A VETERAN who raised thousands from a sponsored walk across the D-Day Landing Beaches hopes to go even further to support the British Army family in 2024.

Forester Marcus Gartside, 62, walked around 250km last year to honour the soldiers who died in both world wars and raise funds for the Army Benevolent Fund (ABF), which provides a range of support services for soldiers and veterans. 

The veteran, who lives in Christchurch near Coleford, left the Army in 2011 after a 31-year career, having served in Berlin when the wall was still in place, in Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Macedonia, and on operations for both Iraq wars.

He said he chose to raise funds for the ABF “to put something back” into the service which gave him “such a wonderful career”.

His first walk in October, which he completed with his partner, Paula Tippins, was part of the ABF’s Normandy Beaches Front Line event, for which the pair walked 100km in three days. 

Thanks to the “fantastic generosity” of their friends, family and work colleagues, they managed to raise a total of £4,647.70 for the ABF. 

The pair praised the huge support they received from the community, including The Globe in Berry Hill which collected almost £1,000 for them at two summer festivals. 

They also ran a military-themed quiz night and various raffles to help boost their total amount. 

Ahead of the walk they completed a lot of training in the Forest, with the ABF supplying all of the resources they needed. 

They joined many other fundraisers for the walk in France, for which they were based in Bayeux. 

Over the three days, they took in various memorials and key sites of interest along the way, including Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, and finally on the last day, the British Normandy Memorial. 

As one of the top three fundraisers for the challenge, Marcus was honoured to be asked to lay a wreath at the memorial, about which he said: “It is a memory that will last a lifetime with me.”

On completing the challenge, he said: “After lots of mutual back slapping and the odd beer we headed back for a celebratory night out in a local French restaurant.

“Despite the ailments and blisters, it was worth it to walk in the footsteps of heroes.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Marcus took on another ABF challenge in November, to walk 100km in commemoration of those who fought in both world wars while supporting the soldiers and veterans of today. 

The walk could be completed at any location, with fundraisers encouraged to visit war memorials and Commonwealth War Graves local to them. 

Marcus decided to make the walk more challenging by increasing it to 150km, with a target of raising £500.

He described his walks as “hugely interesting” and “thought provoking”, taking in graves at churchyards across the Coleford and Monmouth areas. 

Research identified that Marcus’ local graveyard in Christchurch contains seven Commonwealth War Graves from both world wars.

He says there is no explanation as to why the soldiers, whose ages ranged from 26 to 51 years old, were buried there.

After Christchurch, Marcus visited graves and memorials in Newland, Clearwell, Coleford and Monmouth.

He aims to get out walking again this year, this time visiting the battlefields of the Western Front in October.

He explained: “Over the course of three days I will be walking from the Lochnagar Crater, where the Battle of the Somme began, and exploring key sites from the Battles of Ypres and Arras before finishing at the Ypres Memorial.”

Anyone who’d like to make a donation to Marcus’ ABF fundraising page should visit www.events.armybenevolentfund.org/s/18937/35515.