In 2020 inspired by The Ribbon of Poppies and a GWR poppy train, we came up with a way to keep Remembrance on Track through the COVID Pandemic with the Poppies to Paddington event. This grew into what we now call The Routes of Remembrance which in 2021 kept Remembrance Moving through COVID again and reached more Train Operating Companies, Airlines and Ferry companies. As well as some incredible flying from 814 Squadron Royal Naval Air Squadron off Lands End in their Merlin helicopter!
Whilst at Lands End for the 2021 launch event we noticed that The Veterans Charities remembrance wreaths had made their way to the Isles of Scilly and John O’Groats, supported by the Military and a number of Armed Forces and Veterans Breakfast Clubs along the way! We had also flown over the Longships Lighthouse thanks to 814 Squadron. All these venues are linked, as they feature on the iconic Lands End signpost!
We realised though it left one destination that we had not yet visited and that was New York City!
So the team looked for inspirations and realised this is the 80th year that US Troops started travelling in preparation to liberate Europe. Many hundreds of thousands sailed across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth ocean going liners. These huge ships were able to out run the U-Boats and carry over 16,000 troops in one crossing. A record for the number of passengers still held to this day! The link to the mighty Cunard liners did not end their as of course as this is the 40th anniversary of the QE2 sailing to the South Atlantic during the Falklands Conflict!
The team at Cunard have been superb in their support for this very special Routes of Remembrance, which is called Op V Sea – “Wreaths Across the Atlantic”. The Queen Mary 2 will set sail with over a hundred wreaths bound for New York on VE Day 2022. As part of the event we have been inviting landmarks and bases (and their gate guardians) to join us on the 7th of May to partake in #LitUpRed, to light up building s and memorials to reflect the eve of VE Day 9the end of WW2) and a nod to the red funnels of Cunard vessels (in peace time).
The Veterans Charity are working with Veterans Groups and Organisations in New York City, the US and Canada as we hope that each US State and Canadian Province/Territory will receive two wreaths each, one representing the losses of World War One and those of World War Two. We hope a number will be able to travel by train across these two great countries, as we have done so successfully here in the UK. But the links with trains doesn’t end there, more recently we have all been watching the horrors that have descended on Ukraine in recent weeks. Like many we felt powerless as to how best help.
This is where we go back to the USA for a moment, whilst researching for Wreaths Across the Atlantic we came across a wonderful act of charity in 1947 called the Friendship Train. It started in Hollywood and the train grew as it crossed to the Eastern Seaboard carrying gifts and supplies for war torn Europe. A year after the train had dropped it’s gift off, a French railway worker wanted to say thank you, so created the Merci Train to send a Box Car to each US State with thank you presents for the US!
We liked this idea for the Routes of Remembrance, as a way of sending wreaths across North America. On seeing the devastation and suffering in Ukraine though, we started asking our contacts in the “Railway Family” if they would be able to help create a Friendship Train to Ukraine. As things grew, we became aware of a member of staff at Network Rail who was also thinking on the same lines (pardon the pun), but was inspired by the Train for Life, which had run from the UK to Kosovo in the 1990’s and was supported by the British Army!
So a team gathered (including The Veterans Charity) from right across the UK to work on the project, first to gather a freight train and then containers and then items to fill the containers! Then get clearances and paperwork. This was all done in around 5 weeks thanks to some incredible team work by all involved, pooling contacts, calling in favours and working as one for the good of the many in need in Ukraine and surrounding countries.
Now the train is well on it’s way the focus returns to gathering the wreaths for our friends across the Atlantic and arranging a fitting send off. We will update shortly on some very special stories connected to this years event. You can find out more about the Train to Ukraine here: UK Rail for Ukraine launches first humanitarian aid train (dbcargo.com)