1909  De eerste Vierdaagse Afstandsmarsen worden gehouden

The history of 

the International Four Days Marches Nijmegen

On April 3, 1908, the Dutch Federation for Physical Training is founded. The first achievement of this new organisation is the Four Days March of 1909, organised mainly for the military. This march can be started from no less than 13 places in the Netherlands. In four days, 140 kilometres are travelled, while the participants only return to the starting place on the last day.

Three hundred and six hikers start off in the first year, a lot more than the 40 participants who would start a year later from the only remaining starting place Arnhem. They could choose between the 35, 45 or 55 kilometres. With Utrecht as its starting place, the ever increasing legion of hikers in 1912 on the third day staid at the Prins Hendrik barracks in Nijmegen, while the finish on the fourth day was also on the barracks grounds.

Apparently, this was a successful experiment, because a year later the hikers were again received in Nijmegen on the third and fourth day - a tradition was born. Out of 151 participants, including one woman, no less than 143 reached the finish. Enough reason for the organisation to make the march more arduous and to set a time limit: 12 hours for the 35 and 45 kilometres, 13 hours for the 55! Because of World War I, there are no Four Days Marches in 1914 and 1915; in 1916 Kamp Nieuw Milligen is the daily start and finish for 152 participating soldiers as well as for non-military hikers participating for the first time, six in total. A novelty in 1917 was the requirement of readiness for battle which was made of the military; within an hour of the march, an eight hundred meter long track with obstacles had to be finished, followed by 200 metres sprint. Only those who could complete this extra hurdle were entitled to the much coveted Vierdaagsekruis (Four Days Marches medal), according to the organisation. 's-Hertogenbosch is the starting place in 1918, and in 1919 the first woman receives the federation medal in starting place Amersfoort; she completed the 50 kilometres march. The following year, the choices of distance have been changed: civilians can choose between 45 and 55 kilometres, soldiers in full marching kit 40, without kit 50, while women should walk 40 kilometres. Start and finish are in Nijmegen, the participants bivouac in the Infantry Barracks. On the last day, the 428 hikers, with women and civilians at the front, are welcomed into the city from the ferry Zeldenrust, accompanied by the band of the Colonial Reserve.

The Blauwvosjes on Molenveld

The following year, Amersfoort receives the legion of Four Days Marchers; 44.6% of the hikers do not reach the finish. In 1922, the legion returns to Nijmegen. There is room for 600 participants, while 1100 had entered. They are all housed in the Prins Hendrik barracks. For the first time, the Four Days Marches are concluded with a "Blarenbal" (Blisters Ball). In 1923 and 1924, Nijmegen and Breda are the respective start- and finish towns and the Four Days March is open for non-military detachments for the first time. In 1925, Nijmegen is definitely declared to be the Four Days Marches Town. Miss Jongtien from The Hague, the Netherlands, is the first woman in history to finish the 4 times 55 kilometres. In 1926, troop captain A. van der Goes from Amersfoort makes history; he becomes the first person to carry the Golden cross for completing the Four Days Marches 10 times. Apart from the Vierdaagsekruis (Four Days Marches cross), he also receives a silver cup, the medal from the VVV (tourist organisation), an album, and a silver plaque. 

Hiking club Noviomagum

Sad news from the Four Days Marches in 1927: the first person who died. K. Rozeboom dies of sunstroke, caught on the second day. In the Olympic year 1928, foreigners are allowed to participate in the Four Days Marches for the first time. The first flag parade is held on the court of the Prins Hendrik barracks. Germany, Great-Britain, France, and also a Norwegian military group are represented, but the last-mentioned do not receive a Vierdaagsekruis. On each of the four days, they turn the march into a race and finish first each day, something which the organisation does not appreciate. During the hot Four Days Marches of 1929, the participants are taken across the Maas by steamboat and the route is moved to a more shaded track. Also, checkpoints are introduced. The following year, the importance of preserving the Four Days Marches for Nijmegen became clearer to the city council as well, and a subsidy of no less than 250 guilders is granted to the organisation. In 1931, the organisation's budget is 14000 guilders, consisting of a subsidy of 500 guilders and the registration fee for participants: 6.50 guilders for full board, 2.50 guilders without board. More than 2000 hikers are registered, of whom more than 1000 participate in the flag parade on Molenveld behind the barracks; national anthems and hoisting of the flags precede a festive march of the hikers through the inner city of Nijmegen.

