Follow veteran Mic Whitty’s cycling journey across the world

Michael ‘Mic’ Whitty’s quest to cycle to Commonwealth war cemeteries was prompted by a chance discovery – and has connected him with a network of peers via RSL sub-Branches.

By Lachlan Haycock

Michael ‘Mic’ Whitty, Air Force veteran and RSL NSW member, is on a mission. He’s partway through a journey to visit every single Commonwealth war cemetery – by bicycle.

During his ambitious commemoration journey, he decided to sign up as an RSL NSW member, joining the Combined Services RSL sub-Branch. When we spoke in late March, Whitty was preparing to depart Wilcannia in the state’s west; at the time of publication, he had already made it as far as Adelaide.

Below, he shares dealing with the impact of gambling and homelessness, how a chance discovery prompted his quest, and how joining RSL NSW has helped him connect with fellow veterans en route.

Off the grid

“I’m ex-Air Force. I joined as an apprentice armament fitter in 1981, and did nine years in Australia. I then left the country to work for British Aerospace in Saudi Arabia, also in an armament role, for the next seven years.

“In the 1990s, I worked a number of IT jobs, and then I had a bit of a professional crisis; I woke up one day and thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’. So I changed jobs completely and went to work in youth hostels in the UK for a number of years.

“To cut a very long story short, I soon went from a high-paying six-figure job to working a job at minimum wage. I thought I could make up the difference in income by dabbling in spread betting, which is essentially a sort of gambling. It completely wiped me out.

“I ended up homeless and sleeping rough in Snowdonia National Park in Wales for about a year. Later, I went missing off the radar for eight or nine months.”

To learn more about Mic Whitty’s experiences with gambling and homelessness listen to his chat with Richard Fidler on ABC’s Conversations podcast.

On a mission

“When I resurfaced, I started to slowly gather up all my belongings from various people’s houses; I’d left small parcels of my belongings with friends. In the process, I rediscovered my grandfather’s diary that he wrote while serving in the Australian artillery in 1916.

“He had been sent to Europe to serve in Gallipoli, but as the evacuations had already begun when he arrived, he ended up spending three months in Alexandria, Egypt, before being sent to the Western Front. I realised that, not being far from Belgium and France, I could follow the path he had followed 100 years previously.

“So I cycled my way to Gallipoli, where I found a marker for one of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries. There are 33 cemeteries on the peninsula, and I made a point to visit all of them. I was quite chuffed with myself at the end of it.

“On the way back to France, I realised that the frontline never moved much during the war. Building on my original idea, I set out to cycle to every Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery on the Western Front from World War I – all 450 of them – across France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany.

“That’s what I did for the next three years, pottering along with my hammock and my sleeping bag.”

Whitty soon returned to Australia – by way of Canada – cycling most of the way, and has since committed to visiting every Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in Australia:

Back on home soil

“I’ve been sharing highlights from my journey on Facebook and Instagram, and have connected with fellow Air Force veterans who have seen that I’ll be passing through their area. When I was travelling west across the Blue Mountains, for example, I was invited to join the AGM at Blackheath/Mt Victoria RSL sub-Branch and share my tale.

“Connecting with fellow veterans has been rewarding. A number of people are reaching out via Strava, and I’m also still in contact with my mates from Amberley, some of whom are riding down the Port Augusta at the moment; we’ve organised to have lunch together.

“After passing through Adelaide, I plan to head down to Melbourne and then up the east coast again. I’ve been talking to Gary Snow, my contact at the Combined Services RSL sub-Branch, about doing a talk when I'm next passing through Sydney, which will be later this year.

“Gary’s been very helpful. It’s been 15 years since I left Australia for Europe, and I hadn’t understood the difference between RSL sub-Branches and RSL Clubs; Gary explained how they are separate and that membership was free. So it was an easy decision to sign up.

“After I head back across the border into NSW, I’ll more methodically reach out to sub-Branches along the way to organise some talks. People have been quite generous; I’m very grateful for their support.”

Follow Whitty’s progress on Strava.

RSL NSW welcomes veterans of any service background to join the organisation. Access support services and become part of a like-minded community of peers by becoming a member of RSL NSW.

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