Cadets and staff from 345 (City of Lancaster) Squadron have recently completed the gruelling Nijmegen march for the ninth successive year. This years team was a combined team made up of cadets and staff from Cumbria and Lancashire Wing, North East Scotland Wing and West Scotland Wing and was the largest team for several years containing 13 cadets and 6 staff. Of the 19 who started, 17 successfully completed with two withdrawn on the second day due to injury.
After a difficult journey involving passport issues and lost baggage the team finally arrived In Nijmegen on Saturday 18th July for the initial briefings and then time to settle into the camp. Sunday brought the first of the acclimatisation days, starting with a visit to the Commonwealth war Cemetery in nearby Oosterbeek followed by an afternoon in Nijmegen soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying an evening meal out. Monday morning was taken up with preparing march kit (including 10kg of deadweight for the lucky weight carriers!), a briefing by the senior officer and then an afternoon of leisure time before an early night ready for Tuesdays march.
Tuesdays activities began bright and early with reveille at 3am followed by breakfast and then marching out of camp at 5am. The weather conditions were hot and humid, temperatures around 28 and humidity in excess of 90%. This was energy sapping for even the most experienced marchers but the team completed without too many issues and were back on camp in plenty of time for showers and evening meal.
Wednesday was an even earlier start, reveille at 230am and marching out of camp at 430. Weather conditions were much the same but the route provided more shade than the previous day so the temperature felt significantly lower. After making good progress through the route, we joined the British memorial service in Beunegen at the local memorial setup to commemorate the crew of a Lancaster bomber shot down in the area during World War Two. Then it was back to camp for some well earned rest, food and some running repairs on blisters…..and to celebrate the half way point.
A nice early start on Thursday put us well ahead of the crowds so we were able to make good time and avoid the hottest part of the day. Some of the team had an extended rest break whilst some attended the annual service of remembrance at the Canadian cemetery in Groosbeek. This was a moving service to be part of, well worth attending not matter how sore the feet may have been standing on parade for an hour, and an incredible site to see Canadian flags planted on each individual grave, over 2200 in total. After this short period of reflection we moved back to camp to prepare for the final day.
Friday was another early start but nobody really cared too much, it was the last day and the end was finally in site. We made good progress and stopped a couple of extra times for repair work before arriving in Charlamagne for medals and a short run to join the back of the British parade. We were cheered on by many thousands of bystanders throughout the day, culminating with huge crowds as we entered the Wedren and formally completed the marches. Heading back to camp by coach was luxurious, the first comfortable seat in days and the knowledge that there was no more marching to be done. Friday night was a night of celebration, soft drinks and pizza in the party tent with soldiers, sailors and airmen from many nationalities. And then finally the chance to climb into bed with the knowledge that the boots did not need to be worn again and there would be no 2am wake up call on Saturday.
After clearing out of camp on Saturday we headed for Amsterdam to check in and enjoy some free time. The hot humid weather of the march days had been replaced by torrential rain and strong winds leading to train delays and long delays on flights……just what we needed! Finally our flight departed 3.5 hours late and we arrived back in the UK tired but happy to have completed the week relatively unscathed.
This was one of the toughest Nijmegens yet for me, the weather and the leadership aspect making it more difficult t usual but also very enjoyable. People have gained awards, learnt a little bit about themselves and more importantly have made new friends. Now the planning can begin for the big one, the 100th Vierdaagse in July 2016