Well, back in the UK after completing our mission in Bordeaux!
We arrived in France on the overnight ferry and then it was a seven-hour journey through the country to our camp site. Army tents and camp beds were the order of the day but the weather was great and we expected to be so tired at the end of each day that we wouldn’t care.
It was also back to ration packs although they are much better now than when I last relied on them. I was very happy with the ‘all day vegetarian breakfast’ because then at least you didn’t have to wonder what kind of meat was involved. The most important thing was taken care of though, as we had three massive boilers going all the time for tea on tap.
The Garonne River is absolutely massive, and the estuary where we started was in the Atlantic Ocean. The wind was blowing a gale and there were serious waves, and we all realised just what we had let ourselves in for!
So on the first training day we went to The Cockleshell Memorial to lay a wreath to honour the Heroes, and remember how lucky we all were to be there.
We met a lady aged 91 who hid and fed the Heroes on the mission and everyone made us so welcome. The Mayor of Bordeaux even sent out bulldozers to shift six feet of mud from our landing sites.
Everywhere in France D Day is so important, and even more so this year. It didn’t matter that so few of us spoke French – people seemed as grateful for liberation now as they did all those years ago.
The first day paddling out in open water was hard and very cold, but we all stayed upright. We were all quiet that night!
The hardest day was the third, when we had to paddle 30 miles. The team leader suggested that I be given a more experienced partner. No chance - Ish and me had got this far together and no-one was going to stop us now.
We managed until the last three miles when we were really blowing. ‘Just imagine its para selection and keep going,’ Ish kept shouting.
That didn’t stop me beating the beach with my paddle when we landed to punish it for being so far away though!
The rest was easy, and as we arrived five days later at the old submarine pens in the harbour we were all incredibly proud. The Pilgrim bandits had arrived.
We couldn’t have done this without everyone who has supported the charity, and the helpers who gave up their holidays to make it happen. We also never forgot the original lads who weren’t doing this to challenge themselves, but to fight for their country.
Just when we thought things could get no better, the ferry home was packed with veterans returning from Normandy. Those guys know how to party.
Here’s to next year.
* Ben Parkinson, Doncaster’s brave paratrooper and MBE