My grandfather served in North Africa and Italy during World War Two. I remember as a child his memories of Monte Cassino in Italy, almost as if it was a mythical place. Certainly the town, and the mountain that overlooks it was of great significance to him.

As an adult I read about the bloody battles there, and realised the true horror to which he had been exposed. A gentle country boy originally from Milton, later married and living a peaceful life in Steventon, I wondered how he coped with being away from his wife and young daughter while being surrounded by such terrible slaughter.

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In light of the 75th commemoration events this year, I wanted to see the iconic Benedictine monastery on the peak of that mountain for myself. A place where so many lives were taken, or destroyed.

My visit to Italy would be a pilgrimage, but I wanted it to be more than that.

After collecting for the Poppy Appeal in Steventon for more than 60 years between them, I wanted to take over where my mother and grandmother left off.

Herald Series:

Unlike my father and grandfather before me, I had never been in the armed forces, but our family has a long tradition of support for the Royal British Legion, and I am a member of the Royal British Legion Riders.

So, on May 8, I set off on a 3,200-mile adventure, to ride my 75-year-old ex-military BSA motorcycle to the 75th anniversary ceremony for the 75,000 casualties of the Italian campaign.

I carried with me a poppy wreath to lay on behalf of the Riders, my family, friends, and those who donated to a Just Giving page which I set up to raise money for the Poppy Appeal.

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When planning the trip nobody thought it was possible. Riding such an old bike that distance was a serious challenge and machines, and traffic conditions have changed massively in 75 years.

The BSA only has a maximum speed of 50mph. The brakes are terrible, the gearbox ponderous, electrical equipment rudimentary, and with no rear suspension and ‘girder’ forks at the front it was demanding to ride.

But the old military bike was known for being tough. I simply hoped that I could somehow match it in this respect.

The weather was against us from the start. As soon as we rolled off the ferry at Dunkirk the rain began. Two days later in the Jura Mountains of Eastern France, the hail and thunder storms followed and at the Col du Lautaret the next day, blizzards were the main challenge as we climbed at snail’s pace to 6,700 feet.

Herald Series:

It was hard to believe that this was early summer, but in a way, I didn’t want it to be easy. I was travelling to a historic battleground where men lived, and died, in appalling conditions comparable to the trenches of the First World War.

Any technical advances made since the wholesale massacres of the Somme and Passchendaele were negated by the rugged terrain of central Italy.

Riding such a slow bike gives one time to contemplate, and as I struggled to get my ailing machine back to my friends and family in the UK one story in the press was very much on my mind.

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It was about inspirational biologist Pia Klemp, a 35-year-old German woman who dedicated her life to saving drowning refugees in the Mediterranean.

While I was riding across the central spine of Italy, through land which saw such terrible suffering and death among refugees 75 years before, and after honouring those who fought against the horrifying excesses of Fascism, Italian ministers at the far right of domestic politics effectively criminalised Klamp's activities during an anti-refugee clamp down.

She could face up to 20 years in jail, even though she would have been violating UN law had she not rescued those in peril. The irony wasn't wasted on me.