Perhaps influenced by this event, the following year more civilians than military participate, and Mr van Mechelen is inspired to the composition of Opus 12, or "De Vierdaagsche", more widely known as the Vierdaagse song. The AVRO (a national broadcasting company) takes care of the first radio-broadcast about the Four Days Marches, from concert hall De Vereeniging. The 16-year-old Maarten Schakel walks his first Four Days Marches in the following year, and would not miss one after that. The heat forces the organisation to use flexible times for start and finish. This measure is wasted on three Norwegian soldiers, who again act as if in a race - they are disqualified.

Mr. J.N. Breunese writes in his little book "De Vierdaagse" in 1933:

"The standing of the marches is greatly raised if all participants wear a fitting costume. Although, generally speaking, the clothes of participants do not raise comment, unwanted situations are creeping in since last year. We think it far from desirable, when some participants - as we saw in the last marches - decorate their chest with a large number of medals, which they have received for completing all sorts of more or less important marches. To wear a club badge is understandable, to wear the Vierdaagsekruis as a sign that one has already successfully participated in the Four Days Marches in previous years, fine, but we would want to state: let it remain at that. One is made truly ridiculous when one wears 10 or 15 different medals, spread across the entire chest in a whimsical fashion during the four days of marching. Popularly speaking: it is positively hideous." 

Berg en Dal and Groesbeek are visited on day one as well as on day three; the Swiss, participating for the first time, probably have no trouble with this hilly landscape! (see map) In 1934, the first golden cross for 10 Four Days Marches is granted to Mrs. Kley-Vrijenhoek; since 1925 she accompanied her husband during the marches. At Cuijk, the pontoon bridge is laid down for the first time; hopefully a robust one, because the soldiers are required to carry a load of no less than 17 kilograms, for four days…

All together on ferry Zeldenrust

The 25th Four Days Marches in 1935 has just less than 3000 participants, who can be judged for their outfit for the first time. Groups of more than 10 persons can expect to receive a fine diploma. In 1936, ferry Zeldenrust (literally translated: seldom quiet), finally gets its rest, the legion of hikers uses the Waal Bridge for the first time - for only 2.29% of participants this is still a bridge too far.

Starting office 1936

The number of participants steadily increases; in 1937, with 4000 participants, the question is raised whether the route is not too crowded and His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard saw that it would be all right. The encampment on Molenveld does grow too big, which is why the flag parade is moved to the Wedren in 1938. The 29th Four Days Marches in 1939 would turn out to be the last one for some years. While the preparations for the Four Days Marches of 1940, which would have been held from July 23 to 26, are in full swing, the Germans invade the Netherlands on May 10, 1940 and on June 16 of that year the decision is taken to cancel the marches. For the next six years, Nijmegen will have to miss its hiking event.

The war has a deep impact, the damage is enormous and 2200 citizens of Nijmegen are killed. Despite this, several attempts are made to accommodate the hikers. In 1940, a reasonably successful emergency version of the Four Days Marches is organised, but this stunt can not be repeated in 1941 because of a national prohibition of gatherings. The most fervent hikers then decide to walk the marches on their own.

Two hiking clubs from Nijmegen, 'Dubbele Adelaars Nijmegen' and 'De Blauwvosjes', walk the marches anyway, from July 22 to 25.

Hiking club Dubbele Adelaar Nijmegen

Only in 1946, the next International Four Days Marches are organised. While other cities are lying in wait to take over the organisation of the hiking event, Action Committee 'De 4-daagse' mobilises the citizens and city council of Nijmegen to do their best to preserve the Four Days Marches for their town. Civilian hikers would have to be housed with the population of Nijmegen, the military in schools and public buildings, and the city council is asked for a substantial financial contribution. This was done accordingly, and on July 23, 1946, the 30th Four Days Marches started with more than 4000 participants.

