Ms. Jacqueline Johnson, Branch #26 New Brunswick Command, represented the Legion in the 2015 Nijmegen March.
Last year, after applying to the Royal Canadian Legion, I was accepted and chosen to be the first female Legionnaire to participate in the 99th International Four Day Marches Nijmegen (or Vierdaagse) scheduled for July 2015. For those that are not familiar, this event (a 4 day, 160 km march with 10 kg pack) is held in and around Nijmegen, The Netherlands and attracts over 46,000 participants which include over 5000 military personnel from around the world. The Canadian military has participated in the Nijmegen March since 1952 and the Legion has sent a member as part of this contingent since 2004. When combined with our close relationship with the Dutch through Canada’s sacrifices in the liberation of the Netherlands during the Second World War Nijmegen is a poignant experience.
As stated the Royal Canadian Legion supports this event and sends at least one Legion member each year to be part of a VIP team which this year consisted of two Veterans Affairs representatives, the Assistant Defence Attaché for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Canada plus two RCMP members. Along with our team leader LCol Brian McGee we also were lucky to have our very own physio therapist Major Nic Hazledine.
Knowing I was going to attend this amazing event, I was required to get ready by training a minimum of 500 km before I left with the main contingent of approximately 196 members (12 military teams) from all across Canada. I had four months to prepare and July was right around the corner! There is no substitute for putting in the kilometers – it is the only way to succeed.
Now fast forward to July, our team is on the ground in Lille France, being whisked away to Ypres, Belgium where we were to attend the “Memorial to the Missing” service that has been conducted each evening at 8pm since the end of the First World War. After a night housed in a local college on cots and in sleeping bags, we hopped back on a bus to visit Tyne Cot Cemetery before participating in a very moving Canadian memorial service held at Vimy Ridge. We were also lucky to have a very informative guide and “trench and tunnel” tour – I will never forget the dark, damp and cold tunnels of Vimy Ridge.
After all of our ceremonies (which will be forever engrained in my memory) we were bussed to Nijmegen where we settled into our camp life at Kamp Huemensoord. Life there was unreal; the Dutch have it down to a fine art caring for 5000 militaries over few kilometres of parkland. Once settled, it was back on a bus to attend a memorial service at Ysselstyn German War Cemetery. It is there that over 31,000 Germans, Dutch, Poles and Russians who fought on the side of the German military in WWII are buried- the average age of those interred being 24.
The next four days were surreal, brutal, but rewarding. On Day 1 we marched 45 km amongst tens of thousands of civilian and other military participants. I will say that each and everyday, the streets were all lined with people cheering us on. This is a celebration of national proportion and I now understand why participants return every year! I was especially delighted to see and “high five” all of the children who were there to support us every step of the way. Day 2 was not so brutal, a mere 38 km to march! It made me realize what a great way to meet people from around the world. It was so easy to chat with fellow marchers and I was so thankful that most of them spoke English. Day 3 (40 kms) included a poignant stop at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery for a memorial service that was very well attended by the military and locals alike. Laying wreaths over these past days was an honour and an overwhelming experience. Day 4, (last day!!) we completed 45 kms which included a 5 km Victory March (Gladiola). This is where I felt my proudest to be a Canadian! The streets were lined with what felt like millions of people who were literally cheering as if the war had ended yesterday. I was floating by them as my emotions took over during the final kilometres of the march. The pain in my body had disappeared as I reveled in the feeling of pride and joy that the Dutch people were pouring over us.
I will never forget this amazing journey so I wish to thank the Royal Canadian Legion who without their ultimate decision to choose me as their representative, I never would have been given this opportunity to attend this remarkable event. Whoever is going to be chosen for next year’s 100 year anniversary is in for a real treat! As written in Dutch on a fellow marcher’s T-shirt….”The pain is temporary, the pride is forever” – WE WILL REMEMBER THEM