Bigger & Better than Before …on the 18th Pathfinder March

The 18th Pathfinder March took place on Saturday, 18th June and, with over 400 walkers and runners having registered to take part, this year’s event promised to be even bigger and better than before.

The Pathfinder March Organising Committee, led by OIC, Flt Lt Sophie Rimmer must take much of the credit for the added interest in this year’s event. In January, its committee organised a series of visits throughout the community. Its three aims were; to educate primary school children located in selected villages which the Pathfinder Way traverses; a ‘thank you’ to those who have supported the event by hosting or assisting check points over the years; and to raise awareness of the 2016 Pathfinder March throughout the area, with the intention of increasing local public support for the event, and hopefully increasing participation! This, along with communication with walking and running clubs, attendance at Park Runs, and an hour-long broadcast on local radio (how I loved that! – Ed) all helped to bump up registration for the March. It was then just a case of whether or not the weather gods would be kind on the day.
After a damp start the weather gods were indeed kind, and the organising committee were thrilled when Pathfinder Veteran, Flt Lt(Ret’d) Colin Bell DFC offered to present some of the participants with their commemorative medals as they crossed the finishing line. Equally, Colin was delighted to be part of the day, and the former WWII Mosquito pilot took great interest in the medals, each embossed with a Mosquito aircraft. It was therefore quite humbling for the event organisers to see this man, to whom we owe so much, quite tickled to depart the finishing line with a Pathfinder March medal proudly hung around his neck.
Colin, now in his 96th year, was 23 when he joined the Path Finder Force in 1944. Initially on No.608 Sqn at Downham Market, he was later posted on to No.162 Sqn at Bourne, taking part in 50 operations, 13 of them over Berlin. Before taking his leave, Colin said: “Take it from me, the Pathfinder Veterans are very conscious of the work carried out to perpetuate the memory of the Path Finder Force. We are all deeply grateful to you.”
While we could dedicate this whole edition of Eagleye to the Pathfinder March, depicting tales of great courage and determination, we’ve only room to mention a few notable results, and to thank the many volunteers, without whom the March wouldn’t happen. However, we do have ‘just enough’ room to comment on the performance of the day. No. Not to those men, women and teams who were first home, but to one of RAF Wyton’s own; Sally Scales. Not content to cover a mere 46 miles in one day; the official length of the Pathfinder March, Sally decided to walk an additional 16 miles, that’s 62 in all! After crossing the finishing line (she nearly bypassed that as well!), and she’d got her breath back, Sally said: “I’m not really sure where it all went wrong, so we’ll just have to put it down to me wanting to fully embrace the spirit of the March.” Well, Sally certainly embraced the March alright, and there were a few stragglers who were very pleased that she provided them with company, Sally catching up and passing each of them on numerous occasions during the day. Did you know she was part of the organising committee!

