Kenilworth veteran raising money for charity in 100km walk through WWI battlefields

John Aitken
John Aitken

A Kenilworth veteran will be taking part in a 100km walk in France and Belgium to commemorate the end of the First World War and to raise money for The Soldiers’ Charity.

John Aitken, 71, who served in the army as a dentist for 20 years and fought in the Falklands War, will participate in the ‘Frontline Walk’ from Wednesday October 10 to Sunday October 14.

The route takes walkers over the old battlefields of the Hundred Days Offensive, which was the final effort by the Allies which ultimately ended the First World War.

John wished to take part as he knew of the hardships former soldiers can face when they return to civilian life.

His grandfather served in the First World War, and John believes he may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or ‘shellshock’ as it used to be known.

John wished to support those who may be going through similar problems.

He said: “I left the Army in 1994 after 24 years of full time service.

“Many of us are lucky enough to leave the services both physically and mentally unscathed. I was one of those.

“Not everyone is as fortunate. They are the ones who need caring for.”

John was also inspired to take part in the walk after visiting the Menin Gate in Ypres with the Sing it Loud choir, of which his wife Vivien is a member, back in 2016.

He added: “The service at the Menin Gate was quite thought-provoking, and a moving sight. It really made me think.”

John realised that, beyond remembering those who fought in the First World War, it was important to support also felt many people misunderstand why people join the armed forces, saying many to not join simply to fight.

He added: “I think that it is often assumed that people join the services because they wish to go off and become involved in some sort of conflict.

“This is usually far from the truth. Certainly it was in my case. I know it’s naive but finding myself going off to the Falklands was quite a shock.

“People join for all sorts of reasons - sport and adventurous training, taking part in ceremonial duties, et cetera. Being injured physically or mentally is not one of them.

“It’s easy to say it’s their own fault, but I think that is being a bit simplistic. They need our support.”

John will join around 30 other people on the three-day walk. He admitted the trek will be a challenge as he has never walked 20 miles - around a third of 100km - for three days running.

Anyone wishing to sponsor John should visit fundraising.soldiers.org/flett