Being a soldier is something that stays with you for life, it becomes part of who you are.
Your regiment is your family when you are in a warzone and everyone who has adorned the uniform is part of that unit whether you know them or not.
Former soldier Evan Finnegan from Brightons is in the process of remembering his fallen comrades from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) with a gruelling cycle to France for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.
It was one of the bloodiest battles in human history – the biggest in the Great War on the western front – fought out on the upper reaches of northern France’s River Somme with over one million men killed or wounded from when it broke out on July 1, 1916 until November 18 the same year – a battle which raged for 141 days.
On that fateful first day Britain’s Fourth Army suffered over 57,000 casualties, 19,240 of whom were killed. The Germans lost between 10,000-12,000 men.
Father-of-three Evan, who served with the now-defunct KOSB from 1997-2004 as a machine gun commander doing tours of Iraq and Northern Ireland, started his journey on Monday from the KOSB plaque at Edinburgh Castle and will cycle 900 miles to a cemetery in Maricourt.
He hopes to arrive there by July 9 at the graveside of soldier James Farr from Dudley, a man he is connected to only by regiment, 100 years to the day he was killed during the battle.
His route is Edinburgh to Dover then Calais to Maricourt taking in points of interest to the regiment, particularly the 6th Battalion with whom Private served.
By Tuesday Evan and his dad Gerry, who is accompanying him in a support vehicle, had reached Newcastle after covering 94 miles on Monday.
From there he said: “I should hit France on July 5. It was quite emotional leaving Edinburgh Castle as all my family were there and a Scots Guard piped me off on the journey. I had family who fought in the war, but I believe they all came back alive.
“I will be taking in points of interest to Private Farr, the routes and places he might have travelled on his way to the front line during the First World War. Walking and cycling were modes of transport for soldiers during the conflict.
“I did a lot of training as it will be a big effort cycling to France, but I want to pay tribute to those who died during the Battle of the Somme and raise money for Poppy Scotland at the same time.”
It’s not the first time the 37-year-old has visited battle memorials in northern Europe in honour of the fallen.
Evan, who has played the bagpipes since he was seven, had the honour of playing the lament to mark Armistice Day at the site of another fierce WWI battle in 2013 when the ancient Scottish folk tune Flowers o’ the Forest, which is traditionally performed by a lone piper at military funerals, during a service at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.
A remembrance service takes place every Armistice Day at the Menin Gate, one of the most famous World War One memorials, and it was the third time he had played the lament there. He has also performed at the Somme memorial on Armistice Day.
The memorial stands at the eastern exit to the town of Ypres, on the road which hundreds of thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers marched along as they headed to the battlefields of Ypres Salient. The memorial lists the names of 54,896 Commonwealth troops who were killed there and have no known burial place.
Evan added: “The ‘Flowers o’ the Forest is a tune that pipers will only practice in private, as it is only ever played in public at military funerals. There’s a bit of superstition among pipers about it.
“This time I’ll be meeting up with friends and a battlefield group and I’ll be playing the KOSB regimental charge song The Standard on the Braes o’ Mar. I think a trip to the pub will also be on the cards as this is the first time I’ll have cycled there.”
The money Evan raises for PoppyScotland through his latest trip will be used to provide life-changing support to the Armed Forces community and the KOSB Regimental Association.
PoppyScotland regional fundraiser Sine Ward said: “We wish Evan all the best for the huge challenge ahead of him.
“By raising funds for PoppyScotland during this commemoration period, Evan is helping to ensure that veterans and their families affected by conflict today can get the help and support they need.”
He has also recorded a single, The Battle of the Somme, which was written after the battle took place, in his friend’s studio. He hopes sales of the track will help raise more money for his chosen charities.
To record his fundraising efforts Evan has created a blog – thebattlefieldpiper.com – where donations can be made.
His Facebook page Finn EP is also being updated daily with photographs and the progress he is making on his epic journey.
Scottish Poppy appeal
The Scottish Poppy Appeal by PoppyScotland raises more than £2 million every year.
The appeal and the charity’s other year-round fundraising activities enables it to provide tailored support and funding to thousands of ex-service men and women.
Support also includes vital services such as advice, employment, mobility, respite, housing and mental health support.
The charity was established in 1921 as the Earl of Haig Fund Scotland and adopted the current name in 2006 to reflect its modern-day activities and welfare work.
The organisation must raise around £10,000 every day to continue its work. Last year, £3.7m was spent on its services.