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Grandfather inspires Briton’s epic French cycling challenge

Paul Harris aims to cycle more than 22,000 miles to honour his grandfather, who was killed after the 1944 Normandy landings

Paul Harris (bottom, right) has started a quest to honour the life of his grandfather, Private George Hanks, who died in Normandy during World War Two. Pic: Paul Harris

A fundraiser is the third of his way into a mammoth challenge to cycle more than 22,000 miles to honour his grandfather and the thousands of people under British command who died during the 1944 Normandy landings.

In the latest leg of his undertaking, Paul Harris, a 49-year-old sales manager from Milton Keynes, will ride 57 miles from the British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer to Estry on Monday (August 7).

The date and final destination were chosen carefully. Mr Harris’ grandfather, George Hanks, died on a farm there on August 7, 1944, while under German fire during Operation Bluecoat. 

Fundraising challenge

Mr Harris’ challenge began on June 6 last year, the 78th anniversary of D-Day. Since then he has been hitting the roads of Normandy, clocking up more than 7,000 miles. 

"It’s quite a challenging route because of a series of rolling hills, a set of valleys with rivers. It’s very bumpy," Mr Harris told The Connexion.

He aims to cycle a total of 22,442 miles (36,117 km) - a mile for each of the service personnel under British command that were killed during D-Day and the Normandy campaign. 

He is also looking to raise £22,442.

“The funds raised will go towards the construction of an education centre and the ongoing maintenance of the British Normandy Memorial, which preserves the memory of those that laid down their lives, including that of my grandfather, Private George Hanks,” wrote Mr Harris on his fundraising page. 

Wartime love letters

Before his cycling adventure, Mr Harris went on a journey of another kind: remembrance.

It was sparked when he read love letters his grandfather, Mr Hanks, had sent his grandmother while he was deployed in Normandy. 

Mr Hanks died when his daughter - Mr Harris’ mother - was just one year old. She had given her son the love letters in 2015 but he could not bring himself to read them immediately.

"When I [did] read them, I thought that I should tell what my grandfather went through," Mr Harris said.

In August 1944, as the German military was retreating, the location in Estry where Mr Hanks was stationed was surrounded. 

Just after midnight on August 7 and under the orders of Hitler, German soldiers opened fire near an orchard. It was here that Mr Hanks was killed. He was aged 30.

In 2016, the Harris family went to Normandy where they met Albert Prunier, the owner of the farm where he died.

Mr Prunier was 12 in 1944. He had tended Mr Hanks’ temporary grave and laid flowers before it was later transferred to the Saint-Charles-de-Percy War Cemetery.

“It gave my mother comfort that my grandfather had been looked after by the people of France," said Mr Harris.

Duty to remember

The Harris family has returned to Normandy and made several friends there since Mr Harris unearthed his grandfather's personal history.

"It's almost like coming to a second home to me," he said.

I felt it was very important that I do that. It keeps the conversation with people about Normandy and WWII," he said.

"You have to remember these things," he added.

If you want to help Mr Harris, you can donate to his fundraising mission here.

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Career change in France: ‘I never tire of talking about World War Two’

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