Marathon effort for fallen heroes

The start of this year's Somme Poppy Marathon

Somme Poppy Marathon founder, Paul Chaplin

First published in Remembrance Day

WHILE hundreds of thousands of people will remember the country’s fallen heroes this weekend, one man has found another way of honoring the dead.

Three years ago, ex-pat Paul Chaplin founded the Somme Poppy Marathon, the route of which takes in the symbolic poppy fields and war memorials.

Mr Chaplin decided to launch the marathon after driving around a remembrance circuit in the Somme region.

Mr Chaplin, who moved from Darlington to France 16 years ago, settled in Albert, in the Somme region, five years ago.

He said: “We can learn about the Great War in museums in Albert, or Peronne, or by following the remembrance circuit, following memorials dedicated to the dead and lost soldiers of many British and Commonwealth countries.

“That is exactly what I did when I arrived in the region.

“That day, on getting back home, I noticed that I had travelled 42km, or a marathon. From there the idea was born.”

The first marathon was in 2005, on July 3, the first Sunday after the first day of the Battle of Somme, in 1916.

However, because of the summer weather and the thousands of people who visit the region to commemorate the anniversary, the marathon has been moved to September.

There are now five races, including the marathon, all of which start from Albert, and take in the First World War battlegrounds.

The Battle of the Somme was fought from July to November 1916, and was one of the largest battles in the First World War.

On the first day, the British suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead. In total, more than 1,000,000 soldiers on both sides were killed, wounded, missing or captured.

Although not a runner, Mr Chaplin, 55, set up the race with the help of the Albert Lions club, of which he was a member, and former British athlete Barry Watson, who ran the marathon in the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Mr Chaplin said: “It was just a flash of inspiration to start with. The Lions Club is a charitable organisation and I thought it would be perfect for them.

“It is a very moving event.”

Last year, 106 men and women finished the marathon, and more than 600 people took part in all the events, from as far afield as the UK, Australia, US and South Africa.

Next year’s event takes place on September 13. Go to somme-marathon.com

■ To mark Remembrance Day, The Northern Echo has opened a book of remembrance on its website.

Today’s tribute is from Darlington: “In memory of my great grandfather, Corporal 1038 James William Gardiner, of Ashington, Northumberland. A member of the 1st Northumbrian Royal Engineers (446 Field Coy) he enlisted on August 6, 1914, arrived in France on January 19, 1915 and was killed by a shell on the morning of Tuesday, May 4, 1915, as he crossed the Ypres Canal.

“His family in Darlington remember him with affection and pride.”

Sign our online book of remembrance here

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