British Walkers at the Vierdaagse
The British have consistently been one of the largest non-Dutch groups at the Vierdaagse since the War. As the post-war participation has been well documented, this page focuses on the British contribution prior to 1940.
The Marches became an international event in 1928, coinciding with the Olympic Games that were held in Amsterdam that year. Teams from Great Britain, Germany and Norway attended. Since 1928, British walkers have taken part every year, the immediate post war March in 1946 being the only exception.
Pre-war, all British walkers marched with a registered team. From 1928 to 1938 all teams were affiliated to the Road Walking Association, with one from the London Stock Exchange Athletics Club in 1939.
The photographs below are taken from the Nijmegen Regional Archive. Much of the information is taken from reports in the De Gelderlander newspaper, also accessible on the Archives site:
First British walkers. The forty Road Walking Association participants at the 1928 flag parade, held at the Prince Hendrik Barracks in Nijmegen. The British were divided into four registered teams, based on the participants’ social class. They were all successful, their four group medals built into what became known as the ‘Nijmegen Shield’. This trophy is still awarded by the Race Walking Association for the winning team in the British National 20 km race walking Championship.
The Waal Ferry. The Nijmegen Road Bridge was opened in June 1936 and incorporated into the Vierdaagse route from that year. Before then, the route often included a trip on the Waal ferry. These 1930 British walkers are marching onto the jetty at Lent, north of the Waal, to board the ferry back to Nijmegen.
Over the years the Waal ferry became increasingly busy and became known locally as the 'veerpont zeldenrust', or the 'ferry that rarely rests'.
Smart uniform. Throughout the pre-war period, Road Walking Association team members wore distinctive light grey flannel blazers and cricket-style caps that, according to the local Nijmegen newspaper De Gelderlander, were a popular sight at the event, giving a good impression to other participants. The walkers above represent the two British teams at the 1931 March.
Accommodation during the week consisted of tents on the Molenveld, south east of Nijmegen - one of the accommodation tents can be seen behind the walkers. The Molenveld was near the Prince Hendrik Barracks where the administration was based during the March week. The area is now a built-up part of the city.
Team of 1932. A single Road Walking Association team took part in the 22nd Vierdaagse, here photographed on the afternoon of Monday 25 July at the Flag Parade on the Molenveld, just outside Nijmegen. The team consisted of ten walkers, including Richard Crook (left rear); Robert Martin (left front) and Alfred McSweeney (front, next to Martin), with two non-walking supporters on the right of the photograph. All ten completed the march and the team received the Group Medal.
The registration form of this team can be seen at the base of this page.
Tragic death. In 1933 Mr Wallis (right) went to Nijmegen as a non-walking support member of the Road Walking Association team. He sadly died of a stroke during the March week and was buried in the presence of the British team at the Nijmegen Rustoord Cemetery. All routes pass the Cemetery’s imposing entrance on the Postweg on the third day of the Marches.
First British Woman. The pre-war British team included at least one woman. This close up from the photograph above right shows her at the end of the 1934 March wearing a two year medal. Before 1940 support members of teams also received the cross, so it is not clear if she participated as a walker.
The wider photo above left shows Robert Martin on the left and Richard Crook on the right. The man in the bowler hat is Mr P. L. M. van Wayenburg, the NBvLO delegate for Nijmegen and an honorary Road Walking Association member. He helped arrange the British team’s stay every year and, some years, arranged a tour of the wider area on the Saturday after the Marches.
Team of 1936. Ten of the eleven members of the 1936 British team on the Monday before the 26th Marches.
Front row from left: unidentified; Richard Crook (his seventh march); Robert J. Martin (eighth march, will receive gold cross in 1938); Frank R. Scott (sixth march); Alfred D. McSweeney (fifth march).
Back row second from left with medal: Charles W. Hatch (third march).
Other team members were: Joseph W. Lambert, George Shenton Stanley W. Bryant (all second march) and Charles W. Absom, A. Laycock, Mark C. Bell (first march). All but one of these is in the photo, but have not been individually identified.
Registering. Three members of the Road Walking Association, including Richard Crook (left) and Robert Martin (centre) register on the Monday for the 1936 March at the Prince Hendrik Barracks.
