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Covid restrictions force cyclist to postpone 1,800-mile ride in tribute to D-Day veteran dad

Richard Stoodley aimed to follow the journey his father Bob, the last surviving British pathfinder, took via Normandy to a POW camp near Berlin

New restrictions in Germany aimed at containing new variants of the coronavirus have forced a British cyclist to postpone an 1,800-mile ride to trace the journey from Normandy to a Prisoner of War (POW) camp near Berlin that his D-Day veteran father undertook during the Second World War.

As we reported earlier this month, Richard Stoodley, aged 60, planned on setting out on the ride on 5 June, the 77th anniversary of his dad, Lance Corporal Robert ‘Bob’ Stoodley, leaving RAF Harwell near Didcot, Oxfordshire to be parachuted into France hours before the Allied invasion began in earnest.

> Cyclist riding 1,800 miles to visit the camp where his dad was kept as a prisoner of war

But Richard, from Doncaster, has now had to rethink his plans due to the restrictions in place in Germany, telling the Buxton Advertiser: “I’ve been forced to make the decision to postpone my Normandy to Stalag IVB cycling trip.

“I had already been juggling my own conscience with travelling abroad. The whole story revolved around trying to time the time to arrive in France on D-Day June 6.

“The decision has now been taken totally out of my hands with Germany not only banning any non-essential travel but any arrivals forced to self-isolate for 14 days.

“This as well as the cancellation of my only available ferry and other Covid PCR Test regulations and the obvious related costs and time implications gave me no other choice.

“I have already spoken to my dad, and although, in normal circumstances, he would have loved the trip to coincide with the exact timing of his departure 77 years ago, he understands fully and supports the postponement.

“Rather than make an early decision that may need changing again, I’ve decided now to monitor the situation closely, and with all the hard work, route planning and organisation done, I will be able to act quickly once it is safe and acceptable to travel,” he added.

Richard had planned to follow the route his father took as closely as possible, with his father helping him try and piece the journey together, and he also had assistance from an American historian whose own father had been on a POW train from Rennes to Stalag IV-B.

Earlier this month, he said: “The more I have spoken to my dad about it, the more his memory has come back with so many little stories, little gems of information that I can revisit for him – so he’s really looking forward to it."

Bob, now aged 97, is the last surviving British member of the pathfinder units dropped behind enemy lines to mark the way for paratroopers from the 6th Airborne Division following closely behind by securing landing zones and deploying radio beacons and lights.

Discovered by German troops, Bob was blown up and injured, and after his capture was interrogated by the SS.

After being treated in a hospital in Rennes, he was then put on a train crammed with hundreds of other captured troops for the three-week journey to Germany’s largest POW camp, Stalag IV-B, near Berlin – with many of the unwilling passengers killed when the train, mistakenly believed to be carrying military supplies, came under attack from Allied aircraft.

The Red Army liberated Stalag IV-B in 1945, but Bob was interred once again, this time in a Russian camp, although he and a friend escaped and eventually managed to cross a damaged bridge over the Elbe to the safety of an area controlled by Allied forces advancing from the west.

Richard’s ride also aims to raise money for the charity Support Our Paras, and has set up a page on Virgin Money Giving where donations may be made.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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