Hiking club "Robinson" Nijmegen

Apparently recovered from the war and its consequences, a year later no less than 6776 people take part in the event.

Until 1951, the number of participants remains reasonably stable, but this 35th anniversary attracts more than 9000 hikers to Nijmegen; they visit the first flag parade in the Goffert stadium in large numbers. In this same year, the Association of Wearers of the Golden cross (Vereniging Gouden Kruisdragers) is founded; all those who completed the Four Days Marches 10 or more times can become a member.

The theme of the years 1953 and 1954 was the conflict between NbvLO (who organised the Four Days Marches) and the 'Nederlandse Wandelsport Bond' (Dutch Hiking Federation). This resulted in two simultaneous Four Days Marches in Apeldoorn and in Nijmegen. Despite this, more than 10,000 hikers come to Nijmegen in 1954 for a rainy Four Days Marches. A year later, it is the first time that actually more than 10,000 people reach the finish. In 1956, the city was put in the limelight. Ten years of post-war reconstruction and the 40th Four Days Marches were celebrated with thousands of small lights across the city centre, a great setting for the Four Days Marches movie "4x40", which would be shown one year later. The NBvLO receives the right to call itself Royal (in Dutch: Koninklijk) on April 3, 1958, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, and is thus henceforth called KNBvLO. 

The encouragement medal, which the youths receive since 1947, is finally changed into a real Vierdaagsekruis in 1961, and the Dutch television channel broadcasted the entry of the hiking legion into Nijmegen on Friday. Because of this promotion, the following year about 250,000 people line the route during the entry. That year, the soldiers use the camp Heumensoord for the first time; their numbers would diminish greatly in the next year, probably because of the worldwide political situation. In 1963, Chairman and Leader of the Marches J.N. Breunese, who was involved in the organisation of the Four Days Marches since 1922, passes away. His name is given to the Breunese-cup from 1965. The golden 50th Four Days Marches are held in 1966.

No less than 14,764 hikers start in this grand march, which contains a 55-kilometres route for the last time. The golden jubilee is emphasised by two works of art, given to the organisation: the 'Breunese-bank' and the statue 'Two Hikers' made by Vera Tummers. Both can still be found in the Juliana Park today.

The Four Days Marches of the year 1967 are made memorable by the participation of His Royal Highness Prince Claus of the Netherlands. In 1968, A.J. van Dongen comes forward as new Leader of the Marches. That year, he is responsible for a record number of almost 17,500 participants; this is perhaps one of the reasons why one year later the computer is used for the first time in the management of the Four Days Marches. The 'Active Committee Inner City Nijmegen' organises the first Summer Festivities in 1970 - and it really was some summer! In 1972, a temperature of 32 degrees Celsius was reached already on the first day in Elst; the afternoon temperature would remain at 34 degrees for the whole of the 4 days. The result: 2 persons dead, a reduction of 10 kilometres on all distances, liberalization of finishing times and soldiers can leave the 10 kilograms of kit at home. A record number of participants (except for the year 1956) have to give up; 1217 hikers do not reach the St. Annastraat. The following years the Four Days Marches get more and more crowded. A positive consequence of this is a mention in the Guinness Book of Records, but the necessary adjustments of the routes and the refusal of the participation of wheelchair users are unfortunate. At the 60th anniversary of the Four Days Marches in 1976, the legion of hikers has grown to more than 17,000. The celebration is commemorated by the first Four Days Marches stamp, and in the tunnel beneath the railway station all participants receive a souvenir during a kind of open-air reception.

From 1977, the 50 kilometres hikers start in the dark; summer time has been instituted. This distance is also a favourite among women, but despite protests in 1978, this is officially not allowed - the organisation of the Four Days Marches apparently considers this to be biologically irresponsible. They do approve a new minimum age for participation, which is moved from 13 to 12 years of age - apparently this is biologically responsible! But at the same time, the participation of a wheelchair user in 1979 turns out to be irresponsible, and his card is taken away from him after the first day. This 63rd Four Days Marches is coloured by congestions on the route and a fake bomb beneath the stands.

