On Tuesday, July 17, 270 Canadian Forces members are putting their best foot forward at the opening of the 96th Annual Nijmegen Marches. By the time the event winds up Friday, they will have logged 160 kilometres through the countryside and towns of the Netherlands.
There are about 40,000 marchers, of which 5,000 are military from a score of countries. The Nijmegen Marches are no stroll through the park. Each military marcher wears standard combat clothing and carries a military rucksack weighing at least 10 kilograms. Yet, judging by the exuberance and energy displayed by teams as they march smartly in to sign off each day, they are having the time of their lives. Canada has sent teams of military marchers since 1952.
It’s quite a spectacle, as witnessed by the 2009 Legion Pilgrimage of Remembrance, whose route crossed paths with thousands of spectators and hundreds of marchers, some of whom are pictured below, during the four-day event.
The pilgrims were pleased by a serendipitous meeting at the Vimy National Memorial with Canada’s 2009 military contingent, where they posed en masse for the picture at the top of this post. And each evening, pilgrims met ordinary citizens, often footsore and limping, arriving back to their hotels from the day’s march.
This year there’s a team from Petawawa, Ont., who have been in training for the event since January. Team leader Marc Lesage talks about the great honour serving members feel in walking the same ground as the Second World War Canadian liberators. They are especially looking forward to stopping during the march to pay respects at the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, mostly filled by Canadians of the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry divisions and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division who took part in the drive southwards from Nijmegen to clear the territory between the Maas and the Rhine rivers in February and March 1945.
More than a million spectators line the route during the four days, cheering on the marchers. As marchers near the finish line , spectators present them with gladioli, the same symbol of victory showered on ancient Roman gladiators. Marchers also receive the Vierdaagsekruis, a royally approved medal. The marches are so popular, there is plenty of live coverage on sports networks in the Netherlands.