This year, along with Flight Sergeant James Lunn, I was one of 30 cadets and supporting staff that were deployed to Nijmegen, Holland in July 2017. 10 months of training, walking in excess of 350 miles, had lead us to our destination: a 100 mile walk across 4 days. We arrived Saturday 15th and having unpacked, all meandered into town. The centre of Nijmegen had been transformed into one giant festival, with stages set up around every corner containing singers performing live. Over the weekend, the entirety of the city and its surrounding villages gather to have essentially a massive party! You meet people from all over the globe: German military personnel, Swiss nationals, Spaniards and many others. We repeated this Sunday and the Monday, before settling down early Monday evening in anticipation for the first day of marching the next day.
Day 1: Today we covered the first 25 miles / 40 km of the marches in beautiful sunshine and 31°C heat! A very early start at 0300 meant we started walking in the dark each day at around 04:30. Nevertheless, we were treated to stunning picturesque sunrises (almost) everyday which was a fair compromise! Walking out of the centre of Nijmegen, we walked across the Nijmegen bridge. We walked north until the town of Elst, where we began our walk back to Nijmegen. Our team of 11 walkers managed to cover the first day in 7 hours and 50 mins, finishing by 11:30. No blisters but aching legs, we all retired back to our accommodation, some 3 miles out of the centre of Nijmegen, to set up for day 2 and get some well-deserved sleep!
Day 2: Very similar to day 1 in the fact that it was bright sunshine all day and once again 33°C + heat! Eager to begin our walk, we started around 0450 local time, walking this time west towards another town called Wijchen. Lining the streets along every single road were families upon families who were watching everybody walk past. Lots of children ran up to groups of walkers bearing bowls of snacks and sweets, usually begging for a high-five! Having completed day two, we once again retired to our accommodation in Malden to eat, tape our feet for day three and to get some well earnt sleep!
Day 3: Today saw very heavy downpours and a huge thunderstorm right from the minute we woke. Knowing today would be tough, we brought along a songbook to sing songs to boost our morale. Despite the absolute downpour, our team stayed positive and we continued through to Groesbeek. In addition to the rain, we also had the challenge of climbing ‘the seven sisters’ – the only seven hills in Holland! Once again joined by residents of Holland and fellow walkers, we completed the day excited for our final 25 miles.
Day 4: With everyone excited to finish the 100 miles we had been training for since October, we set off at a fantastic pace. Walking south towards Cuijk, we kept a quick pace until the lunch stop at around 17 miles. Having discovered that we were the first team to have come through, we felt anxious to keep our lead. Counting down the miles, we successfully reached the medal table to collect our medals where we were told we were the first team out of the 48,000 people who were walking to finish! Having collected our medals, we then proceeded a further 3 miles down to the centre of Nijmegen along the main road called The Via Gladiola. Here we were handed bunches upon bunches of gladiolus flowers. The streets were absolutely packed with people all clapping and cheering the walkers on; walking past the hospital was especially emotional as the hospital staff wheeled out terminally ill patients to watch the walkers go past. Eventually, we reached the finish line and all 11 of us completed the 100 miles / 160 km international march. Few hours later saw the arrival of the Beds and Cambs Wing Military Team, closely followed by the 50 km team, who walked 200km in total! Beds and Cambs Wing again saw a 100% success rate meaning nobody dropped out of the march!
I would definitely recommend people to participate in the marches. Despite it being difficult to achieve, it is an absolutely incredible experience and those who finish feel a great sense of achievement! I hope to see many from 2524 at the first practice march in October!
Sgt Pawson (far left) and FS Lunn (far right) receiving their Nijmegen March 2017 Medals from Wing Commander Kelly
Sgt Kai Pawson