When Stuart and Matthew Denyer came across a little red book of memorabilia uncovering their grandad’s story of struggle and determination, they decided to honour his ordeal by taking up a challenge for the charity that helped him through it – the British Red Cross. Stuart takes up the story.
Grandad never really wanted to talk much about his time in the war. He was embarrassed that he’d been a prisoner for almost the entire duration and felt he hadn’t ‘played his part’.
It was only when he died that we found a little red book of Red Cross letters and other memorabilia and were able to fully piece together his extraordinary story.
Included in the book were details of a march – known as the death march – that he was forced to undertake from Poland to Germany at the end of the Second World War. Very little is known about the march so we realised we had a rare historical document – an incredible story of survival and desperate struggle.
The prisoners were forced to march hundreds of miles in the worst winter in Europe for 100 years and many died from exhaustion, pneumonia or starvation. Grandad was one of the lucky survivors and I wanted to do something to honour his ordeal – and that’s how the Death March Cycle Challenge was born.
My brother and I are going to retrace the 700 miles grandad marched on a week-long bike challenge this October – covering 100 miles every day. We’ve not done anything quite like it before, so not only will it be an emotional journey, but a physically challenging one too.
Choosing the charity was easy. Grandad always spoke fondly of the Red Cross. He was a prisoner in a labour camp and described how the food they were given didn’t provide enough calories for life, let alone hard labour. Red Cross food parcels delivered to the camps, and later airdropped on the march, helped the prisoners to survive.
There’s another story too. Before grandad left to join the war, he’d been courting a lady from his village, which continued through letters delivered by the Red Cross once he was taken prisoner. After some time, he got a ‘Dear John’ letter and their relationship ended. Women in the UK were encouraged to write to POWs and so the job of keeping up correspondence with grandad was handed to another woman, Ruby Sitch, which continued until 1945. On his return, grandad met Ruby for the first time and they were married four months later.
Without the support of the Red Cross, I would not be here today. Grandad is my hero and I will always look up to him. I want to recreate grandad’s journey to learn more about what he went through and raise money for the British Red Cross at the same time. It’s going to be an incredible adventure.
Support Stuart and Matthew Denyer at www.justgiving.com/denyer