By Richard Lawrence
On the 9th July, 2019, the Canadian contingent for the 2019 Nijmegen March held their departure parade at the Canadian War Museum. This is the 103rd Nijmegen March, in which Canada has participated since 1952 (67 years), where participants march in teams for a distance of 160 km over four days carrying a ruck sack of at least 10 kilograms. It covers much of the area liberated by the Allies, and more specifically Canada who lost 7,600 dead here, during WWII. Overall there will be more than 47,000 marchers from over 50 countries covering 70+ nationalities. This is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands and the 22nd year that the departure parade has been held at the Canadian War Museum. The Canadian team of 175 members in 14 teams of 11 will also pay respects by visiting Canadian war cemeteries at Groesbeek, Bergen-op-Zoom, and Vimy Ridge.
Speakers at this year’s parade included LGen. Lanthier, Commander of the Canadian Army, Ms. Frederieke Quispel, Deputy Head of Mission for the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mr. Tom Irvine, President of the Royal Canadian Legion, and Dr. Peter MacLeod, Director of Research at the Canadian War Museum. After the opening of the ceremony and inspection of the members present of the contingent, LGen Lanthier spoke of the honour of participating in this event and challenged all to “reflect on the great legacy that you now carry as members of this contingent.”
Ms. Quispel, a historian, briefly covered the history of the area the marchers would see, noting that the first march in 1909 had 306 members (10 civilian, remainder military) but it wasn’t until 1925 that Nijmegen was chosen as the start/finish point for the march. Nijmegen is possibly the oldest city in the Netherlands having officially obtained its Roman city rights in 100 A.D. The area is also the scene of Operation Market Garden in September, 1944, when the Allies tried to secure the bridges over the Maas, Waal, and Rhine rivers, and almost succeeded. In recognition of this, on the last day of the march, military engineers will build a special pontoon bridge to take the participants over to the opposite side of the Maas, the home of the Black Watch during the winter of 1944/45.
LCol Quirion, speaking as the contingent commander, noted that there were some anniversaries that made this year’s march special. For example, the 30th Field Regiment of the RCA is celebrating 164 years in existence, The Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers are celebrating 75 years, and a combined team of 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment and 2nd Service Battalion celebrating their organizations’ parts in the NW Europe campaign. He also noted that there were nine VIPs on this year’s team including representatives from the Dutch Embassy (Paula Martin), two female RCMP officers (the first female officers to participate), Veterans Affairs, the Commissionaires, the Royal Canadian Legion, and three CAV members representing Soldier On. Lastly he announced that the fund raising effort of this year’s team has raised $26,000 for the Soldier On and Families First funds
When Mr. Tom Irvine took the podium, he stopped to identify Mr. Lee Harrison, a participant representing the Royal Canadian Legion this year. Mr. Harrison is a firefighter from Peterborough, a member of RCL Branch 52, and veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan.
He also mentioned that Canada has a historical connection to the Dutch royal family in that the Royal Family found sanctuary in Canada after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. A royal daughter, Princess Margriet was born in Ottawa, which is well known, but Mr. Irvine also noted that Princess Margriet’s son, Prince Floris, is the god-son of the Royal Canadian Legion and its honorary Vice-President.
Following the last of the speeches, wreaths were presented to LCol Quirion to be laid in the Canadian War Cemeteries in the Netherlands. Ms. Quispel provided a wreath to be laid at Groesbeek Cemetery on behalf of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mr. Irvine provided a wreath to be laid at Groesbeek on behalf of the Royal Canadian Legion, and the last was provided by Dr. MacLeod and Mr. Hamilton to be laid at Vimy Ridge on behalf of the Canadian War Museum and Friends of the Canadian War Museum.
This ended the parade and the official party departed, followed by the contingent as they were dismissed and marched off. But everyone soon reappeared to enjoy some time together as a luncheon was provided for the contingent, attendees, friends and family.