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17/100 Cross of the Four Day Marches | by Jamie McCaffrey
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17/100 Cross of the Four Day Marches

100 x (around the house photos) 17/100


The weather is really putting a damper on any spring photos. So I had to look around the room for inspiration. This is an official Dutch decoration for successful completion of the International Four Day Marches in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


While this picture won't likely grab anyones attention on it's own, for someone who's completed the Nijmegen Vierdaagse (Four Days) Marches, it will probably speak volumes. So, I'll try and give that context.


Each of the four days is a different 40-km route, for a total of 160-km. Over 40,000 people take part in the event. It is so popular as a world-wide walking/endurance event that the registration has to be limited. This includes about 5,000 soldiers from a wide range of countries. Canadian military participants typically march as a member of one of the teams that make up the official Canadian Contingent and men and women both do it in 'combats' with a weighted rucksack.


The KNBLO stands for the Royal Dutch League for Physical Education (Koninkijke Nederlandsche Bond Voor Lichamelijke Opvoeding). The first march was in 1909 and it has gone strong every year with the notable exceptions of the two worlds wars; and in 2006 when it had to be cancelled, after the first day, because of exceptionally hot temperatures which were attributed as contributing factors to the death of two civilian marchers and the hospitalization of a further 300. The blue colour of the cross signifies that I was 'foolish' enough to complete the march five times.


The Canadian Armed Forces have a tradition of sending a contingent to do the marches every year since the end of World War II. The Netherlands was a major theatre of operations for Canada. It was the Canadian Army who finally accepted the German surrender officially ending the war in that country. To say the Dutch have not forgotten the sacrifice of so many young Canadians is an understatement. The stories are too numerous for one photo, but the cost of that respect is brought home to the Canadian march participants on the third day's march when the route takes them directly in front of the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery where over 2500 Canadians have their final resting place - most died during operations surrounding the push across the Rhine into Germany. It is but one of several Canadian cemeteries in The Netherlands. To visit such a cemetery is to have a history lesson like no other. Much of the respect Canada was immediately afforded post-WWII was out of proportion to our size and was because of the price paid at least in part by those still at Groesbeek. Needless to say we stop to pay our respects each and every year.


I should point out that there are other Commonwealth nationalities buried at Groesbeek, most notably the British; and almost every countries military contingent - and a significantly large number of civilians - stop to pay their respects. I also had the opportunity to stop at Groesbeek while bicycling on a day after the marches (when things have returned to normal) and I observed a number of families having picnics on the grounds surrounding the cemetery. At some point they all seemed to walk into the cemetery, with their kids, solemly reading the headstones which are pepperd the names of hundreds of Canadian towns, cities and villages. If they're like me they're looking at the young ages on the headstones. Over the years I saw many men get choked up and shed a tear in front of those headstones - myself included. Which should be everyones reaction when they contemplate the cost of war.


While I've put an emphasis on mentioning the Canadian military (that's my context) it was the marching, socializing, and recovering (from both the marching and socializing) with the soldiers of many of our NATO allies that I'll always remember. It was, and remains, a unique bonding experience. Nothing unites soldiers, and overcomes linguistic and cultural differences, like shared pain.

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Taken on March 30, 2014