During the Second World War the Hawker Typhoon, and those who operated them, were some of the biggest unsung heroes around. After initial teething problems, like almost every new type, the Typhoon eventually found its niche as the first dedicated close air support aircraft. In this role it was devastatingly effective, Rommel cited the air cover provided by the Typhoons as the reason the Allies were able to “win” the battle of Normandy. But this came at a cost, 666 Typhoon pilots were killed flying the type, mostly to flak encountered during their low level attacks, as well as scores of ground crew often situated at forward operating bases just miles from the rapidly changing front line and regularly subject to enemy attack, by shell or by strafing and bombing.
There is no single national memorial to these brave warriors, and that is something the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group aims to put right. Founded as a charity in 2016 with the aim of raising the considerable funds required to facilitate the rebuild of RB396, a genuine combat veteran Hawker Typhoon, the project had gone from strength to strength over the years. Until, like everyone, it was decimated by the covid pandemic, associated restrictions, and now in the recovery from the pandemic the ever increasing cost of living having a real effect on people’s ability to give to charity, any charity.
In early 2022 as the fundraising landscape took another turn for the worse, with Russia’s shocking invasion of Ukraine, project founder and director Sam Worthington-Leese, who is a former RAF pilot, made redundant during the 2010 Defence Review, was considering how to try and give that fundraising a little boost. Not a keen runner, but having been inspired by Brian Wood MC’s 25 marathons in 25 days, yet knowing he could never undertake a feat like that, the idea of 666 miles rattled round in his head. The 6th June is a big date in the Typhoon calendar, for it was the lead up to D-Day and the subsequent battle of Normandy in which the Typhoon really made its name. Indeed, his own grandfather, Flying Officer Roy Worthington was shot down in a Typhoon on the 21st May 1944, in one of many softening up missions on continental defences and infrastructure. He went on to become a PoW in Stalag Luft III, and take part in the forced march at the end of the war.
Sam considered if it would be possible to run 666 miles by the 6th June, to finish on the anniversary of D-Day. With a full-time job with anti-social hours flying for an airline, a young family, the charity project to run and other interests, he settled on trying to do this over a 100 consecutive day period. That would mean he would have to run, on average, 6.66 miles every day for 100 days. He decided not to be flexible with the end date, meaning that any missed miles would need to be made up within the 100-day period. Three missed days would mean in excess of a marathon on the fourth, in order to stay on track.
And so the challenge was set.
He bought a new pair of trainers, secured some running shirts from a company called Embroiderit.co.uk who provide clothing for the Typhoon project, and a Garmin GPS watch from Pooleys flight equipment so that the runs could be tracked. He worked out a local route around his north Nottinghamshire village that came to 6.66 miles, bought a tub of talcum powder, and on the 27th February he completed the first run.
Thereafter, every day, come rain or shine, he completed the required miles. The earliest was completed at 0500 before work, and the latest at 2230 after work. Sometimes the run was split in two, to manage fitting it in around work/life/travel, and on some occasions he would build in extra miles over a few days to make up for a day when he knew he would struggle to fit in the full amount. The shortest distance run was 2.66 miles, the longest was 13.32. He missed a run completely on only two of the 100 days, one through an excessively delayed day at work, and the second through illness in late April of the challenge. He contracted covid in mid-March, as he had only really just got going with the challenge. He ran throughout that, albeit considerably slower, and the subsequent chest infection that it turned into, most likely brought about by running every day through covid.
On the 6th June he completed his final run, of 9.66 miles, completing his 666 miles in 100 days running challenge.
The aim of the challenge was just to provide a little boost to the project’s fundraising, which has taken a hit recently with the knock on effect of world affairs. At the same time, it was hoped it would raise some awareness of the project and the hard working all volunteer team who give up vast amounts of their spare time in order to try to raise the funds required through various means.
The fundraising target for this run was £10,000. When broken down that equates to just £15 per mile Sam ran. In itself that is a drop in the ocean when considered against the ~£5million+ required to see the rebuild through. But the team are constantly working on incentives that raise amounts similar to this, or lesser amounts, that when combined turn in to considerable amounts. Over the years, they have raised in excess of £1million, which has allowed the rebuild to physically commence, as well as for the project to prepare for the subsequent stages of the rebuild. The world is closer now, than it has been since the days of the second world war, to seeing a Hawker Typhoon fly once more.
Sam said of the run: “I don’t enjoy running, and have never been that good at it, I’ve always been just OK. That was my reason for choosing running for this challenge – it’ not a challenge if it’s not challenging. I hope that by doing this challenge it has raised some awareness of the project to rebuild a Hawker Typhoon, which is something that I and the team all feel passionately about. The amount raised may not rebuild the aircraft, but it’s another step in the right direction – whether I’d raised £1 or £10,000. I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to this challenge, especially those who sponsored me in my efforts. If you’d like to do the same, please visit my crowdfunder page which will be open for a little while longer, or, please visit the website and find out more about what we’re doing. One day, we’d like to fly a pairs “Two Typhoons” routine with the (Eurofighter) Typhoon display team and our very own Hawker Typhoon. With the right support that is entirely possible, and in the not too distant future as well.”