a small price to pay in support of what is a worthy cause, and what was a wonderful day. Here’s a quick account of the day.
For me the day started at aroud 5am, Richard was going to pick me up fairly early so we could meet up with Rob, Izzy, Alex and Phil and help set things up at the Airport. After I got showered and dressed, I had to sort out some more formal clothes for the evening, after the walk we were all going to be at the Arden Hotel for an auction to raise more money for the Charity, but I had to take a change of clothes with me since we weren’t going to have time to come home. Got all that sorted and SMS’s Rich asking him if he wanted me to make breakfast and so he popped over and had breakfast with me and we left for the airport just after 7am.
When we reached the old Elmdon Terminal at Birmingham Airport, Alex met us there with a Car parking pass that Rob had arranged for us. We all met up and Rich and I carried the stretchers into the terminal, where members of the armed forces had already begun to congregate. Even though it was fairly early and quite chilly everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and looking forward to the day.
When we all got into the lounge area we relaxed a little as we waited for everyone else to arrive, this included other members of the armed forces, police, fire service and officials from the airport. When pretty much everyone had arrived the airport staff ran through the process for getting the various “teams” of plane pullers out onto the runway, where flybe had provided a Plane for us to Pull.
Those individuals pulling the plane had to be escorted in small groups, to have their photos taken and special passes made up, and assigned to a member of airport staff who would stay with them whilst they were on the tarmac pulling the plane. Whilst this might sound overly complex, and it was, the various security procedures had to be observed and adhered to, consequently it did take a while before the Plane Pullers were out there. Richard, myself, Alex and Izzy all stayed in the terminal and took photographs from there. We also put on our cool T-shirts for the day which everyone marching ( who was not in uniform ) wore.
The group pulling the plane were comprised of representatives from each of the various divisions of the armed forces as well as the police and fire service.
We watched and cheered on as the guys and girls pulled the plane – it was an impressive sight. After they had successfully pulled the plane, the airport and armed services laid on a special treat, everyone who had been out on the tarmac was escorted over for a tour of a massive Military C-17.
After the tour of the C-17 the walk began, symbolically, as a stretcher bearing a “patient” was carried off the C-17 by members of each of the divisions represented on the day. As the stretcher was carried out of the airport the rest of us joined in the march behind it, and off we went. Me armed with Camera, snapping away at everything!
At this point its probably important to point out the extent to which we were supported on the day. First and foremost the Airport Police Service, which Rob is an Inspector in and was chiefly responsible for organising the day, ensured that through out the day the marchers had a police escort as well as refreshments during what turned out to be quite a grueling experience for many of us. Along with the Police, West Midlands Travel provided a bus for the day that followed us in case anyone needed a rest or further refreshments, this was a wonderful gesture on their part and was appreciated by all – especially when the electronic sign on the front was changed to say “Pulling Together”, and thats really what the day was about.
The 14 mile walk was an experience I wont forget in a long time. The troops who marched with us were wonderful people, they were animated, funny, but above all inclusive – they made me feel like they really appreciated what we were doing and that they were proud to be marching with us. I had some wonderful conversations with the troops during the March, and we all had a great deal of fun … largely due to the chaos we were causing on the streets of Birmingham.
In wanting to collect as much money as we could from drivers and pedestrians you’d often see us along with the troops running into the middle of the road stopping traffic and asking for donations, and whist this did cause a few traffic jams everyone out there seemed to be supportive. We collected a huge amount I think, and much of that was down to the infectious enthusiasm of the troops who were with us who not only marched 14 miles but probably ran twice that distance in and out of traffic collecting money from drivers who wanted to contribute. It really was a sight to behold.
During the 14 miles we had two breaks the first was Solihull Fire Station and the second was at Billesely File Station. Refreshment were served to everyone on the march by members of the 6th Solihull Scout Group. We also paused for a little while when we reached Touchwood Shopping center in Solihull, a few of us were allowed inside to collect money.
Every mile along the march we paused so a different “team” got to carry the stretcher, which gave us a short respite. I have to confess that I was a wreck by the time we finished, my feet were blistered badly because the trainers I wore had started to leak in the rain and this caused a lot of pain but I stubbornly refused to stop … was intent on reaching the end … plus I wasn’t about to have Richard making fun of me … lol
We started the walk at roughly 10:15am, and we reached Selly Oak Hospital at roughly 3pm. Where we were met by The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, along with Commander Murphy from the Navy and Captain Gibbs from the Army. It was a wonderful feeling crossing that finish line with the Lord Mayor and others applauding our efforts. We proceeded into the Social club at the Hospital where everyone got drinks and the Lord Mayor, Captain Gibbs and Commander Murphy all gave speeches thanking us for our efforts. It was a great way to end the walk and the comments that these men made were all very touching.
Rob also made a speech thanking the troops for their efforts and telling them that people here at home do support them. Which I think was important for them to hear. I’ve already commented on why I supported this event, and Rob touched on a couple of those reasons during his speech. For me Rob was one of the heroes of the day, this event would not have taken place if it had not been for his efforts in organising it. I personally know how stressful it was for him, and how nervous he had been leading up to the event. Yet, he did a wonderful job right to the end. I can’t praise him enough … I know that many others feel the same way.
After the speeches everyone chatted for half an hour before we caught the bus back to the airport. At this point I was struggling to walk, in fact hobbling is too generous a term for the way I was moving – much to everyones amusement! Rob had invited me and Richard out for a meal before we all had to get to the Arden Hotel for the nights Auction and Disco. Richard and I rushed over to his folks place, where we got showered and changed into our slightly more formal outfits for the evening. We then headed over to Rob’s place and we all went for a bite to eat at a very nice restaurant.
After that we paid a quick visit to Rob’s office where we collected all the items for the nights auction and raffle and headed over to the Arden Hotel. The evening went really well, the auction raised more money and everyone had a great time. The live band were entertaining and I think everyone had a lot of fun.
All in all it was an extraordinary day and one that I won’t forget in a hurry. I’d like to thank everyone who took part on the day. I want to say how wonderful it was meeting so many of the troops who marched with us, all of whom were a credit to the uniforms they wear … but most of all they were wonderful human beings.
… finally many thanks to you Rob for your efforts, and for making me feel like my contributions were valued, both before the event and after it.
You can view all the pictures from the day on my flickr account here.