Hemingford man walks RAF escape route from Nazi-occupied Europe for charity

DURING the Second World War more than 33,000 British and American airmen, Jews and Free French troops escaped Nazi-occupied Europe over the Pyrenees.

Now a 64-year-old man from Hemingford Abbots has retraced their footsteps and made the challenging 100km trek from St Girons in France to Esterri d’Aneu in Spain to raise money for injured soldiers.

Phillip Cooke left the French town on Thursday, a day after a service to commemorate the Passeurs – those who helped the airmen make their way back to Britain to fight another day.

Mr Cooke completed his four-day journey late on Sunday.

“It was fabulous,” he said. “Most of us were absolutely exhausted after the 10-hour days of walking and I have to say my training paid dividends.”

“There were moments when it was quite scary – when your holding on to a cliff by a wire above a lake and knowing that if you fell, then you would die.

“Before the trip I was apprehensive as it takes a lot of physical prowess to get through but to look up at the mountains and say I’ve crossed is fantastic, The whole thing was to raise money for veterans and injured soldiers coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq and to push myself to see what I could do.”

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Out of 100 participants, Mr Cooke was one of 20 raising money for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal and has raised more than �1,100.

He added: “It was a very moving experience. When we got to the other side, we had another ceremony dedicated to the Passeurs and, although our legs were like lead, you still felt something.

“They were just ordinary people who wanted to help others fight the Nazis and many paid the price.”

Mr Cooke trained for the journey with weeks of walks with a 35kg backpack around Grafham Water and by putting his treadmill on the highest incline for three hours at a time.

INFORMATION: Sponsor Mr Cooke at www.virginmoneygiving.com/phillipcooke