One man, two wheels, and thousands of war graves

Michael (Mic) Whitty at Sunbury Cemetery as part of his worldwide cycle tour of war graves. Photo / Sharon Oakley.

Michael “Mic” Whitty is cycling around Australia as part of a 30-year quest to visit every Commonwealth War Grave in the world before VJ Day 2045 (Victory over Japan day). And this week he ticked Sunbury Cemetery off his list.

“There are some spectacular war graves in Norway,” he says. “So it’s hard to complete with those. But Sunbury Cemetery is neat and tidy. And the statue, dedicated to World Wars One and Two…I was pretty impressed with that. I’ve taken some photos.”

Mr Whitty comes from NSW, turns 59 this month, has dual Australian and UK citizenship, and has been an expatriate since 1990. He spent 10 years working in the UK before falling on hard times in 2014.

“Things were a bit grim and I actually went missing for a year,” he says. “But when I reconnected in 2015 I was going through some of my limited boxes of things and found my grandfather’s 1916 diary.

Lieutenant Ian Whitty was fighting on the western front when he put pen to paper – sparking the journey of a lifetime for his grandson 99 years later. Mr Whitty was unemployed, sleeping rough, and had £19 to his name when he read the diary.

“I had a lightbulb moment, it would be 100 years the following year,” says Mr Whitty. “I didn’t have anything to look forward to, but I thought I could follow his diary from the centenary year.”

Sitting on a borrowed bicycle, he was waved off by friends in Cumbria, UK, and headed to the coast to get a ferry to France. Once back on dry land he cycled to Anzac Cove, Turkey – arriving in April 2016. He visited all 33 Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries on the Gallipoli peninsula.

By the end of 2022, the centenary of the Second World War, he had visited 26,530 Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries.

Last year saw Mr Whitty visit the 12 Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries in Bermuda, cycle through the New England states of the USA, he completed a six-month 8,870-kilometre trans-Canadian Highway crossing, and spent last Christmas sharing stories with friends in New Zealand.

In January Mr Whitty arrived in Sydney to tour war graves across Australia.

“I chug along one day at a time and continually surprise myself,” he says. “I met a lovely lady in Sunbury and she came back to give me a care package full of goodies.”

To help fund his travels, Mr Whitty gives talks to groups who want to hear about his adventures. He plans to visit Sunbury again and has offered to tell members of the Sunbury Historical and Heritage Society about his quest.

Sharon Oakley, who chanced upon Mr Whitty while walking her dog near Sunbury Cemetery, says “good on him”.

“If you’re basically homeless you might as well be homeless the way you choose to be.”