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My Experience of the Nijmegen March - 160 Kilometres of Remembrance
by Master Corporal Sarah Parkinson

Webmaster's Note: The Four Day Marches date back to before the First World War, and were originally a military fitness exercise for the Dutch Army. By the 1930s, international civilian participation had grown in this annual event in which four consecutive days of marches between Dutch garrisons were conducted. Today, there are a number of categories of marches with differing daily lengths based on age and gender. The military category requires participants to be in uniforms, carrying 10kg packs, and to march either 40 or 50km each day for four successive days.

This is my experience and perspective of the Nijmegen event of which I had the pleasure of being a part of.  

"I say 'Nij' you say 'Megen'" shouts Gen Cotton to motivate the Canadian Contingent in the wee hours of each morning prior to stepping off.  The hearty response echoes through the woodlands and brings focus. There were 16 teams from Canada, including two from Alberta (HMCS Tecumseh and 41 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters).

At right, the Canadian Contingent gathers for early morning motivation delivered by Gen Cotton. We woke up and commenced marching as early as 2 am to beat the heat of the day.

"The Nijmegen Marches are a rigorous and prestigious annual event which has involved Canadian participation since 1952. The Marches require that military entrants complete the four day 160 kilometres (4 x 40 kilometres) march in combat uniform, carrying a minimum rucksack load of 10 kilograms. The event annually draws over 40 000 marchers from 50 different nations and is witnessed by over 1 million spectators along the route. This year over 200 Canadian Armed Forces members participated in the 97th annual International Four Days Marches Nijmegen, held from July 16 to 19, 2013." -(from the www.combatcamera.ca site)

For Canadian soldiers, Nijmegen consists of 40-50kms/day for four days in a row, carrying weight/sand plus your water, food and necessities for the duration of the day. At times you are required to march in step and often there is singing to maintain morale and provide motivation/cohesion.

The work up training was over four and half months long with great commitment required. Many early mornings and every weekend was dedicated to preparations and training. Our 41 CBG HQ team arrived well prepared to meet the challenge.

The symbolism and connection with history wove through the tapestry of this experience. Visiting Vimy Ridge Memorial in France and touring the trench systems prior to the 4 days of marching, prepared our minds for the powerful experience ahead.  

Pictured above: myself and Sergeant Edwards of The King's Own Calgary Regiment posing in front of the massive memorial; myself - the sole Calgary Highlander, pictured on the steps of the memorial. 

When walking through towns surrounding Nijmegen - it became a reality what being a  Canadian soldier truly means. People still living in such gratitude and remembrance of their precious freedom granted by Canadian soldiers so many years ago, brought waves of emotion and pride. Banners displayed welcoming "Canada - our liberators".  A very humbling and honourable feeling.

Gladiola Parade where Gladiolas are handed to soldiers and the overwhelming support and presence of the citizens can be emotionally overwhelming.


Pictured above: 41 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters team marching through a town. The windmill in the back, is a rare sight.
 (Combat Camera photo)


Pictured above: the Canadian contingent leaving the camp towards the start point in Nijmegen.
 (Combat Camera photo)


41 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters team crossing the historical bridge also in the movie "A Bridge Too Far".
(Combat Camera photo)

 

On the third day of marching was Groesbeek - a Canadian War Cemetery solely for the Canadian soldiers & airmen who liberated Holland through various battles between 1944-1945. Over 2300 marked and well-manicured graves on a hill overlooking the surrounding area. We witnessed the staggering sacrifice first hand. It was a very sobering experience to hold a parade on this hallowed ground and proudly sing "Oh Canada". There were many graves for the Calgary Regiment (now KOCR) as well as Calgary Highlanders.   I laid my poppy on a Calgary Highlander's grave. 

The sight of the numerous graves, made the price of freedom very apparent. It is not taken lightly in The Netherlands. The people truly live in gratitude and remembrance and this is passed down the generations. The local elementary school children maintain, weed and clean each grave in this Canadian war cemetery as a secondary responsibility.


Groesbeek Cemetery. (Combat Camera)

The grave of a Calgary Highlander that I laid my poppy on.

 

During the march, when the going got tough and the pain ran high, it was easy to remember past Canadian soldiers who suffered immensely to bring freedom to the land we walked. It eased the suffering knowing that their pains were greater and many sacrificed their lives for the cause. There was an undeniable & powerful feeling of being united with the fallen & feelings of them present in spirit.

 Upon completion of the fourth day, each successful marcher was awarded a medal, coin and invitation to march in the 5km victory parade. 41 CBG HQ team was successful and was also awarded the team medal, recognizing that all members of the team had successfully completed the march.

Pictured above: 41 CBG HQ team just having received their medals. (Photo taken by combat camera)

Team photo with medals at Charlemagne field:
Top row left to right: BGen Cotten, MCpl Kalmakoff, Cpl Strokappe, Cpl Marshall, Cpl Jacko, WO Pierce, CWO Jones
Bottom row left to right: Maj Smid, MCpl Dubas, MCpl Parkinson, Sgt Edwards, Bdr Neilson, Cpl Benke

Receiving the Cross of the Four Day Marches from General Cotton
(Combat Camera photo)

Sergeant Edwards, KOCR and myself after receiving our completion medals. (Photo taken by combat camera)

I am grateful for this once in a lifetime experience and I speak on behalf of my fellow comrades when I say, it has truly expanded appreciation for our own freedoms and the true honour it is to wear the Canadian uniform. I am proud to be a Calgary Highlander and ironically was the only highlander representing Canada in Nijmegen this year. (Maybe they can only handle one at a time!) This was a true honour and privilege.

The sacrifice of the fallen who selflessly brought and continue to bring freedom to distant lands, stands stalwartly as an example. It is a blessing to live in freedom & peace. Let us not take it for granted. 

We will remember them. 

MCpl Sarah E. Parkinson

Calgary Highlanders


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