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LB Gets Behind The Afghan Heroes Daytona Raffle

By: Toby Stokes | Published 18 March 2011, 15:32 | Views: 3,137 | tags: afghan heroes, afghanistan, charity, service, men, women, troops, triumph, daytona, stitch, 675, signatures, cottesmore, denise harris, lee scott
I’m going to tell you a story. It’s not an easy story to tell, because a good man died, in truth 8 of them died amongst many hundreds, but if ever there was a good thing that came of that sad loss of eight young lives, then this story is it.
British Troops have been in Afghanistan for a long time now, and opinions vary as to whether they should be there, how long they should stay and even why they are there at all. But for now they are there, and were there in July 2009 when some of the fighting was at its toughest and most costly.

On just one of those scorched, hot, uncomfortable days, an ugly and unpleasant record was achieved. 8 British troops were killed in action in one 24 hour period. Their colleagues, who would have tried to help them, had to swallow a very hard defeat and this loss was felt at home by friends and family here in the UK. But their untimely deaths put in motion what I can only describe as one of the most appropriate and driven “people-powered” initiatives that I have seen. Its core message is something I think many bikers will relate to.

Amongst the grieving mothers was a lady called Denise Harris.

I met her last week. Her son, Corporal Lee Scott of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, was one of the soldiers killed that day by an IED. Denise is a remarkable woman who, although she doesn’t show it to strangers like me, has clearly been affected by this tragedy. But she hasn’t let it defeat her, something she thinks her son would be very proud of.

Her partner Andy Harris put the experience into words the only way he could.

"It’s been the worst 18 months of our lives. You just can’t describe that kind of a loss to someone who hasn’t been through it themselves."

This loss left a space in Denise’s life that needed to be filled and like her son, who had been a popular and respected leader in his regiment, Denise and 6 of the other mother’s also suffered that day, started the charity

The drive of these 7 women, their families and their devotion to making sure their children’s lives weren’t lost in vain, has had an incredible impact on people who have seen what they are doing, myself included.

Part of the reason Afghan Heroes has such an impact is the clarity of purpose behind its mission. It’s aim is to remind the troops still in Afghanistan that despite the incredible price they might have to pay, the people back home, friends, family and the wider public who they are fighting for, have not forgotten about them.

Being a caring mob, bikers have taken to this philosophy with a passion.

"You hear bikers are great people, we’re not bikers ourselves but bikers always do a lot for charity, but you don’t hear an awful lot about it and I thought yeah why not, let’s prove out there that bikers are really lovely people," Denise explained. "We heard of a young girl who’d posted a message on Facebook saying she’d liked to ride through Wootton Bassett to show her respect for the troops. She was only 18 and was a bit overwhelmed by the massive support that idea got. Me and another mother, Julia Stephenson thought it would be a good idea to help them achieve that. The result was the Mother’s Day Ride of Respect last year attended by more than 15,000 bikes and 22,000 people."

As members of will know, there’s always someone trying to help raise cash for the London Air Ambulance further proving Denise’s point, but it was her association with Phil Spencer based at RAF Cottesmore that really cemented a biking link to this charity.

The Harrier Jump Jets Squadron based at RAF Cottesmore served in Afghanistan supporting troops like Lee Scott, so the boys on the ground out there have a special place in Phil’s heart. A dedicated biker, last year Phil and a few friends decided to do their bit for Afghan Heroes. With the generous help of Triumph Motorcycles who loaned them some top spec machines, they rode a bum-numbing 3500 miles tour around the edge of Britain. Chris Percy of Direct CCTV paid their no-doubt enormous fuel bill and Nissan UK provided support vehicles for the tour. Their sterling efforts raised an impressive £15,000 in the process.

Now many would say, job done, and go about their business on a new project, but Afghan Heroes message was still driving Phil.

August last year, Phil persuaded Triumph to give him a brand new Triumph 675 at cost. He gave it an impressive paint job to help promote Afghan Heroes and he took this gorgeous machine to Brands Hatch. He then persuaded 22 top racers to sign the tank with the view to raising money for charity. LB showed several photos of the stand and bikes as part of the Brands Hatch GP gallery. The idea was to raffle the bike at the end of this year to raise as much money as they could, but disaster struck.

