Cycle ride in tribute to war veteran

Bill Atherton
Bill Atherton

LIKE many war veterans, Bill Atherton has rarely talked of his battle experiences.

The family of the 91-year-old, who lives in Ecclesall Road South, Parkhead, only found out recently that he was the first infantrymen to cross the German border after fighting in the campaign at Nijmegen Bridge.

Now, as a tribute to his courage, his son and grandson are preparing for a 150-mile sponsored cycle ride to Nijmegen to raise money for the Royal British Legion and the Help for Heroes charity.

“I’m looking forward to standing on the bridge and envisaging the battle and what he must have gone through,” said son Alan, aged 60.

It was a generation that did not make a fuss about their bravery, but to which future generations owe a debt.

“They underplay everything,” said Alan, who lives in Southport, and will be accompanied by his son, Chris, aged 35. “My dad says ‘I didn’t fight the war on my own. I just did what I was told to.’

“But I think he’s quite chuffed about the cycle ride. Every time I ring, he asks me how many miles I have done in training.”

The father and son will set off from the home of Bill’s daughter, Judy, in Pocklington in North Yorkshire on May 12, aiming to reach Nijmegen five days later via the Hull Ferry, Rotterdam and Arnheim.

Bill, who continues to live independently, served in the Lancashire Fusiliers and the Gordon Highlanders, taking part in the Normandy invasion and other campaigns taking him all the way to Germany.

After the war, he worked in Sheffield for WH Smith, becoming manager of its depot at Sheaf House near the railway station. Alan has retired as regional director of WH Smith and Chris is an account manager with the company, also living in Southport.