Reservists re-connect to their unit’s heritage at Nijmegen

Article / July 11, 2019 / Project number: 19-0200

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — A group of Canadian Army Reservists, who will be in the Netherlands for this year’s International Four Days Nijmegen Marches, is proud to be marching in the footsteps of their predecessors who played an important role in the  liberation of the Netherlands during the Second World War.

Sergeant Rees Greenberg is leading a team from Ottawa-based 30th Field Artillery Regiment, RCA (30 RCA) taking part in the event, in which they will march 40 kilometres per day while carrying 10-kilogram daypacks.

The 2019 march takes place July 16 to 19 through the countryside as well as the streets of towns and villages in the Nijmegen area of the southern Netherlands. It is the largest walking event in the world, with nearly 50,000 military and civilian participants registered from around the globe.

The event is over a century old - this year marks the 103rd edition - and, while it attracts civilians and military personnel alike, military history was key to Sgt Greenberg’s bid to secure a place for 30 RCA.

Not all who apply can participate and, Sgt Greenberg explained, having historical connections to the region is one of the criteria for selection to the Canadian Armed Forces contingent.

One of 30 RCA’s precursors, he said, was among the first artillery units to arrive in the Netherlands as the Allies set the stage for its liberation.

“On October 4, 1944, we took our first steps into the Netherlands and we actually assisted the infantry in liberating a few towns. Once we had assisted the liberation of the Netherlands, the regiment was actually posted to Nijmegen itself and we stayed there for a couple of months: the winter of 1944 into 1945.”

“To do the research was actually quite convenient,” he added, “because a few of the Royal Canadian Artillery Association members from my regiment had actually just released a book on the regimental history dating all the way back to 1855.”

On a personal level, Sgt Greenberg said his own interest in Canadian military history – and in particular, that of the artillery – helped drive him through the process that, including both application and training, has taken nearly a year.

“I read a lot, and one of the things I read most often is military history,” he said. “So when we were afforded the opportunity to get a team to go over there, I thought it was very important for us to be in the footsteps of the people who were there before us 75 years ago.”

Sgt Greenberg said he knew little of the Nijmegen Marches before last year when a friend and fellow Reservist, Master Warrant Officer Chris Carter of 33 Service Battalion, led a team.

“When I heard about the whole process, I decided to get involved and see if that would be something that would interest my unit. Last July I was training with 33 Service and when I got back in August, I started the application process.”

The 30 RCA team began training in April 2019. As Reservists, they were limited to evening and weekend hours.

“During the week, we would meet at 5:30 p.m. and march until 9 or 10. And then on the weekends we always marched Saturday and sometimes both Saturday and Sunday.”

In addition to building the team’s physical stamina, Sgt Greenberg strove to keep members’ spirits up with music.

“When it’s hot or it’s raining or for whatever reason it’s difficult that day, one thing that can really push people through is to sing loud, say something funny, have a great time,” he said.

“As a team leader I stand at the back and when I hear a lull in the conversations and see people have put their heads down and are sort of labouring through, that’s when I either kick in a song of my own or I yell to the front, ‘Somebody with a song!’ Everybody had to bring two songs. You just belt out the song and that would get us another kilometre or two.”

The Nijmegen Marches always attract throngs of cheering, enthusiastic spectators, whose enthusiasm Sgt Greenberg expects will also help keep the team feeling energetic. One weekend training march along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal this past May, he recalled, gave the 30 RCA marchers a welcome preview.

“We were on our way back walking along the canal during the Tulip Festival and there were thousands of people there. We started singing and people were taking out their phones and cheering us on. That really raised morale for the marchers. I know that Nijmegen is going to be even bigger than that and I think it’ll be really fun for everybody.”

History of the mission: Canadian participation in the Nijmegen marches has been given the name Operation NIJMEGEN. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has been marching since 1952 when members of the 27th Infantry Brigade in Germany participated. The CAF now regularly sends a contingent of 200 men and women. During the march, the Canadian military participants stop at the Groesbeek Commonwealth War Cemetery, where they stage a ceremony to pay respects to the 2,331 soldiers and airmen who are interred there.

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