The Barracks were closed after the war.
On the Road. The British at the 1936 March. Until 1967 civilian male groups had to march 55km a day to qualify for the Vierdaagse Cross, and have no drop-outs to qualify for the Group Medal.
Frank Scott leads with the mouth organ with Alfred McSweeney to his left. Richard Crook walks immediately behind McSweeney with Robert Martin behind him.
All members of the British team completed the March that year, earning a Group Medal.
First Gold Cross. In 1938 Robert Martin became the first non-Dutch walker to complete ten marches and receive the Gold Vierdaagse Cross. An insurance inspector from Tottenham in North London, he captained one of the two 1938 Road Walking Association teams. Martin had been part of the first British team in 1928 and received his silver cross in 1932.
This photograph was taken in 1936 on the Monday before the Marches.
The De Gelderlander newspaper reported that on Friday 29 July 1938 March Leader Kapitein J. H. Breunese presented Robert Martin with the Vierdaagse Cross in gold, congratulating him on being the first non-Dutch recipient. The Road Walking Association Team then gave three cheers, followed by singing ‘For he is a jolly good fellow’.
The photograph above was taken on the Molenvelt after Martin had received his gold cross. On the far left is Mr van Wayenburg, the NBvLO delegate for Nijmegen who helped arrange the British team’s annual stay. Behind him in uniform is Kapitein Breunese, who was made an honorary member of the Road Walking Association that year.
The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Hendrik Colijn, visited Nijmegen on the final day of the 1938 March, he also congratulating Robert Martin on his award.
Stock Exchange marchers. Although no Road Walking Association team took part in 1939, a team of ten from the London Stock Exchange Athletics Club took part, nine completing the course. This photo was taken in Wijchen on the second day of the March.
No British walkers took part in the first post war march in 1946, with one walker in both 1947 and 1948. 1949 saw the first post war civilian group, with fourteen British marchers taking part.
The first participation of a British military team was in 1950 when a Germany-based RAF team took part. This was followed in 1951 with a team each from the Royal Artillery and 2nd Grenadier Guards, (one of the Guards battalions that had arrived in Nijmegen as part of Operation Market Garden seven years before.)
The first walkers from the Royal Navy took part in 1965 when five sailors, two of whom finished the march, formed part of a combined RAF and RN team from RAF Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, where they were all based.
British participation grew during the 1950’s, exceeding one thousand in 1957. It has averaged around the thousand mark since then. Although the number of teams from the regular armed forces has declined over the years, numbers have been maintained by cadet groups, police and civilian walkers.
Medals and certificates to British Walkers
Registration page for the 1932 Vierdaagse. When registering, the details of each walker were recorded by a Dutch army officer. This is the entry page for the Road Walking Association team members, who all registered on Monday 25 July 1932, all for the 55km route.
The total entry fee is noted as 75.00 guilders - 7.50 guilders each - just under one pound sterling per walker at the then exchange rate!
The ten walkers were, (including occupation, and the award each hoped to gain in the 1932 March):
R.J. Martin (Insurance Insp) (Silver cross)
R. Crook (Civil servant) (Number four)
A.F. Camp (Engineer) (Number three)
A. Goodsell (Clerk) (Number three)
G.H. Baverstock (Local Gov't Clerk) (Bronze Crown)
T. Payne (Radio Company Director) (Bronze Cross)
A.D. McSweeney (Letterpress Printer) (Bronze Cross)
G.C. Cooper (Decorator) (Bronze Cross)
E.M. Stone (Clerk) (Bronze Cross)
R. Cawthorne (Storekeeper) (Bronze Cross)
All completed the march, the team receiving the Group Medal at the end of the week.
A photograph of the team is shown further up this page, see: Team of 1932
Two year medal to L. A. Aves who completed the March in both 1929 and 1930.
Prior to 1977, those who completed the March for a second time received only the crown and suspension ring, which was then attached to the top of the medal.
Certificate awarded in 1932 to Ron Cawthorne, a store-keeper from the English town of Stoke-on-Trent.
He died in about 1996.