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Channel swimmers hope to splash the cash for charity

Gary Hewett, Julian Gallivan, Laurence Kemble and Jacqui O'Reilly will team up to swim the 25 miles across the Channel from Dover to Calais and just a few weeks later Gary and Julian will cycle in the opposite direction from Paris to London!

Gary and Julian are among more than 50 cyclists who have signed up to take part in the Battle of Britain Paris to London Brompton Bike Ride this September.

The Channel swimmersGary Hewett, Jacqui O'Reilly, Julian Gallivan and Laurence Kemble

Hewett, a former Phantom navigator, said: "Having served in the RAF myself, I am acutely aware of the difference the RAF Benevolent Fund makes in the lives of veterans and servicemen and women and their families.

"My friends and I decided the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain was a fitting occasion to take on a challenge like swimming in the open water of the English Channel, something none of us have done before.

"The original idea had been to cycle from Paris to London with a small contingent swimming the channel as part of the journey - as an acknowledgement of the role that the channel played in the Battle of Britain.

"That was logistically impractical, so we are doing it separately three weeks before the cycle ride."

For Gary, 54, and Julian, 50, from Marlow, and Laurence, 43, from Chalgrove, and Jacqui, 57, from Lane End, the swim for the RAF Benevolent Fund, helps them to support the RAF Family to which they are all connected in some way.

There were nearly 3,000 aircrew who fought in the Battle of Britain from more than 70 Squadrons. The cost of the battle was high – 544 lost their lives and a further 814 died before the end of the War. But it seems not everyone in Britain is aware of the battle and the ultimate price paid by so many of 'The Few' – the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots who took on the Luftwaffe in the skies above Britain in 1940.

In the South East, 40 per cent of those asked in a recent survey commissioned by the Fund, said they did not know what the Battle of Britain was, while 7 per cent of Londoners thought it applied to the General Election held last year.

Around half (54 per cent) of those living in the South East did not know who The Few were, and 5 per cent thought they were a group of spies! The survey, carried out by Opinion Matters, questioned 1,000 people of all ages on their knowledge of the Battle of Britain.

The cyclists will tackle the 240-mile course over four days to raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF’s leading welfare charity, as well as commemorating one of the most important battles in British history.

It is hoped 75 riders will take part in the ride, each raising £1,000 to support the work of the Fund in providing emotional, practical and financial support to the entire RAF family. Riders need not have a connection to the RAF or a Brompton bike to take part in the challenge – just an interest in having fun!

Mike Neville, RAF Benevolent Fund director of fundraising, said: "It is rather fitting that an icon of British design such as the Brompton bike should be involved in our commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. It would be incredible if the riders raised £75,000 to help fund the work which the Fund does to help the RAF community."

If you would like to support Gary and his team mates, you can sponsor them at www.virginmoneygiving.com/GaryHewett

There are just a few places left on the ride, to sign up go to, www.ride25.com/rafbf

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