A PENSIONER from Chelsea, who says that he is the first person to walk the 610-mile Western Front Way through First World War battlefields, says that he was inspired by his faith.
Alan Rutter, who is 71, carried a 40kg bag for 46 days, often sleeping in the open, from the Channel port of Dunkirk to Pfetterhouse, on the French border with Switzerland and Germany. He said that, for him as a committed Christian, the journey had a spiritual dimension — from the awe-inspiring impact of the landscape to the motivation behind it.
“God enabled me and God provided for me,” he said. “I learned to humble myself, because I never knew what the day would bring: I could have broken an ankle, I could have got lost in those woods. The journey benefited me physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s been a wonderful adventure.”
His efforts have raised more that £6000 for the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and the charity Warchild, which cares for children who are caught up in war zones. He said that he was inspired to do it as a way of expressing “his admiration and thanks” to those who died in the First World War.
Mr Rutter, a former regular with the Middlesex Regiment, chose two texts from the Bible to sustain him on his walk: Proverbs 3.5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths”; and Proverbs 16.9: “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
On his Just Giving webpage (www.justgiving.com/teams/Alan-Rutter), he wrote: “I am doing it because I am not yet ready to put on my slippers and doze at the fireside. I love an adventure and this walk along the entire Western Front is just what the doctor ordered.”
He slept most nights “beneath God’s heavenly host”, and made an occasional visit to a B&B to shower and wash his clothes. On three occasions, strangers gave him a bed and a meal, charged his phone, which he relied on for maps, and, on one occasion, even cleaned his laundry.
It was not all idyllic, however: once, he was caught in a thunderstorm. “I was drenched,” he said. “That storm was probably as close as I’ll ever get to being under a barrage of artillery fire. It was a tiny reflection of what those guys would have felt. It was a lesson to be learned.”
The walk was created by a Kent-based charity to honour the dream of Second Lieutenant Alexander Douglas Gillespie, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who was killed in 1915 soon after writing home and telling of his vision of a sacred road as a route for peace between the lines.
He wrote: “I would make a fine broad road in the ‘No-Mans Land’ between the lines, with paths for pilgrims on foot and plant trees for shade and fruit trees, so that the soil should not altogether be waste. Then I would like to send every man, woman and child in Western Europe on a pilgrimage along that Via Sacra so that they might think and learn what war means from the silent witnesses on either side.”