RFCA NI Chair takes on fundraising challenge for SSAFA!

July 1, 2022

This September veteran George Chesney is taking on a solo unsupported 450 mile cycle trip from Madrid to Bayonne, in Southern France, commencing in September 2022 to raise money for SSAFA.

George has named the route The Wellington Trail, as it roughly follows the route taken by The Duke of Wellington’s allied armies in the latter part of the Peninsular Campaign during The Napoleonic War.

You can donate to this fundraiser directly by clicking here.

About George

George is from Ballymena, Co Antrim, and is the Chair of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association Northern Ireland. He confesses to being over 21.

After Sandhurst, George served with the Royal Engineers for 5 years in the Regular Army, and then spent 24 years in the Territorial Army. He has travelled all over the world with the Army, serving in operations serving in the Middle East, Africa and North West Europe. Before taking on his current voluntary role with RFCA NI, George once commanded the Queen's University Officers' Training Corps.

“I have no idea how far I will cycle as I meander through Northern Spain, avoiding all motorways and the steepest of climbs. No doubt there will be thrills (probably just a few) and spills (hopefully none!) as I cycle the Wellington Trail.”

As with many veterans, as time goes on, bits tend to fall off but have been glued back on. Thanks to the NHS, Surgeon Mark Chapman and the staff at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Dublin this is George’s second fundraising cycle trip, and should be a breeze after successful surgical repairs earlier this year.

We look forward to updating you with George’s progress as he takes on this mammoth challenge!


George is fundraising for SSAFA, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen Families Association which aims to provide support to veterans and serving members of the Armed Forces.

Funds raised will be split equally between SSAFA Northern Ireland, SSAFA Ireland, and SSAFA GB. This reflects the contribution Irish soldiers made to Wellington’s Allied Army.

SSAFA has a network of trained volunteer caseworkers who assist veterans and their families with welfare needs. They can secure funding for things such as household goods, rent deposits/rent, mobility aids, funerals, children’s needs, household bills and much more. They signpost clients to mental health organisations, benefit and debt advice facilities and other veteran organisations which can offer assistance and advice.

Did you know? Established in 1885, SSAFA is the UK’s oldest Armed Forces Charity.

Testimonials from SSAFA Service Users:

'Thank-you SSAFA NI for helping me secure the funding needed to get some mobility aids. This has enabled me to be much more mobile to shop and do lots of activities. The difference this has made is very much appreciated.'

‘Thank you for all the help and support you got us with our relocation to family in England. On so many occasions we have struggled and yet you were here to help. Thank you for being there in our hour of need.'

‘Sincere thanks to all at SSAFA NI for helping us get the financial aid we needed at what was a very stressful time. It has been a massive help.'

‘Just to say a quick ‘Thank you’ for all the help towards the much-needed household items you secured for me. My family and I will be forever grateful for your input into my life.’

For more information on SSAFA, visit www.ssafa.org.uk

George’s Cycle on the Wellington Trail

George will fly to Spain on the 4th of September to begin his journey. Cycling Northwest from Madrid, he will begin the 450 mile cycle to Bayonne along the route taken by Wellington’s army in their advance in 1813.

The History Behind the Wellington Trail

The Napoleonic War engulfed western Europe from 1800 to 1814 and 1815.

The Peninsular Campaign took place in Portugal and Spain from 1808 to 1814. The Allied army liberated Madrid from Napoleon’s forces on 12th August 1812. The Allied Army consisted of British, Spanish and Portuguese units.

A substantial number of soldiers were recruited from Ireland, serving in Irish regiments such as The Inniskillng Fusiliers (27th foot) and The Connaught Rangers (88th and 94th foot) together with many other English regiments, the Artillery, the Sappers and Miners and the Royal Wagon Train.

Madrid only hosted Wellington until 30th August 1812 when he and part of his army headed north to take the fortress in the city of Burgos from Napoleon’s army. This was a total failure.

The battered and exhausted Allies endured dreadful conditions as they retreated to winter to the west of Madrid on the Portuguese border where they were joined by that part of the army that had remained in Madrid.

Rested, with fitted and reformed the Allied Army advanced through Northern Spain in the Spring of 1813. Napoleon’s forces evacuated Burgos.

Wellington’s army defeated the Napoleonic forces at Vitoria (now Vitoria-Gastiez) on 21st June 1813. That army’s commander, Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, King of Spain, fled in disarray.

The army then battled through from July to November 1813 before descending into France early the next year. With Bayonne captured, the Peninsular Campaign concluded with Napoleon’s abdication in April 1814.

Bringing in his own research and assisted by Cadets from the Cullybackey Detachment, George will help paint a picture of what life was like for those in the region living through the turbulent times of the Napoleonic War.

“This project won’t concentrate on the skirmishes fought and battles won. Instead, it’s concerned with the people involved - the essential but largely unrecognised contribution made by women and children. I’m interested in how everybody lived, slept and sheltered, the food they ate, the clothes they wore, the equipment they carried and how it was all transported to them by horses, mules and oxen pulling wagons and guns.”

Dates for the diary!
Wednesday 31st of August: send-off from The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Council - Galgorm Resort and Spa.

Saturday 3rd of September: send-off from HM Lord Lieutenant for the City and Borough of Belfast, Dame Fionnuala Jay- O’Boyle DBE – Belfast Rowing Club.

Recognition and thanks

George would like to thank the Chief Executive and team at RFCA NI, as well as the Northern Ireland Veterans’ Support Office, for their help in providing communications support and publicity for this fundraiser. This is in keeping with the Association’s role, which includes welfare support to veterans, supporting the Cadet movement, and engaging with civic organisations and employers.

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