Looking back at the last four years of BDOVELO with Jeremy Banning

Jeremy shares below with us a few thoughts on both cycling and what he has been upto recently. Not surprisingly his "guiding" year is looking somewhat fallow but perhaps our own hardships are nothing compared with life on the front line 100 years ago.


The moment everyone removes their poppy after 11 November traditionally signals the end of the First World War battlefielding year. Winter months are a quiet time, spent recuperating and researching soldiers’ stories and new routes in preparation for the next season. In mid-March I was just about to start my first tour of the year when President Macron announced the closure of France’s non-essential businesses. This was quickly followed by a total lockdown signalling the tour’s cancellation. Since then almost every battlefield tour planned for this year has been either cancelled or postponed until 2021. As you can imagine, the Chancellor’s recent announcement providing support for the self-employed has been most welcome.

Over the winter, the First World War was very much brought to the fore by Sam Mendes’ 1917 film for which I wrote a review for BBC History Magazine. I was very conscious of the almost universal acclaim it had garnered and did not want to appear like one of those grumbling, disaffected reviewers but am afraid the film didn’t quite do it for me. There were moments of cinematic brilliance but, for me, the story’s weakness let it all down. My full review can be found here and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

The winter months have also included rescuing a fabulous wooden panelled memorial to 842 dead of the 6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment from a burnt-out church in Bristol (https://westernfrontfootsteps.wordpress.com/latest-news/) and arranging for its conservation and restoration. Last month I was also filming for the main BBC genealogy series (details strictly embargoed by the production company!) to be broadcast sometime in the autumn.

But, it is cycling that binds us together and I have a few thoughts on the current situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Friends around Europe have reported different restrictions in place – a Belgian who lives near the famous First World War city of Ypres told me that cycling distance remains unlimited. People can ride with a friend but are advised to stay within a 30km radius of home. In France restrictions are far tougher – exercise should take no longer than one hour and should be conducted no further than a kilometre from your home. Paperwork is required to be carried with you at all times and non-compliance means a hefty fine. Obviously, these strict restrictions have not been met with universal agreement but the message is stark – stay close to home. 

Over the past fortnight I’ve been disheartened to see the way in which some cycling friends in the UK have ignored this essential ethos. Last year I rode Bristol - Bordeaux in four days, 500 miles of wonderful cycling in aid of a local charity. Some of the guys I rode with have been posting 100 mile rides in the last week. I don’t feel this is in keeping with what the government are advising. It may sound a cliché but we really are all in it together and if the government advice is to exercise locally then we should exercise locally. Most of my riding over the last fortnight has been on the turbo trainer in the garden and I have a 25 km route around Bristol.

It would be fabulous to be cycling with a group across the Somme right now but that remains a dream. As for me, 2020 now sees me concentrating on research for clients – finding out exactly what forebears did during the war, which units they served with, battles they fought in and exact locations of death, wounds or acts of gallantry. It’s a time to prepare detailed reports for people using available digitised archives. This is my bread and butter when not cycling in France and Flanders and this information enables me to create bespoke tour routes enabling clients to not only cycle the battlefields but do so with a particular focus and in the footsteps of Great Uncle Jack or Granddad. If you fancy finding out more about your relative’s First World War service then please do get in touch. 

Jeremy Banning 


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