There might be no connection, but the following year the women are allowed to walk the 50 kilometres; in the end, 92 of the 118 ladies who started at this long distance, reach the finish. The 65th anniversary of the Four Days Marches is marked by a special flag parade: Europe's largest choir, consisting of 1400 members of the choir and 500 members of the orchestra, perform "Alle Menschen werden Brüder". It must have been a success in the Goffert stadium, because one year later this musical happening is repeated in a more modest way by the performance of the so-called "Eurovisiemars" , better known among the experts as the opening flourish from the Nijmegen Te Deum, composed by Marc Antoine Carpentier on the occasion of the 1678 Peace of Nijmegen. This marks the 50th flag parade.

It is unknown whether the ban-the-bomb-flag from the action group "Is there a war going on here?" ("Is het hier oorlog?") was represented on that occasion. In 1983, a gladiolus (or sword lily) is named after the Four Days Marches and the St. Annastraat is renamed "Via Gladiola". The occasion is the 75th anniversary of the KNBLO. The joys of the Four Days Marches in 1983 are in sharp contrast with the atmosphere in 1984. The action group "Is there a war going on here?" is removed from the event, on the day of the entry a squat is cleared in the St. Annastraat and a bomb is discovered beneath the stands. On top of this, the weather is awful. In the following year, there is fortunately again something worth celebrating: Mies Klaver-Budding is the first participant to complete the Four Days Marches for the 50th time! The wishes of wheelchair users are partly met: a Four Days Marches for wheelchair users is organised in Delden. A year later, there are again two hikers who complete the march for the fiftieth time: Annie Berkhout and Cor Pruijser. Meanwhile, Ingrid Biemans and Hans Daamen say "I will" to one another during the entry into Mook; they met four years earlier during the Four Days Marches. They enter Nijmegen via the St. Annastraat dressed up to the nines. After 20 years of service, Van Dongen says his farewells as Leader of the Marches in 1987. Other changes include the opening of two roadways of the Waal Bridge to soldiers, and the institution of an emergency Red Cross Hospital in the city theatre during the week of the Four Days Marches. More than 30,000 people participate in 1988, including for the first time citizens of Pskov. With the increasing crowds in mind, the diploma hikers this year for the first time experiment with an electronic reporting system at start and finish, and the following year the Wedren is included as start and finish site for the 30-kilometres hikers. This location is however abandoned the next year because of the absence of surfacing, and exchanged for the Juliana Park.

In 1991, the 75th Four Days Marches, more than 40,000 people register. Such numbers oblige the organisation the following year to continue testing the electronic reporting system, which is eventually instituted for all walkers in 1993. The continuing lobby for participation of wheelchair users is finally successful. In 1995, they are officially allowed to participate; their reward is not the Vierdaagse Cross, but a medallion from the City of Nijmegen – so differences remain. Annie Berkhout completes her 60th Four Days Marches in 1996, and in 1998 Nijmegen welcomes the millionth participant. Mr. de Blécourt finishes his 60th Four Days March in 1999, but Mrs. Berkhout keeps the record; in 2002 she walks her 66th Four Days March and she remains the walker who has participated most often. At this time, the nationwide commercial TV Broadcaster SBS 6 begins to cover all four days of the event. In 2004 the organisers limit the number of participants to 45,000, extending this to 47,500 the next year. The limits of both the organisation and the route have now been reached. The 90th Four Days Marches in 2006 last only one day. The extreme heat leads to the March organisation being overwhelmed by requests for help, and the eventual death of two walkers. From the following year the organisers introduce measures to monitor the weather conditions and to ensure safety on the route. 

The writer's own medal

Over the years, thousands of souvenirs and other paraphernalia of the Four Days Marches were manufactured. A small selection of these can be viewed in the catalogue.

catalogue

This historical account of the International Four Days Marches Nijmegen was written with the help of the book "De wereld wandelt", printed in 1991 by the KNBLO, and the official website of the Four Days Marches, complemented with personal material.

back to Noviomagus.nl

Copyright KNBLO / Henk Kersten, Noviomagus.nl

Nijmegen, Februari 2004 / 2008

Anna Simon / Richard Pearson

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