On Sunday August 31, 85 former Millais pupils, aged between 16 and 21, gathered at the Mannings Heath Hotel for a very special lunch.
Despite the differences in age, the former students had one thing in common – they had all taken part in the Nijmegen Four Days Marches ‘The Walk of the World’ when they were in Year 11 at Millais School.
The Nijmegen Four Day Marches started in 1909, and have grown into the largest walking event of its kind in the world. Each year more than 43,000 participants walk the four days in and around Nijmegen to receive the royally approved Four Days Marches Cross.
A medal originally awarded to the Dutch Military for proven marching ability. For the past five years, Millais School has entered a team of girls, organised by Mr Andy Skinner, the School Enrichment Co-ordinator.
The Reunion lunch was a momentous occasion. With 107 Millais girls having taken part in the Nijmegen Walk and every single one having completed the 100 miles – over 80 were able to attend, with some girls returning from University and overseas for the occasion.
As well as having a scrumptious Sunday lunch at the Mannings Heath Hotel, the girls were able to look at photos from across the five years, and catch up with friends who took part in the walk alongside them.
The former Nijmegen girls – known as the ‘Pink Ladies’ whilst in Holland – were not the only guests to the lunch, however. Also invited were members of staff from Millais who had accompanied the girls on the walk and other attendees included Mr Dave Smith, President of the Horsham Rotary Club, Mrs Ruth Dean, Chair of the Millais Parent and Teachers Association and Geoff King from Knights Travel in Horsham who has been the Team coach driver for the past three years.
Additionally, some very special guests from Arnhem in Holland, the Velzel family, who the Millais girls have visited each year bar one.
The Velzel family have welcomed the Millais team into their home each year, giving them lunch and musical performances by their talented daughter Ischico who plays piano and her equally talented brother Tadjiro who accompanies her on saxophone. Visiting the family is a highlight of the trip to Nijmegen, and the former Millais girls loved being able to meet up with the family again.
The reunion was organised by Mr Andy Skinner, who came to the lunch along with his wife, Tracy – both of whom trained all the girls on the months leading up to the event and go to Nijmegen to walk alongside them during the four days marches every year.
Mr Andy Skinner said: “This year I wanted mark the occasion of 100 Millais girls having walked the 100 miles in an informal way but in a memorable setting. It was wonderful to see so many of the girls again and hear how they are getting on in their lives. It was also good to be able to personally thank all those that have supported the girls over the years.”
He added: “The girls have not only completed what was a huge mental and physical challenge but they have had fun and at the same time, raised thousands of pounds for different charities. Including their training, collectively the girls have walked right around the globe!
“Millais are the only school team in the world to participate in this unique event which is another opportunity for the school to extend the girls’ learning into the wider world and provide them with life skills which cannot be taught in the classrooms.”
Ruth Dean, Chair of the Millais PTA, was delighted to be at the reunion: “The PTA are thrilled to be able to contribute to the Nijmegen walk and to help fund the girls who take part. It was really enjoyable to see the marked effect that our contribution to this amazing experience has made.”
The Rotary Club of Horsham support the Millais girls adventure each year and club President Dave Smith said: “We are very pleased to be of some help in supporting the girls from Millais who set off each year to take on these gruelling four days of marching. Along with all the hard work they put in they have great fun while gaining valuable life skills, long may Millais continue to take part.”
The girls thoroughly enjoyed catching up with each other, reminiscing over the memories made whilst on the walk, and in some cases, seeing the legacy they had made. Millais has been entering a team of girls into the Walk of the World for five years now, since the summer of 2010.
Carolynn Watson, 21, Rosie French, 20, Katy Brown, 20, Xanthe Wilson, 20, Alex Denne, 20, and Ellie Huddleston, 20, were part of the original team of 12 from Millais, who took part in 2010. They were thrilled to see so many other former Millais girls from later years who had followed their footsteps.
Ellie Huddleston reminisced on choosing the now legendary vivid pink of the team polo shirts, leading to the famous ‘Pink Ladies’ being born.
She said: “We started the pink t-shirts, so it’s fantastic to see the colour has stuck, leading to the ‘Pink ladies’ becoming famous in Nijmegen! Originally we just wanted to see Mr Skinner in pink – but it’s so nice to see the other years have followed our lead.”
All of the former Millais girls loved being able to see so many people who had also taken part in the Four Days Marches in Nijmegen.
Laura McLaughlin, (16), who participated in the 2014 Nijmegen team, said: “It was really nice to see everyone. It’s good to relate to everyone; it’s not often you get to meet this many people who took part in the same amazing experience that is Nijmegen.”
Harriet Roberts, who took part in the Nijmegen walk in 2013, added: “It was so nice to see everyone today. I hosted Ischico at my home, and she came to the lunch along with her family, which has been fantastic. I’ve loved showing her all that Horsham has to offer!’”
Jenny Glover, 17, who also took part in 2013, had a fantastic lunch: “It was really lovely to see everyone together. It’s amazing that so many girls from Millais have taken part, and it’s been great to re-live the experience of Nijmegen.
“All of us want to thank Mr Skinner for organising both this reunion lunch, and for helping us all through Nijmegen – the most amazing experience of our lives!”
Report by Alexandra White, 17. Picture contributed by Millais School.