A man whose father served with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment is embarking on an emotional journey to retrace his father’s footsteps.
Brian Donkersley’s father Jack ran away from home in Oldham to join the Dukes in Halifax in 1934, a trip which Brian will retrace by running the route to raise funds for the memorial statue that is being built in Halifax to commemorate the town’s historic regiment.
Brian, 62, from Northamptonshire, is taking on the challenge on June 28, on what would have been his father’s 101st birthday.
“At the age of 19, having saved up and bought himself a smart suit, he came home from work, planning a night out, only to find that his elder brother was already out wearing the new suit,” Brian says.
“Incensed and discontented, he advised the family that he was “joining the army”. This announcement being met with anguish from his mother and lack of consent, which was required at the time for one so young.
“So he ran away to join the Duke of Wellington’s regiment in Halifax where they couldn’t trace him, and lied about parental consent.
“So I’m now running that same route he took, to commemorate him and the regiment.
“He didn’t talk much about his time in the services, but the year before he died, he took my sister on a drive across the Pennines.
“He drove past the site of the Wellesley Barracks, telling a story of sitting in a window there, with a cloth in one hand and a bar of chocolate in the other, being the happiest boy in the world, having served five days and knowing he was in, which was the time allotted for parents to protest.
“If he had realised then what he was letting himself in for he would have thought differently.
“He retreated from Burma being chased by the Chinese and was sent home with battle fatigue and exhaustion.
“I’m more proud of him than I have ever been having done research on what went on.
“It was his ambition in life to make sure his children had a better life than he did, and I think he achieved that quite considerably.”
Brian will run from from Waterhead Park rugby club, where Brian and his father played the sport, to Halifax Bowls Club, on the site of the old Thrum Hall.
“I wasn’t interested at the time when he would talk about those days but doing this now seems so appropriate,” Brian said.
“I’ll be doing it with William Hoyle, who is a retired corporal from the regiment.
“As soon as he heard I was doing this, he was delighted to volunteer.
“His family is the Hoyle’s who owned the factory on Gibbet Street.
“I do running myself and have done a couple of marathons, but it’s a daunting challenge and I’m not taking it lightly.”
Brian worked for Halifax Building Society and lived in Barkisland for 29 years, and is delighted there will be a memorial to the Dukes in the town.
The statue is set to be installed in May next year in the Woolshops shopping centre.
World-class figurative sculptor Andrew Sinclair, who has previously taken on a commission for The Queen, has created the design, which will be 16ft tall and made of bronze.
“I think it’s wonderful,” he added. “That’s why I’m doing it along with commemorating my father.
“The regiment no longer exists having merged with the Yorkshire Regiment.
“It will be a lasting memorial to the fact the regiment existed. It’s history.
“There’s a genuine interest in the regiment in Halifax, and a positive attitude to it, having always been in the town.”
Those wanting to pledge money towards Brian’s cause by way of donation can do so by visiting www.justgiving.com/Brian-Donkersley1.