THE MOTHER of a young soldier killed while serving in Afghanistan has told of her pride after ex-forces veterans paid tribute to him during a stamina-sapping fund-raising run.

Truck driving instructor Kevin Dandy, who works for McCarthy Distribution in Wrexham, raised more than £1,000 for the Royal British Legion and a further £250 for the Curtis Palmer Programme run by the charity Pilgrim Bandits.

A former reserves fitness instructor with the Royal Signals, Kevin summoned up phenomenal determination to complete a series of 5K runs, each one with a rucksack strapped to his back containing 25 kilos.

Prior to the runs when Kevin posted about his fundraising plans on social media he was staggered by the amount of encouragement and good luck wishes he received from service families and forces vets across the UK.

They included a message of support from Cheshire mum Lisa Snow who Kevin noticed once lived in his own home village of Waverton near Chester.

Kevin reached out to Lisa and asked about her story. He was devastated to discover Lisa’s young son Joe Berry, 21, was killed while on an army tour of Afghanistan in 2020.

After learning more about Joe and wishing to pay a more personal tribute to him Kevin decided to do a solo power march around the city walls of Chester, again with a heavily weighted rucksack on his back. But this time he attached an A4 photo of Joe to his rucksack.

He said: “Joe lost his life serving our country and at such a young age. As an ex-Forces member myself I wanted to recognise that sacrifice at the same time as raising money for services charities.

“It started out as a personal tribute but I was astounded when other forces veterans turned up on the day from different parts of the UK. One even came from Yorkshire and another from Manchester. They had read about my plans and wanted to offer moral support and champion Joe’s name.

“It was so inspiring. In the end there were five of us, blokes I’d never met before but all with photos of Joe on our rucksacks. At the end of the circuit, we all went to Chester Cathedral to pay our respects at the Remembrance Day memorial there where we met Lisa. It was such an emotionally moving experience.”

Pte Joe Berry was serving with the Second Battalion of the Colchester based parachute regiment when he died in February 2020.

Lisa, who now lives in Crewe, said Kevin and his fellow marchers did her son proud.

She said: “I was so touched that Kevin reached out in the way he did. I want to keep Joe’s name alive and what Kevin and the others did was such a lovely, special tribute. It made the world of difference to me to think that complete strangers would come out and walk in Joe’s name like that. I’ll never forget what they did.”

Kevin was originally motivated to take on the energetic 5K runs challenge after hearing about the experiences of a McCarthy Distribution work colleague who also served in Afghanistan.

Steve Critchlow was lucky to escape with his life after his unit was in a fierce battle with the Taliban in Helmand Province in 2011.

Kevin said: “As an ex-forces man myself I wanted to do something positive to help the charities which support services veterans and their families.”

The picture of Pte Joe Berry on the back of Kevin Dandy’s rucksack

He was doubly motivated after joining a Facebook group called Gone Tabbing during the pandemic lockdown. The group is open to ex-service personnel and encourages them to do ‘loaded runs’ which involve carrying on their backs the equivalent weight of everything a soldier would need to go into battle.

Kevin has always worked hard to maintain his fitness but felt that he had ‘let himself go’ a bit during the lockdown periods with its associated restrictions on social activities like sports and going to the gym.

He said: “That’s why I decided to join Gone Tabbing. As a former fitness instructor I thought I would be equal to the challenge but I have to confess it was a lot tougher than I first imagined.”

He laughed: “My knees felt the worst of it. Towards the end of the runs they were really telling me enough is enough.”

Kevin raised a total of £1,085 for the Royal British Legion (RBL) after doing an uphill run of Moel Famau, near Mold, a circuit of Delamere Forest, Chester and park runs in Wrexham and Ellesmere Port.

He invited Ruth Jones, the RBL community fundraiser for West Cheshire, to the McCarthy Distribution headquarters on Wrexham Industrial Estate where he handed over the bumper cheque.

Ruth commended Kevin for his superhuman efforts and in turn presented him with a Poppy Appeal certificate of thanks.

She said: “What he did is amazing and every penny of the sum he raised will go to help our causes supporting servicemen and their families in need.

“We are so grateful to Kevin and everyone who sponsored him including all his colleagues and managers here at McCarthy Haulage.”

Kevin also raised a further £250 for the Curtis Palmer Programme, named after a police officer with a brain tumour who the charity Pilgrim Bandits helped achieve his dying wish to complete a parachute jump.

The Pilgrim Bandits was established to help Armed Forces servicemen and women through issues such as PTSD, stress and mental wellbeing issues. Through the Curtis Palmer Programme it has now extended that work to support police and emergency services personnel as well.

McCarthy Distribution Managing Director, Mike McCarthy, praised Kevin’s gritty determination.

He said: “He is a fundraising hero. We are all extremely proud of how hard he worked to achieve this and how much he has raised for two such worthwhile charities.”