Today marks the end of the 103rd annual International Four Days Marches Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) from across Canada participated in the marching event, and were awarded the coveted Four Days Marches medal.
The CAF contingent, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Éric Quirion, marched 40 km per day for four days, an effort concluding in a five-kilometre victory parade. The parade was attended by thousands of spectators who cheered the CAF contingent in commemoration of the Canadian soldiers who liberated the Netherlands during the Second World War.
Originally a means by which the Dutch infantry aimed to increase their long-distance marching and weight-carrying ability, the marches have evolved into an international four-day event that draws nearly 50,000 military and civilian participants from 84 countries to challenge their physical and mental endurance.
The CAF has participated in the marches every year since 1952. The marches are an important event in that they promote CAF values, enhance our relationship with the Netherlands and other allies, and reiterate our ongoing engagement in Europe. Every year, while the contingent marches through the towns and countryside around the city of Nijmegen and visits the important Canadian war memorials of the region, members take the time to reflect on Canada’s legacy, to commemorate its past victories, and to remember Canada’s fallen.
“It is with great pride that the Canadian Armed Forces participates in the International four Days Marches Nijmegen on an annual basis. This international event enables us to reaffirm our continued support to peace and security in Europe as well as to celebrate our proud Canadian military history. It is also an opportunity to remember and honour the great contributions and sacrifices of the Canadians who served with bravery during the First and Second World War”.
– Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, Acting Commander Military Personnel Command
“I am immensely proud today of each and every one of the members of this year’s contingent. Over the past few days, I have had the chance to see first-hand how dedicated, strong, perseverant and resilient these women and men are. They have overcome every physical and mental challenge associated with the marches and have not only demonstrated immense professionalism, but have also proudly represented Canada.”
– Lieutenant-Colonel Éric Quirion, Commander Joint Task Force Nijmegen
“I am thrilled to see the Canadian Armed Forces contingent walk down the streets of Nijmegen today. The Canada-Netherlands relationship is like no other, rooted in the liberation of the country by the Canadian Forces in World War 2. It’s been a deeply moving experience this week to see Canadians march again through the cities and towns of the Netherlands, and to watch them stop at Canadian war cemeteries to honour the sacrifice of our fallen. I am proud to be here to see this dedicated contingent march across the finish line. Congratulations!”
– Sabine Nölke, Ambassador of Canada to the Kingdom of the Netherlands
The 2019 Nijmegen Marches CAF contingent of 216 members was comprised of 14 teams from across Canada, with 11 to 12 marchers each, plus special guests, Soldier On members and support staff.
The contingent included members from all ranks, trades, and environments, Regular and Reserve Force, women and men, speaking both Official Languages, and of diverse backgrounds.
The contingent was formed of 93% of first-time marchers and of the highest percentage of women marchers (23%) in history.
While overseas, the CAF contingent commemorated Canada’s important military legacy in Europe, in particular the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Scheldt.
On July 12, they held an annual Vimy Memorial commemoration at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in Vimy, France.
On July 13, after visiting the Sloedam Memorial and the Liberation Museum in Zeeland, the contingent held a Remembrance ceremony at Bergen-Op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery, in Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands. This cemetery is home to 968 Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in the fighting north of Antwerp during the Battle of the Scheldt. Following the ceremony, the contingent marched through the city streets of Bergen op Zoom to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation. The Battle of the Scheldt was a military operation in northern Belgium and the southwestern Netherlands that took place during the Second World War. At the end of a five-week offensive, the First Canadian Army, who was given the task of clearing the Scheldt of German occupiers on September 12 1944, was victorious.
On July 15, the contingent held a memorial service in the presence of many Canadian and foreign dignitaries, at the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, where 2,338 Canadian soldiers who participated in the campaign to liberate the Netherlands during the Second World War, are buried. In 1944-1945 more than 7,600 Canadians died in the nine-month campaign to liberate the Netherlands and carry the Second World War to its conclusion. Their sacrifice has never been forgotten. Both Canadians and the Dutch still recall those events and celebrate the lasting bonds that were created between our two countries more than a half a century ago.
Canada’s contribution to peace and security in Europe continues to this day. The Canadian Armed Forces have 500 members permanently stationed across 19 NATO nations in Europe. It also has approximately 2,000 members serving in Europe at any given time as part of its sea, land and air contributions to the security and stability of the region.