Vera's vow to channel Dambusters spirit on gruelling charity ride

Vera Staines (right) and her daughter Mandy Burchett are raising money for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund

Vera Staines (right) and her daughter Mandy Burchett are raising money for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund - Credit: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund

A 75-year-old cyclist is channeling the Dambusters' spirit to take on a 56-mile fundraising challenge on a tandem trike to raise money for charity. 

Vera Staines, 75, from Attleborough, will be joined by her daughter Mandy Burchett, 53, of Suffolk, alongside their mascot Corporal James.

They will be raising money for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund - the RAF’s welfare charity.  

The pair are taking part in the Dambusters Ride, a 56-mile and 100-mile bike ride celebrating the centenary of the last surviving member of the Dambusters raid - Squadron Leader George "Johnny" Johnson DFM. 

Mrs Staines’ late husband, Jim, served in the RAF for 22 years as a photographer. The couple met in a cycling club before Mr Staines joined the force in 1959. 

She said: “I learnt a lot about the Dambusters raid while we were stationed at RAF Scampton in the early 1970s, and later on when we lived in the Netherlands, we visited the dams which made me admire the men of 617 Squadron even more. 

“When my husband became unwell, the RAF Benevolent Fund supported us by providing a mobility scooter. This helped him maintain his independence so it’s great to be giving something back to the charity.  

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“Cycling was always a big part of our lives – we used to race a tandem trike together, although until recently it had been more than 10 years since I’d last ridden one.” 

The Dambusters Ride will start and finish at the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, the home of 617 Squadron.  

Mrs Staines added: “In May 1943, the RAF's 617 Squadron carried out an audacious bombing raid in the Ruhr valley, the heart of Germany's war machine.

"They were disciplined, courageous, and determined and I hope to channel that when I take on the Dambusters Ride to honour the service of the Dambuster crew. 

“The RAF Benevolent Fund is the RAF's leading welfare charity and has been there, through thick and thin, for the RAF for more than 100 years. In 2019 they helped thousands of current and former members of the RAF and their families. 

“It's a cause that's close to my heart and with everyone's support, the RAF Benevolent Fund can continue to be there for veterans, serving personnel, and their families.” 

Mr Johnson has also given his support to the ride. He said: “I am grateful to have never needed the support of the RAF Benevolent Fund but nonetheless I have always known they are there for those less fortunate than I. 

“Not only will this event raise vital funds to support RAF personnel, past and present, it will also pay tribute to the brave men of Bomber Command who made the ultimate sacrifice on the Dambusters raid and throughout the Second World War.  

“Their loss must never be forgotten and it is my hope through this event, a new generation will learn about the cost of the freedom they enjoy today. 

“The RAF Benevolent Fund does incredible work supporting RAF veterans and serving personnel and I would like to thank anyone who signs up for this cycle ride.”  

In 2020, the RAF Benevolent Fund introduced a 24-hour emotional support helpline and created an online mental wellbeing zone, as well as offering Headspace memberships to partners of serving personnel.  

The fund has also offered a grant of £2,500 to each RAF station to provide an activity and wellbeing pack for RAF children and launched Airplay Connect, an online version of its youth support service.   

In 2019, the fund spent £28m supporting more than 71,000 members of the RAF Family. 

The pair have already raised more than £500. 

To sponsor Mrs Staines visit the fundraising page at the The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund website.