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Royal Navy officer to re-run Commando Test for PCRF in between chemotherapy sessions

22 September 2014

Royal Navy officer and hospital consultant, David Birt, is re-running the final Commando Test that earned him his Green Beret, to raise funds for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund.

Nearly 25 years ago, David Birt completed the All Arms Commando Course as a Royal Navy doctor, earning him a coveted Green Beret.  It was the start of a life-long association with the Commando Brigade that has taken him to Norway, the Balkans, twice to both Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently on board ship in the Gulf of Aden. When not on active service he works as a consultant anaesthetist in Derriford Hospital, Plymouth.

The final Commando Test is the "30-miler" - a gruelling yomp across Dartmoor to be completed in 8 hours.  Diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in November 2013, David aims to re-run the 30-miler, following his original route, to raise money for research into the disease he now faces.

David, from Tavistock, hopes to complete this in less than 12 hours - no mean feat for a 49 year old, but doubly challenging as he has to cope with chemotherapy treatment every fortnight. The challenge will need him to draw on all the elements of Commando Spirit - Courage, Determination, Unselfishness and Cheerfulness in the Face of Adversity.

“Military life has helped me to deal with the situation I’m facing,” says David. “As part of a highly trained and motivated team you can rely on each member to do their job to the best of their ability. I’m now being treated and looked after by colleagues at the hospital where I’ve worked for 15 years and I know I’m in good hands. I’ve been in several situations on active service where I have had to face the real possibility of death. Once you come to terms with that, you’re less afraid. Anxiety makes no difference to the outcome, it will just ruin the time remaining - it's the same situation with this disease. I intend to make the most of every day left to me."

l-r David Birt, Harry Birt and Martin Allison

For now, David says he feels well and training is progressing to plan.  “I’m pain free, active much of the time. My remaining symptoms are due to the treatment rather than the illness; they are grim for a few days, but settle, and we make the very best of the times in between."

David will be accompanied by his son, Harry (20) and three friends with whom he has deployed on military operations - Andy Burgess (Anaesthetist, Royal Navy), Tony Cramp (ex-Fleet Air Arm helicopter pilot) and Martin Allison (Sergeant, Royal Marines). The 5-man team will be supported along the route by their wives and friends.

David wants to raise as much money as possible; he set a target of £5k – but has already raised over £12K. “Making a difference to this cancer will only be achieved through more research, that’s why I chose to raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund," he says.

PCRF founder and Chief Executive, Maggie Blanks said: “I don’t think anyone who has spoken to David is in any doubt whatsoever that he and his team will complete this tough challenge. His determination and sense of humour is inspirational.  The money David raises will be put to great use, funding the very best UK research into this disease and we are extremely grateful for his support.”

You can leave a message of support and donate to David’s fundraiser at  

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