Sizewell: Prince Harry turns out to support courageous canoeists

PRINCE Harry was among a large number of well-wishers who turned out in force to welcome back a team of courageous canoeists who recreated a famous Second World War journey.

The group of six – including four from Suffolk – set off from Katwijk, Holland, on Monday night and reached dry land at Sizewell yesterday afternoon.

About 100 people – including family, friends and loved ones – lined the beach to greet the team with warm cheers and applause when they reached the shore.

Prince Harry, who is training to fly Apache helicopters at Wattisham Airfield and is friends with some of the team, had to leave before they arrived but he spent about half an hour chatting to their families and learning more about the famous Second World War crossing.

The team were recreating the journey of 32 young Dutchmen who tried to flee their Nazi-occupied homeland in September 1941 by travelling nearly 120 miles across the North Sea in canoes.

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Unfortunately, three of the group, Alec Greenwell, 24, from Orford, Ed Cooper, 24, from Orford, and Harry Franks, 25, from Sutton, who all came up with the original idea for the challenge, had to give up on Tuesday night due to sheer exhaustion.

But champion rower Olly Hicks, 29, from Thorpeness, and two Dutch marines, Ben Stoel and Chiel van Bakel, completed the epic journey.

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It was far from easy – with severe sea sickness and tough conditions taking their toll.

Speaking shortly after reaching dry land, Harry said: “It was a very long way. I didn’t expect it to be quite so tough as it was. The first night was OK, there were force four winds but that was alright. The conditions weren’t too bad – it’s the distance. We also haven’t slept since Monday.

“We had serious bouts of sea sickness. One of the marines had to have injections and didn’t take any food or water for 12 hours. I don’t know how he did it. Olly has also just been solid. It’s incredible.

“Mentally I was set for another day. I’m incredibly disappointed not to be kayaking in.

“The support we have received from everyone has been brilliant, we can’t thank them enough.

“I don’t know how they [the Dutchmen from 1941] did it. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s hard to describe what it’s been like.”

He was greeted by his proud parents, George and Ingrid, girlfriend Rose, and Jack Russell, Sid.

“It was an inspired thought and a great challenge,” Mr Franks said. “It has been a great team effort and we are thrilled for them all. They have trained very hard.”

Olly, who has previously rowed solo across the Atlantic, said: “It was very hard. I think the numbers speak for themselves – we started with a team of six and only three back. Everyone played their part.”

The canoeists were supported by the vessel Marie, from Woodbridge. Those who did not finish the crossing were brought ashore shortly before the others arrived.

Only eight of the 1941 group, who were known as the Engelandvaarders (The England Voyagers), survived the crossing and there is a memorial on the beach at Sizewell to those who lost their lives.

The route the team followed was that of a pair of brothers, Henri and William Peteri.

Henri’s son, Niels, said yesterday: “It is incredible. It shows how tough it was.

“They are all sporty chaps but three had to quit. I have great respect for what they have achieved.”

The group were raising money for charities The Suffolk Foundation and Combat Stress.

David Sheepshanks, chairman of The Suffolk Foundation, said: “It’s great how a wholly original and innovative idea like this can bring communities together.

“We are enormously proud of all the boys and humbled by their dedication and determination.”

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