RAF Marham Team Nijmegen 2012
It was back in November last year whilst 31 Sqn were deployed on Op HERRICK in Afghanistan that I eagerly awaited the issue of the Nijmegen 2012 details. As soon as they were available and read from cover to cover in the vain hope of finding some caveat that would preclude me from leading a team to Holland for the 96th Nijmegen Vierdaagse (25 Miles/day for four days in CS 95/MTP/PCS and military boots with 10kg dead weight, food and water). Unfortunately it seemed that all was in order and nothing now stood in my way… gulp…
By the time we returned from HERRICK I had team of 15, 31 Sqn members on the books and everybody appeared raring to go. After Christmas was out of the way, we had planned to start training. Over the coming months we walked the Station perimeter, traversed Squires Hill while trudging down to Shouldham and back countless times, wound our way through Fincham and Shouldham Thorpe and even took a trip to Watlington and back via Runcton Holme to try and keep our routes as varied as possible whilst all the time trying our best to stay clear of traffic. During our months of training we lost several more members of our squad through injury and the realisation that the whole thing would be a lot tougher than was originally envisaged.
By the time the qualifier had come around in March we were pretty much down to the core of our team. We entered a team of 11 into the RAFWARMA organised 50 mile two day march at RAF Cosford consisting of 25 miles on a breezy Saturday and 25 horrific miles in day long torrential rain on the Sunday. For the Friday and Saturday nights we were housed in a marquee with no floor, very bright lights and with very little of the marquee secured to anything subsequently our rest periods where not all they could have been. Nonetheless of the 11 men we took ten came out of the experience without incurring any injuries. Having qualified we had to scout for further team members as the rules state that Nijmegen military teams must start with 11 personnel and between Cosford and Nijmegen we were to lose more team members to injury. However, luck was on our side, a six time Vierdaagse veteran Cpl Stewart Bradshaw from TIW was at Cosford with 3 others from Marham and I think we pretty much decided there and then to join forces making it a Marham team from then on in.
Further training ensued to fill the gap between Cosford and Nijmegen until at last the day arrived. We departed for Holland on the 14th July 2012 via the Eurotunnel and arrived early evening to get settled into our accommodation. We settled in well and started to enjoy the three days preparation time leading to the March start day – the atmosphere around Nijmegen town is terrific. Tuesday arrived bright and breezy after some worrying weather forecasting, off we went, in amongst the 6,000 military marchers, 600 of whom formed the British Military Contingent (BMC).
The start times were varied over the four days to take into consideration speed of individuals and likely finishing times. After the first day we were put into the final detachment on each of the remaining three days as our speed was good. Everybody on the team worked extremely hard during the four days and we learnt how to look after each other, give space and time when it was required and most importantly to remain quiet when, on occasion, someone was struggling to keep up with the pace. Our morale throughout was excellent and the banter was pretty much non stop for all the time we were on the go. Having started with 11 we were only to lose 1 team member over the week and this was due to a pre existing condition and not for the want of effort on his part. His completion, in some pain, of the first day allowed the team to carry on and complete the marches without any further interference.
On the evening of the 3rd day there was a Team Leaders brief held in the BMC tent just to go over the arrangements for day 4, which sees the teams halt at Charlemagne Field before taking part in a mass military march through to Nijmegen town. At the end of this brief the Brigadier in charge of the whole event awards prizes to those deserving souls who have put in much effort throughout the week. Imagine my surprise (dressed in wellies, shorts and a hoodie is no way to meet a Brigadier) when the words following the sentence “Best RAF Team” were RAF Marham! At that moment all the hard work became secondary. I was then and am now immensely proud of the team I took to Holland.
We were a great team; mixture of young, and slightly less young. Our ages ranged from 20 to 50 and we all got on like a house on fire. As I sit here writing this and having talked to the team members that have now had a decent nights sleep and have put their boots in the corner for a few days – it was an experience we all enjoyed. The blisters were sore, big and sometimes giving up seemed to be the easier option. We didn’t and we were well rewarded… Best RAF Team. Our efforts and the generosity of our families, friends and colleagues also helped in the raising of £678 for the Royal British legion. Thank you to OC 31 Sqn for agreeing to support us and to S/L Gaz Littlechild, now at Air Command, for his role in making it possible.
Written by FS Al Butterfill aged 50 and ¾ and now two time Nijmegen Veteran (1990 and 2012) it took me a long time to recover from the first one!
Nijmegen 2012 RAF Marham Team
FS Butterfill, 31 Sqn Team Leader
CT Palmer CMU, Ex 31 Sqn
Sgt Ballantine, 93 AES Ex 31 Sqn (Ret Hurt)
Cpl Bradshaw, TIW 2 I/C
Cpl Plane, 2620 Sqn RAF Regiment
SAC Bresland, TIW
SAC Platts, 31 Sqn
SAC Hart, 31 Sqn
SAC Mason, 31 Sqn
SAC Kendall, 31 Sqn
SAC Ward, 31 Sqn