The International Four Days Marches Nijmegen is in its 100th year, and is being held from July 19 to 22. The Royal Canadian Dragoons team left Garrison Petawawa on July 14 to join more than 40,000 military and civilian marchers who will walk 160 kilometres through the Dutch provinces of Gelderland, Brabant and Limburg, as well as through the city of Nijmegen and its outskirts. (Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)
The Petawawa team packs up their gear before leaving to participate in the International Four Days Marches Nijmegen. (Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)
RCD team participating in 100th annual Nijmegen Marches
By Patricia Leboeuf
Posted on Thursday, July 21, 2016
A team of Royal Canadian Dragoons have joined about 250 Canadian Armed Forces members in the 100th International Four Days Marches Nijmegen.
The group left Petawawa by bus on July 14 after training for this opportunity for months. They will be meeting up with over 40,000 civilian and military marchers from 50 nations as they traverse 160 km, or an average of 40 km a day. Military members will walk in combat uniform while carrying a minimum rucksack load of 22 lbs.
It is the largest multiple day march in the world, and it is observed by millions as the walkers pass through hundreds of small European villages. Though it first began in 1909, members from the Canadian Armed Forces have been participating in the event since 1952.
Originally a military event, civilians were added to the mix as the event grew. It is a now a re-creation of the way Dutch soldiers were trained, a nod to the liberation of the Netherlands as well as an international draw, demonstrating support and togetherness between people from around the world.
“It is an indescribable experience of camaraderie and history,” said Warrant Officer Debbie Attrux. “For me, words just can’t describe the experience that is there... The atmosphere of being there with all the people, the teams, the morale is just fantastic.”
For the four days of marching, soldiers from all over are posted together out of Camp Heumensoord, and every morning they leave as a group, later joined by civilians. It is an incredible sight, though WO Attrux admits that it can be tedious to walk for so long, particularly in the scorching heat. Yet there is a sense of togetherness that keeps them going. The villagers are always friendly, welcoming the soldiers with loud cheers and a bounty of food and drink to keep their energy up. Friendships are formed between nations, the marchers sing songs and they sometimes try to encourage each other with friendly rivalries between countries.
WO Attrux will be one of the two Independent Marchers, known to most as the Sweeper. She will be trailing behind the Canadian contingent, making sure that everyone stays together and is in overall good shape, as well as providing mentorship to those that need it.
“We’ve already done at least one march previously, so we are there to help out through the different days,” said WO Attrux.
It is a position she feels honoured and humbled to have been chosen for.
She also pointed out how grateful she is to the national support group, who are already in place and ready to take care of them once they return to camp.
“They are there endlessly, they are working well into the late hours of the night to make sure that everything is good for us to go,” said WO Attrux.
“We have a fantastic support team,” she added.
As well as participating in the march, the 15 teams of Canadian soldiers will be attending ceremonies and taking part in cultural activities.
The Dragoons have very close ties with Leeuwarden in the Netherlands as the regiment liberated the city from occupation in the Second World War. Every year, Leeuwarden flies the Dragoons’ flag while the city’s flag is flown at Garrison Petawawa. The chance to actually see the city is something that many were excited to do.
“It is a pretty significant opportunity for the regiment to get (to do) this,” said Team Leader Captain Nathan MacIntosh. “... To be able to send a team of Dragoons over there is just icing on the cake.”
He and his second in command, Sergeant Tom Matthews, have been narrowing down the participants from a pool of 30. The number dwindled as people were posted out of the area or other commitments arose. The remainder trained arduously, completing a minimum of 500 km by foot.
“It isn’t just the guys,” said Capt MacIntosh. “They have to put the kilometres on their feet, but they have to have a lot of support from their Chain of Command, their regiment and their families. It is really a lot of people coming together to help these guys go over and complete the competition.”
The march began on July 19. The soldiers are slated to return to Canada on July 25.