Cadets from Number 1 Welsh Wing Royal Air Force Air Cadets (RAFAC) have just completed Nijmegen Vierdaagse, the largest multiple day marching event in the world.
The Nijmegen Vierdaagse is an annual road marching challenge, which sees tens of thousands of participants complete a 100-mile course over four days. Originally a military activity, it has been held in Nijmegen since 1916 and now attracts tens of thousands of civilians, military personnel and cadet teams every year.
Travelling by coach with Universities of Wales Air Squadron from St Athan, the team arrived at the military Camp at Heumensoord late on the Saturday afternoon.
Over the next few days, the team took advantage of the opportunity to visit some points of local historical interest, including the Airborne Museum and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the town of Oosterbeek.
Cadet Flight Sergeant Ethan Mallett of 2353 (Ystrad Mynach) Squadron RAFAC said: “For me, it was so fascinating to visit the cemetery at Oosterbeek and learn about Operation Market Garden.”
The team of five cadets, aged 16 and over, was supported and led by Civilian Instructor (CI) Russ Dunham, 56, from 275 (Nantyglo & Blaina) Squadron and CI Adam Kenward, 25, from 1148 (Penarth) Squadron. The pair have been working hard over the past year to prepare the team to complete a qualifying march at RAF Cosford in April, and keep them motivated along the Vierdaagse’s gruelling 40km-a-day route.
This feat was especially impressive for Cadet Corporal Archie Sykes of 1367 (Caerleon) Squadron, who was the youngest cadet to take part in the march this year. Having turned 16 just three days before the trip, he received a special shout-out every morning before marching.
He said: “The whole atmosphere was phenomenal. I loved doing the march past, and the atmosphere on the street while we were all marching was amazing – it was like a big party. It was also really special to be marching next to Royal Marines on the last day after being presented with our medals.”
Those who complete the march earn the highly prized Nijmegen Medal, but – as with most cadet activities – the cadets who take part also earn valuable skills that help them to achieve in the classroom and their future careers.
In particular, road marching gives the cadets invaluable experience of working as a team to achieve objectives and to support each other. In spite of the physically demanding environment and the gruelling distance, teams who lose more than 10% of their members along the route do not receive a team award for participation, and rely on each other for self-motivation to avoid this.
Cadet Flight Sergeant James Jelinski, from 372 (Barry) Squadron, said: “This is my second time completing Nijmegen; I loved it so much the last time I did it I just had to do it again. I want to inspire others on my squadron to do it. It’s brilliant to see all these people from all over the world do the same challenge together.”
The trip was part-funded by the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association (RFCA) for Wales’ Welsh Reserves and Cadets Fund. The fund helps fund a wide range of activities aimed at enhancing the well-being, training and morale of reservists and cadets in Wales.
CI Adam Kenward said: “The Nijmegen march is such an expensive activity for cadets and staff to participate in but so worthwhile. As a staff member, it’s very rewarding to lead their training and see their development first-hand. The outpour of emotion on completion is one of the best things about being an adult volunteer.
“The grant from RFCA for Wales’ fund has made such a difference to the trip and made it more accessible for us as staff as well as the cadets. It has enabled the cadets to have a richer experience, such as allowing them to go visit sites like Oosterbeek, which has not always been possible in previous years. The whole trip has provided them with the opportunity to challenge themselves, get to know other teams and learn a bit about the role of other forces in past conflicts.”
Trips such as this one form a part of the ‘Cadet Experience’ enabled by RFCA for Wales, who give cadets the confidence to overcome challenges, to contribute to their communities and to learn the value of citizenship.
“It’s a really important trip for the cadets,” said CI Russ Dunham. “It’s not just about completing the challenge, they make friends, see new things and learn from the example of people in other teams in their own organisation and outside. Everyone pulls together to get each other through, no matter from which team, organisation or even country.”
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Video: Kamp Heumensoord Facebook