Ivybridge Man Makes Great Walk to Reflect on the Great War

Outfitted with hobnail boots, a canvas pack and WWI uniform, thirty-three year old Stephen Fletcher sets out on a walk he will always remember, and which he hopes others will remember as well. Starting near the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Ivybridge dentist will trek 250 miles to the tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey to deliver an authentic 1916 silk postcard.

The remarkable feat is anything but a stunt to raise money; instead, it comes from a need to raise awareness about the sacrifices made by the people who lived through the Great War. “I wanted to do something to mark the centenary of the outbreak of war,” said Stephen. “I’m not representing anyone; I’m simply stepping into the shoes of those young men and women and taking on that character. It makes you think more. All I want to do is to encourage people along the way and at home to think about the Great War and ask questions.”

A spokesman for Westminster Abbey said the tomb of the Unknown Warrior was an appropriate destination for Stephen’s journey: “The tomb of the Unknown Warrior has been the focus of international and national commemoration since it was dedicated in 1920.”

“Since starting to prepare for this challenge,” Stephen said, “I’ve done quite a bit of research and filled a huge, ignorant gap in my knowledge. It would be great if more people could do the same. Remembrance is a great honour to bestow on these men.” In the weeks of WWI research Stephen conducted, he even had the opportunity to explore his own family members’ roles in the war. Two of Stephen’s great-grandfathers received medals for bravery. “It’s been so interesting looking into it all,” said Stephen. “I’ve learnt so much. The First World War was not something I did much on at school and I think the same is true for a lot of people.”

Stephen plans to begin the ‘Great Walk’ on November 1 in Paris, and walking alone with only a few essentials will arrive at Westminster Abbey on the symbolically fitting date, November 11, also known as Armistice Day. On that day, dressed in a replica WWI uniform, Stephen will deliver the postcard, The Herald reports.

“I’m hoping to be inspired along the way and write a message on it to leave at the Abbey,” said Stephen. “It’s symbolic of the postcard’s home. I’m hoping it will show how I, a young man who would have been of fighting age, feel about the war 100 years later.”

Stephen found the pieces for his uniform from internet companies, but he specifically avoided any insignia designating a specific soldier, in part due to his goal of connecting two unknown warriors. Stephen confessed it was humbling to see the clothes laid out before him and his wife Charlott, but he said, “Seeing the clothes and trying them on has made me all the more determined to complete this challenge.”

“Charlott rang me to say the uniform had arrived and that it was really strange seeing it all laid out on the bed. She said, for a few minutes, it made her realise how all those mothers and wives felt 100 years ago.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE