UK

Help for Heroes cycle ride gets royal send-off

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Media captionParalympic cyclist Jon-Allan Butterworth: "It reinforces why we do it, to remember our fallen"

Three hundred cyclists have set off on a Paris-to-London bike ride to raise money for the charity Help for Heroes.

The Duchess of Cornwall offered her support for the fundraisers as part of her first solo overseas engagement as a member of the royal family.

She chatted to cyclists and posed for photos before the group headed off.

Some 50 war veterans and serving soldiers wounded in action while working for the British military are taking part in the six-day cycle ride.

Help for Heroes, which supports wounded soldiers and their families, has been organising charity cycle rides since 2008, but this event has gained a higher profile following the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

'Poignant' event

Drummer Rigby was wearing a hooded top featuring the charity's logo when he was killed in Woolwich, south-east London, last week.

Image caption Help for Heroes has been organising charity cycle rides since 2008

Former RAF serviceman and Paralympic cyclist Jon-Allan Butterworth said that taking part in the ride had become "even more poignant" for him in the wake of the attack.

"We need to remember our fallen, from all past conflicts to the current peacetime missions and now at home as well", he said.

Many of the British riders wore red, white and blue racing tops as they gathered at Les Invalides, a military hospital built by Louis XIV in the 17th Century for wounded French soldiers.

They were joined by cyclists representing US and Canadian troops, and watched a performance from a French military band.

Security concerns

Just before the group departed from Paris, French army chief General Bertrand Ract-Madoux gave a speech offering "a special word for the memory of Lee Rigby" and promising that Help for Heroes could be sure of his support in the "fight against barbarism".

The charity's co-founder Bryn Parry highlighted the "extraordinary public reaction" to the murder and said he hoped that ongoing fundraising would keep its work in the spotlight as British troops prepared to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.

"There are actually thousands of wounded soldiers who need support for a very long time and if there's a good thing to come out of what happened in Woolwich it's that this won't go off the radar now," added Simon Halliday, one of the other participants.

A friend of his, Linda Baker, argued that Lee Rigby had "left behind a legacy" and said she hoped the extra funding and support being given to the charity would provide "a small comfort to his family".