The Nijmegen International 4-Day Marches is an annual road marching event open to civilian and military participants held in Nijmegen, Holland with around 50,000 participants. The British Military Contingent comprises of 1,000 from British regular, reserve and cadet forces.
The South and East Midlands Road Marching Team of around 25 cadets and staff set off from 2070 (Glenfield) Squadron at 0300 hrs on 13th July, having to be at Birmingham airport for our flight to Amsterdam at 0530. We then took the train to Nijmegen station, arriving at noon. We stopped for a quick team photo before catching the military bus to Camp Heumensoord where we would be staying for the week.
Camp Heumensoord is a temporary camp that houses all the military participants taking part in the marches and is set up by the Dutch military six weeks in advance of the event. It consists of many accommodation ‘tents’, each housing hundreds of competitors as well as several other key tents such as the Mess Tent and the International Beer Tent (party tent). The rest of the day was spent exploring the town of Nijmegen and enjoying the Dutch and English music being played at many of the town’s festivals.
On the second day the group visited the Airborne Cemetery near Arnhem where nearly 2,000 Allied soldiers are buried as a result of the failed Operation Market Garden in September 1994. We also went to a military museum with various exhibits to do with the battles that took place in the local area.
The third day was more free time, but we had to be back for an early night to prepare for the marches that would begin the next morning. This included the taping of our feet and filling up of camelbacks. We were up again at 3 in the morning in a mad frenzy to be ready for breakfast in half an hour. After that we had to fall in and ready to march for 4.30. The first day was quite a long walk as it was of 28 miles (44km) distance, but nobody felt it because the experience was completely unexpected. In complete contrast to all of the training walks we had previously undertaken (totalling 250 miles), the support we received from the locals was astounding. Whenever we passed through towns and villages on the march, there would be children lining the streets handing out sweets, giving high fives and also asking for souvenirs in their inimitable style . The locals also played music as we passed and left their garden hoses running so we could cool off in the intense heat. After completing day 1 none of the cadets were injured and we were all pumped up and ready for more sleep deprivation marching.
Day 2 of the marches proved easier than the first. After a similar amount of sleep and setting off early in the morning before sunrise (to try to avoid most of the sun’s heat), we set off on a shorter route (36 km). During the marches we occupied ourselves by singing various humorous marching songs (which the other marchers seemed to enjoy). We got back to camp in plenty of time to find that the Commandant Air Cadets had arrived in Nijmegen and was talking to cadets in the beer tent.
The third day of marching was fairly difficult, after marching for 50 miles already the cadets’ feet were starting to hurt, and we also had a much later start. This was good in the sense that we had more time to rest from the previous day; however it came at the cost of walking in more sunlight hours in the scorching heat during the march. The day also included a few hills which are rarely seen in Holland, but the team kept in high spirits to complete the day uninjured, albeit rather tired.
The final day of marching was a tough one, but morale remained high after being inspired by a Marines officer who (according to rumours) was completing the marches whilst carrying 25kg of dead weight – and still making better time than our team. We pushed on despite an injury or two and at last made it across the finish line when we were awarded our medals. But the marches weren’t over yet for us – there was still a 5km victory march to complete with people filling the streets and even dancing on top of buildings. It felt amazing to have completed the marches and to have done so without any Cadets dropping out, and everyone fully enjoyed the victory march even after already marching 100 miles.
Overall Nijmegen was a brilliant experience for me and definitely one of the best activities I have done with Cadets so far. I don’t think anything quite like it exists in any other kind of activity available and I would really recommend this unique experience to other Cadets.
Cdt James Twigg (1461 Sqn)