HUNDREDS of local people turned out last weekend as a charity walk from Dublin to Belfast in aid of soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan stopped off in Lisburn.
Geordie Spence and Bert Smith MBE, members of the Irish Guards Association Ulster Branch, completed their 128 mile walk last Saturday.
They were joined by fellow branch member, Maghaberry man Frank McCracken, for the final leg of the walk from Lisburn Civic Centre, where members of Lisburn City Council showed their support for the event, which is expected to have raised thousands of pounds for the Irish Guards Appeal Fund, in order to support wounded Irish Guardsmen, who have been seriously injured during their tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A special wreath laying service was held at the grave of Guardsman Trevor Bell, who was killed in Aden in 1967, at the site in Trummery Lane on Friday. Around 130 people went along to pay their respects.
Speaking about the event Frank said: “Local people lined the approach route as the walkers came up the hill to the graveyard. Trevor’s brothers David, Fred and John, and his niece Cherilyn were there, whilst Bert read Trevor’s citation and laid the wreath. The last post was played and Reverend McCartney, the Minister at Aghalee Parish finished with prayers.”
Frank joined the walk from there, completing the journey from Lisburn to Belfast on Saturday morning.
He added: “It was great to see so many people turn out to support us. I’d like to give a special mention to the PSNI for their support throughout, all of the councillors in Lisburn who gave a good turnout and Cyril and the team at Pretty Mary’s in Moira who provided tea, coffee and sandwiches before the wreath laying ceremony.”
There was an added surprise for the walkers as they made their way down the Moira Road from Trummery. Local man Ernest Hayes, who grew up with Trevor Bell, invited them into his home, where he presented a generous donation he had collected towards the fundraising.
Lisburn’s Deputy Mayor Councillor William Leathem and Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson spoke at a service at Lisburn City Council on Saturday morning, before the walkers set off to Belfast.
Mr Leathem said it was “an honour” to welcome Bert and Geordie back to Lisburn.
He added: “Lisburn City Council recognises the dangers faced by those fighting in battles on foreign soil and the reported loss of human lives and the infliction of serious injuries humbles us, in the face of such bravery, camaraderie, and dedication to duty. It is for these very reasons that I was privileged to welcome the Irish Guards Association and Guardsman Bell’s brothers to Lagan Valley Island.
“I would like to congratulate Geordie and Bert for their superb fundraising effort and local man, Mr Frank McCracken for helping to co-ordinate this journey,” he concluded.
Some 150 local people were at the Civic Centre to show their support ahead of the final leg of an incredible journey.
Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea joined the final leg along the Lagan Towpath. A wreath was laid at Belfast City Hall following the four hour walk.
Mr McCrea said: “We must never forget those who go on to lose their lives in Afghanistan, but we must also remember those who return with life changing injuries. Despite all our aches and pains, it is a privilege to be able to walk.
“Those returning with injuries should be treated with dignity. They must be given the support and opportunities that society owes them. The turnout at Belfast City Hall showed how much the public support our troops.”
If you would like to donate you can do so online at www.bmycharity.com/walkforthewounded