First Individual Male Home – Participating in his second Pathfinder March, Simon Margot (37) from Hemingford Grey was again first home, completing the course in a record 6 hours, 35 minutes; two minutes faster than the time he set last year. A delighted Simon said: “Great weather, beautiful route to run, just haven’t quite mastered all the gates and styles we have to negotiate!”
First Individual Female Home – Taking part in her first Pathfinder March, Jacqui Dockerill (45) from Haverhill was our first woman home, crossing the finishing line in a time of 9 hours, 38 minutes. Although an Iron Man enthusiast, and an experienced marathon runner, this was Jacqui’s longest run by far, and as she summed up: “different”. She said: “The soft and muddy conditions were tough to run in, but I got a great buzz from taking part in the March, and pushing myself as best I could.”
First Relay Team Home – The Traffic Light Harriers repeated their triumph of last year, the team of Neil Sutherland, Norbert Braunschweiler, David Bettinson, David Price and Stuart Holmes coming home in a time of 5 hours, 32 minutes, just missing out on setting a new record by some 12 minutes. The five friends, who all work at Cambridge’s Science Park, regularly run together, and are keen to complete the March in an even faster time next year. Stuart, who completed the last leg for the Traffic Light Harriers, said: “It’s not all about strength and speed. On a route like the Pathfinder March, it’s more about judging the terrain and adjusting your running style to suit the surface and conditions; anticipating every turn, every step of the way, to ensure you’re continually taking the shortest route.” – No place on your team for Sally Scales then? – Ed
Other notable performances included participation by Kent Wg ATC, who have been taking part in the March for over ten years. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Air Training Corp and, true to their motto; Venture, Adventure, the cadets showed great endeavour, all 19 cadets and staff completing the 46-mile route, as one, in less than 17 hours.
3 Royal School of Military Engineering, based at Gibraltar Barracks in Surrey are also worth a mention, their seven-man team the second relay team home in a time of 5 hours, 51 minutes, only 19 minutes off the pace off our winners, the Traffic Light Harriers. Asked for a quote, they said: “Why hang out every day, when you can hang out on the day.” – Must be an Army thing!
First walker home in this year’s event was Dave Toyn (44) from Chesterfield, who managed a time of 12 hours, 10 minutes. Dave’s Granddad, Plt Off Granville ‘Tony’ Toyn, was a Flight Engineer on the Path Finder Force’s No.156 Sqn at Warboys, surviving 36 operations, many over Berlin. Dave said: “It’s fantastic to participate in the Pathfinder March, especially as my Granddad was a Pathfinder. It’s a really friendly event, and it’s clear that a great many people put in a lot of effort to make it happen – Thank you.”
Although not officially a charity event, many individuals and groups participate in the Pathfinder March in order to raise funds for good causes. RAF Wittering based University of London Air Squadron were one such group, their team of six runners and four walkers raising funds for Help 4 Heroes. The sqn were taking part in memory of a former student and friend; third year ULAS student, Kyle Tolley, who tragically took his own life. After finishing the March, ULAS’ Off Cdt Lucinda Conder (20) said of Kyle: “We have a lot to live up to. Kyle was well liked, and was always entertaining people with the most amazing stories. He was also, without doubt, one of the best flyers on the squadron. He’ll be sorely missed.” Lucinda herself completed the March in a time of 10 hours, 14 minutes and, although she thought she could go quicker, was quick to admit that she’d never run more than 13 miles before, and was just glad she hadn’t got lost on the way.
In a quite splendid case of one-upmanship, CO RAF Wyton, Wg Cdr Phil Owen made relatively light work of completing the March, compared that is to his predecessor last year, who pulled out deep into the event through injury. However, I’m sure this fact never crossed did cross his mind as he skipped over the finishing line!!!
Finally, for all those of you out there who might have thought that time had passed you by, try taking a leaf out of Ian Hirst and Lyn Clears’ book. Aged 71 and 72 years young, they completed the March in 16 hours, 20 minutes and 17 hours, 20 minutes respectively, proving very much that age is just a number, and 46 miles is nothing more than a walk in the park at the weekend – a very big park I might add!
With the last participant crossing the finishing line at 23:29, 19 hours and 29 minutes after it had all begun, the Pathfinder March was over for another year, and Flt Lt Rimmer was quick to thank all those responsible for putting the event on. She said: “We couldn’t have run the Pathfinder March without the enormous effort from all our volunteers, some of whom turned up before 3am, and didn’t leave until we’d secured the sight after midnight. I’d also like to thank the organising committee for all their efforts, especially in the run up to this year’s event. However, if I had to single out any one individual, and without whom the event wouldn’t have been the success it was, it would be my co event organiser, Sgt Mike Pepper. Mike has been heavily involved in organising and running the Pathfinder March for two years, and he has added a level of energy and enthusiasm that epitomises the very reason we put this event on. Mike is shortly to be posted, and while he has big shoes to fill, anyone who has either participated in the March, or enabled others to do so, will know that it is a very special and unique event to be involved in.”
The Pathfinder March was set up in 1997 with the aim of perpetuating the memory of those who operated on the 19 WWII Pathfinder Sqns by creating a gruelling 46-mile March, around Cambridgeshire. The route runs over footpaths and open country, linking the four original Pathfinder stations of RAFs Wyton (Pathfinder HQ), Gravely, Oakington and Warboys. Walkers and runners from both the military and local civilian community take part.