"We took the bike to Brands in August, but when it went into storage someone, we don’t know who, cleaned all the signatures off! But we didn’t give up. Andy and Denise had the bike at the NEC last year and they got the riders to resign it again, and this time they got even more signatures. The original bike with the first set of signatures was valued at £40,000. With the signatures we’ve got now we reckon it’s more than that. Then to reach the biggest audience possible we thought a raffle would really get people’s interest going. It’s all for a good cause in the end."

The draw for this unique piece of gorgeous motorbiking loveliness is due to take place on the final day of this year’s Carol Nash Bike show at the NEC, this December. With the exhaustive tour of biking events and other fund raisers Denise and Andy have given themselves there are plenty of opportunity for you to get yourself a ticket for and do your bit to support the troops.

In a time of recession, uncertainty about work and perhaps with absent friends fighting in Afghanistan the charity’s message has provided strength and purpose to many. Self described “ex-arsehole” Stitch described to me the moment he realised he needed to get involved.

"I was riding around in the cab of my truck, and hearing on the radio “Another soldier’s died.” “More soldiers have died”, I just thought look this is enough: I’ve got to get involved."

After chatting with his wife, Stitch stopped thinking about taking action and got involved.

"I just thought, “I can’t stand it”. Look I’ve got to give something back, there’s got to be something I can do to give something back. So I took one bike and just did it up and everywhere I go it just gets stormed. Thousands of people flock round it. I didn’t want that, I didn’t intend that but then people started throwing money at me thinking I was raising money for charity."

On his travels Stitch bumped into Phil who was half way through his round Britain fundraiser and Stitch rode a few of the days with the boys. Like many before him, the work they were doing, work started by Denise to help commemorate her son, truly changed Stitch.

"I’m so proud of her. I’d do anything for her. That bike out there is hers. My privilege is to have the chance to meet someone like Phil and to count him as a friend. I never would have had that normally in my life. I’d always been a taker. The kind of guy who just got on with it only thinking about myself. Bad news on TV? Nothing to do with me, crack on sort of thing. But now I look back on things, I wish I’d got more involved."

"This is the biggest buzz I’ve ever had."

Last year the Band of Mothers and their volunteer work force sent 10,000 care packages to the troops in theatre. Simple stuff that said “home” and “we remember you”. A spare pair of socks (a very typical Mum present), some deodorant, memory sticks for saving pics of mates, toothpaste and batteries. The everyday things we pop to a shop for that boosts morale in a dangerous and yet sometimes boring war zone.

The morale boosting effect this had led the MOD to ask Denise and the Band of Mothers to roll this gesture out across a variety of theatres where British troops are currently serving. Bureaucracy misses the point, management misses the point, but the needs of these troops has been understood by the simple love of a mother who lost her son and wants to do more; by their friends and family who want to show how much they care; and by a biking community who, at its heart, is a real community of people who look out for each other.

"Biking in itself is quite a sociable past time," explained Phil Spencer. "You don’t do it on your own, you’re in pairs or threes, big groups or whatever so when you get a group together it just takes one person with the spark of an idea and you’re away."

"The biking community tend to want to help others. They often know people who’ve been injured in bike accidents, so for Londonbikers, the Air Ambulance is critical to that. They’re even there at the motorcycle racing circuit. Obviously being that we’re military bikers our focus is a military charity, but the charity Afghan Heroes for some unknown reason has been really taken to heart by the motorcycle community."

The charity is growing fast and reaching people the way a mother would want them to be reached and cared for.

As a story for a biker’s website goes I think this actually speaks volumes towards defining the spirit of biking.

LB is full of stories of the biker that stopped to help in times of trouble or the camaraderie of the France Ride Out or simple technical advice given at the bike meet.

It is the same spirit which holds together a band of brothers on the frontline, or a band of mothers back at home.

You can even see a glimpse of the spirit in the nod at the traffic lights from a total stranger on a bike who knows how you feel…

Go have a look at what spirit can achieve.

Related news story here:

Brands Hatch 2010 photos of the original bike and close-ups of Stitch's machine here:

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The Sleeper | 12 April 2011, 17:55

what an absoulte cracking write up there mate. What a fantastic read. How far apart but how close together all our lives are.
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