Corporal James Kirby, a Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (LANCS) soldier at Infantry Training Centre (ITC) Catterick, ‘tabbed’ 154 miles, carrying 59kg, across the North of England in 48 hours, all in aid of Blesma.
Talking about what got him through, he said: “There’s no beating me. It’s all in your head. Ignoring that bit in my head that says, ‘you can’t do this’, that’s who I am. There’s no one stronger than yourself.”
A ‘tab’ is a loaded march, considered a core skill in the British Army, and the 33-year-old demonstrated this in spades as he journeyed from Preston to Catterick and back, from Friday 30 April to Sunday 2 May.
As a commander in my section, I want to be somebody who won’t let them down Corporal James Kirby
Corporal Kirby has had to deal with a lot during his life, including the sad passing of his mother from Covid-19 this year, and now wants to be a role model of mental resilience to the younger generation.
He said: “While I was in [the first stint] in the Army, my mum had her leg amputated and my dad committed suicide. So, I left the Army for a few years to help out my mum. She lost her house and I was homeless, used to go up every single day to the hospital, was sleeping on bus stations and in local parks.
I’ve been urinated on when I was asleep on the streets. I’ve tried committing suicide before. It was hard. But if I didn’t go through all that, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today. As a commander in my section, I want to be somebody who won’t let them down. Someone who will listen to them, who will believe in them.”
The march was an intense experience for the infantryman, who candidly described his feelings at the halfway point, Catterick’s Helles Barracks.
He said: “My feet are killing me, proper killing me. I’ve got ‘man chafe’. My eyeballs feel like they’ve got salt and vinegar in them. But the main thing is, mentally, I’m buzzing.”
The ‘tab’ concluded in the same place it had begun: the Preston Centotaph, where he was greeted emotionally by friends and colleagues.
Corporal Kirby was also joined at points along the route, keeping in line with Covid-19 guidance, by fellow soldiers for moral support.
I’ve done it mum Corporal James Kirby
Before finishing, he said: “This route is the same one I took when I had to drive down for my mum. The 48 hours is because I watched her die in front of me over 48 hours. Every single breath was like her last one.
“I haven’t mourned my mum yet, haven’t grieved her properly. I’ll do it when I finish, when I take a knee at the Cenotaph, look up in the sky, shed a tear and say, ‘I’ve done it mum’.”
And on that Sunday morning in Preston, after 140 gruelling miles and cheered on by mates, the soldier did just that.