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Find out about about
NIJMEGEN MARCHES
in the Air Training Corps
____________________

History of Nijmegen Marches
and the British Military Contingent

BRITISH MILITARY CONTINGENT

The Nijmegen International Four Days Marches are held annually in Nijmegen in the Netherlands , some 12 kms south of Arnhem close to the Dutch-German border, with approximately 40,000 participants from all over the world taking part. The Marches coincide with the Annual Summer Festival in Nijmegen held during the third week in July and take place over four consecutive days, commencing on Tuesday and finishing Friday. Each day's march covers a different route. However, they all start and finish at the same place; Nijmegen town centre for civilian entries and Heumensoord Camp (5 kms south of Nijmegen ) for military participants. Each day's march covers 25 miles.

Approximately 8,000 military personnel, both male and female, from some 20 countries take part each year. They form the 'Official Military Contingents' and as such are permitted to march in uniform. These invited foreign military contingents contribute considerably to the colourful unique nature and atmosphere of the Marches , and are the focal point of the triumphal entry into Nijmegen on the last day. This entry culminates in a march past through the centre of Nijmegen where senior officers from all participating nations take the salute from their national military contingents. The British Military Contingent of 1,200 is the largest of the foreign military contingents. Its numbers are drawn from the Royal Navy, the Army, the Royal Air Force, Territorial and Volunteer Reserve Forces and the Cadet organizations.

The Nijmegen Marches is a very prestigious international marching event and is not a race or a formal military parade. Nevertheless, the British Military Contingent takes part in uniform and as such represents Her Majesty's Armed Forces in a foreign country, with all the attendant requirements for maintaining the highest standards of conduct, dress, bearing and discipline at all times, both on and off the march.

HISTORY OF THE NIJMEGEN MARCHES

The Royal Dutch League for Physical Culture, or to give it its correct title, De Koninklijke Nederlandse Bond voor Lichamelijke Opvoeding (KNBLO), the sponsors of the Nijmegen International Four Days Marches, traces its origins from a small group of physical fitness enthusiasts in The Hague in the early 1900s. Physical Education was still in its infancy in the Netherlands and the aim of the League was to encourage Dutch people from all walks of life to participate in some form of physical activity. In May 1908 the KNBLO received its Royal Statute and a programme of outdoor sporting activities including Athletics, Hockey, Equestrian Events and Soccer as well as Road Walking was organized for July 1909 in a number of locations throughout the Netherlands .

Early records are sparse but the Marathon Road Walks rapidly increased in popularity. The routes were initially organized on a point-to-point basis with differing towns nominated as the daily start point. In the beginning the majority of the participants in the Four Days Marches were servicemen, although civilians were encouraged to enter. The first woman to enter the Four Days Marches did so in 1913.

There were no Marches in 1914 or 1915 but the 1917 Marches were notable in that, for the first time, Nijmegen was included in the itinerary. In 1927 Nijmegen was nominated as the permanent home of the Four Days Marches. In 1928 the title was changed to the Nijmegen International Four Days Marches and foreign participants were invited. Entries from Great Britain , France , Germany and Norway resulted with other nations joining in throughout the 1930s.

The civilian entry into the Marches had rapidly increased and by 1932 had overtaken the number of service entries. The Marches increased in popularity and numbers, when in 1939 they were suspended for the duration of World War Two. Despite the problems of the immediate post war period, over 4,000 people participated in the first post-war Four Days Marches in 1946, including a detachment of Belgian paratroopers who caused a sensation by arriving by parachute.

The popularity of the Four Days Marches has continued to increase and in 1991 some 37,000 people representing over 50 nations participated in the Marches ; 18 nations entering military teams. Although the civilian participants are now in the majority, the military presence is still a traditional and welcome sight. The International Military Contingents are now limited to some eight thousand, of which the British send by far the largest, representing approximately 20 per cent of the total official military entry. This is significant in that there is a ceiling on official military team entries and the fact that the British are allowed such a large percentage is to some extent, a reflection of our national standing with the KNBLO.

It is believed that some pre-war British entries may have been servicemen on leave, but the first recorded team entry was from Royal Air Force in 1950. The 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards and 37 (HAA) Battery Royal Artillery were the first recorded British Army team entries the following year. Since then the numbers of British Military teams and individual entrants have increased, being drawn mainly from the Regular Army and the Royal Air Force, their associated Volunteer Reserves and Cadet forces.

The area around Nijmegen is full of World War Two history and the March routes cross the famous Nijmegen Bridge and also pass a number of war cemeteries. Throughout the Marches spectators present flowers to teams or individuals who impress them with their performance. By doing so they are paying a compliment to the recipient and will feel insulted if the flowers are rejected or discarded. The local children also like to play their part in the Marches and will often approach teams and individuals for souvenirs and autographs. Many teams have stickers printed to cater for the demand, or hand out unit badges or buttons. Autographs are compared or swapped like train numbers and marchers are encouraged to add their country of origin when signing. Very small children will also approach a team, take the hand of a marcher and then walk along the road with him or her for a short distance before running back and repeating the process with the next team. Newcomers to the Marches can find this a little strange and embarrassing at first. However, it arouses much hostility from spectators if the hand that is proffered is rejected.

 

 

 
Last updated
Wednesday 20 February, 2008 21:33

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2187 (CANVEY ISLAND) SQUADRON ATC
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