Lt Tomos Stephens Memorial Cycle Challenge 2018

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On Sunday 10th June 2018 a team of cyclists representing the Royal British Legion, Poitou-Charentes Branch, will retrace the epic cycle ride undertaken by Lt Tomos Stephens of 1st SAS, Operation Bulbasket on the 10th June 1944 from their camp at Sazas near Montromillion to the railway marshalling yards at Chatellerault a round trip of 120 km.

Stephens completed the ride in a day on an old French pushbike disguised as a young French farmer. Avoiding German patrols and roadblocks Stephens was able to gain vital information on the massive German fuel supplies held at Chatellerault, as a result of this information the supply was later destroyed in an RAF bombing raid.
Lieutenant Tomos Mansell Stephens was born on the 1920. His parents moved from Llanstephan in Carmarthenshire to Stoke Newington, North London, where they ran a local drapery store.

On passing out of Sandhurst in 1938 he was commissioned into the South Wales Borderers Regiment and in 1939 posted to Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
On the 3rd September the same year he sailed for India and served at Cawnpore for two years.
In 1941 his unit was posted to Iraq and the following year drafted to Libya to stem the retreat to El Alamein.
In 1942 Stephens was taken prisoner at the fall of Tobruk and held at Reggio POW camp in North Italy.
A year later after the fall of Italy, Stephens escaped and walked some 400-500 miles over the Apennine Mountains to re-join the Allied lines in Southern Italy.
On his way home Stephens was transferred to a transit camp in North Africa where he met Captain John Tonkin. As a result of this meeting and after some home leave, Stephens joined 1st SAS undertaking their tough training in Scotland.
On the 7th June 1944 Stephens parachuted into Central France where he carried out several operations against vital enemy supply lines before transferring to the Verrières area where he joined up with John Tonkin’s unit.
On the 10th June information was received about enemy fuel being stored at Chatellerault railway marshalling yard. As a result of this information it was decided that Stephens, being a smallish, dark haired Welshman with a dapper moustache, be disguised as a local farmer and on an old French pushbike cycle from the camp at Sazas near Montromillion to the marshalling yard at Chatellerault to gather information on the fuel store.
Stephens completed the round trip of 120 km in a day returning “saddle sore” but with vital information on the large supply of fuel stored at the yard.
This information was passed to the Allies resulting in the fuel supply later being destroyed in an RAF bombing raid.
Stephens continued with operations in the area up until the 3rd July when the forest camp near Verrières was surrounded by over 400 German troops and attacked by mortar and machine gun fire.
In an attempt to escape, Stephens was wounded and dropped at the edge of the forest where he urged others to leave him and flee. Most of the SAS unit and Maquisards were captured but Stephens was able to hide in a cornfield only to be discovered the following day and executed.
Stephens’ body was placed in a local family's vault at the cemetery in Verrières the same day and remains there.
At dawn on the 7th July 1944, thirty other members of the unit together with an American Air Force Officer were executed in the forest of Saint-Sauvant near Rom. After the war, all their bodies were exhumed and re-buried in the village cemetery at Rom in Commonwealth War Graves.
Memorials to the men of Operation Bulbasket have been erected in the forests at Verriers and Saint Sauvant where memorial ceremonies take place each year.

All monies raised go to The Poppy Appeal

For more information please contact Alan Rowlands: 0549955459 or email peggyrowlands@hotmail.co.uk

If you would like to take part in this ride, please contact either Alan Rowlands on the above number or email or Bob Liddiard at robertliddiard@btinternet.com

The interactive map below shows the planned route

The ride will depart Sazat at 1000, arriving Puye 1200 then 1400 at Allée des Iris just under the railway bridge at Chatellerault. After a short break, the cyclists will undertake the return journey to Sazat. All times are approximate.

They did it the amount raised to date has exceeded 3 500€ - well done!

The start of a long day

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En route

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Half way at the destination

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One of our riders, Barry George wearing the blue shirt, writes:

Good Morning Bob
As you can see I raised €900 in sponsorship. Can you please thank your friends who took part in the ride for all their support and encouragement.
Barry



To All My Amazing Sponsors.

As you are all aware I recently volunteered myself to take part in a 120km cycle ride to commemorate and try to emulate a journey taken by Lt Tomos Stephens during the 2nd world war. He completed the ride in one day and gained vital intelligence which led to the bombing of a fuel depot.

I previously had no experience In long distance cycling when I naively volunteered. I borrowed a bike from a neighbour that I had previously owned but seldom used and set about a “ training “ routine. I built up my distances to around 25km and was so saddle sore that I contacted the organiser to withdraw from the ride. He encouraged me to continue and I set myself a personal goal of 60km.
I started the ride along with 9 others, who all looked very professional by comparison at a small commune called Sazas. This was where Lt Stephens started and is close to the village of Saulgés south of Montmorillon. The ride progressed favourably and we made our way to Chatellerault in good weather, everyone around me was chatting away whilst I had to concentrate on breathing ! There were several stops on the way thankfully where we were fed on Peggy’s apparently famous homemade ‘energy‘ cake. My fellow riders were very encouraging and I was finally cycling further than my previous longest ride of 25km. An achievement already. We continued our way to Chatellerault where I was met by friends and we had lunch in the car park at the station. My friends were expecting a slightly nicer location ! I was over the moon at this stage because I had reached my personal goal of 60km. Thankfully we found no sign of an enemy fuel depot and made our way back to Sazas. At the second stop on our return I was feeling very tired and the distance between our stops seemed to have doubled.. My wife asked me if I was going to continue, and unluckily it was within the hearing of Alan, one of the organisers who said “ You can’t stop now can you “. THANK YOU ALAN. I returned to my bike and started the next leg of the journey. After about 10 minutes the thunder and lightning started and there was torrential rain. After a further 20 minutes my wife passed me in the car and stopped in front of me but all I could hear was the words “ You can’t stop now can you “ and I knew that if I completed the ride I was promised a further €15 from one of my sponsors so I continued ! My wife stopped the car a further 15 minutes down the road and I threw my bike into the back of the car.
When we arrived at the last scheduled stop, which was only 2km further on, my fellow riders congratulated me and we calculated that I had completed 108km which I was ecstatic about.
I would like to thank all of my amazing sponsors, firstly for the €900 which they very kindly sponsored me for which will go to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal and secondly for giving me the incentive to achieve a goal that I thought was unachievable. I didn’t want to let them down!
In Conclusion I would like to thank Lt Tomos Stephens who gave his life along with hundreds of thousands of other people of many different nationality’s so that we can live the life that we do today.
Barry George