Michael Homer visited 45 county towns and towns of military importance in under 150 hours (Michael Homer/PA)
A veteran has visited 45 county towns and places of military importance in under 150 hours in a bid to raise enough funds for plaques to honour those who served but never returned home.
Michael Homer – who served in what was known as the Royal Army Service Corps between 1958 and 1960 – completed the challenge, which he dubbed the “plaque-a-thon”, on July 10.
The 84-year-old started the whistle-stop tour on June 27 and would visit several locations daily, including Guildford, Andover, Bristol, Oxford and Reading, before travelling back to his home in Fareham, Hampshire, at the end of each day.
Roy Hunt and Michael Homer outside Guildford station (Michael Homer/PA)
Mr Homer is the chairman of the National Service Veterans Alliance and said that getting plaques in county towns and towns of military importance has been a goal of the organisation’s, with only seven in the UK at the moment.
“When you’re fundraising, you’ve got to think of ways of catching people’s imagination,” he told the PA news agency.
“I thought, I like trains, so why don’t I create this challenge?
“I thoroughly enjoyed it and hopefully I can also get plaques for the towns and those I did not manage to visit.”
He originally planned to visit 50 county towns and other locations, but this plan was derailed due to train cancellations and strikes.
Money for the plaques will be raised through donations, with Mr Homer then approaching the councils of the visited places to petition for them to be erected.
He said that people have been “more than generous” through making donations to his fundraising page.
“Over £6,000 has been raised and there is still more money to come in and I’m more than pleased with that.
“The money isn’t for me – it’s for your father, your grandfather, who possibly did national service.”
And he added that “2.2 million men did national service, but unfortunately over 2,000 never came back home and probably 4,000 or 5,000 have problems like myself”.
Michael Homer said he enjoyed the plaque-a-thon (Michael Homer/PA)
Mr Homer said that on May 16, he was invited to go to the National Memorial Arboretum to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of National Service, and was given the seal of approval from the Princess Royal over the challenge.
“Princess Anne was there and afterwards, I was chosen with 25 others to meet her and she actually came and talked to each individual person,” he said.
“And when she turned to me and I explained that I was doing the plaque-a-thon, she said: ‘That’s a very good idea and I hope the trains are not on strike,’ and she thanked us all for our service.”
During his time in National Service, Mr Homer served as an ambulance driver in Germany, which he said “did me the world of good”, despite losing his hearing and balance due to gunfire.
Roy Hunt and Michael Homer outside Maidstone East station (Michael Homer/PA)
“I have to use a wheelchair wherever I go, but my National Service did me the world of good,” he said.
“It taught me an awful lot – it taught me respect, it taught me discipline and it gave me a trade.
“The comradeship in the army is second to none and the National Service Veterans Alliance tries to look after our members in the best way we can.”
On each day, Mr Homer would have a companion, with a fellow veteran from the Royal Army Service Corps called Roy Hunt travelling to the sites with him on day one, with a navy officer, RAF officer and army officer accompanying him on other days.
Michael Homer and Roy Hunt at Andover station (Michael Homer/PA)
He said that the railway companies played a big role in helping to make sure the challenge was a success, with the veteran spending six months planning all the journeys.
“Southwest Trains bent over backwards to assist me,” he said.
“I had to book disabled assistance and they really helped me.
“All the rail companies have been absolutely brilliant.”
Donning army uniform while on the plaque-a-thon, the 84-year-old said many would approach him to ask about what he was doing.
“A good majority said: ‘My dad did National Service, my grandfather did National Service,’ and we would explain what we were doing and that was brilliant.”