Last Saturday was Armed Forces Day. I was pleased to see that a small crowd gathered at Hartlepool Maritime Experience to observe what is a very important event.
Armed Forces Day is now in its fifth year, and gives people the opportunity to do two things.
First, it raises public awareness of the vital contribution made to our country by those who have served, and who are presently serving, in the armed forces.
Secondly, it gives us all the opportunity to show our support for the men and women who are serving and have served.
Hartlepool has played its part, often above and beyond the call of duty, with a long, strong and proud tradition of the town’s men and women serving their country.
Armed Forces Day is a way to acknowledge the great contribution they have made.
In many ways, it is a happy and positive experience, with the opportunity to celebrate and praise our armed forces.
The Army, Navy and Royal Air Force defend our interests across the world.
They did so spectacularly in Libya last year, and have worked hard in difficult conditions a long way from home for many years in Afghanistan to promote peace, deliver aid, fight terrorism and tackle drug smuggling.
In that way, I think it is equally important that we separate the event from Remembrance Sunday, the most solemn event in my calendar as a Member of Parliament.
The ceremony in November is a time to remember and grieve for the people who have fallen and have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Armed Forces Day, in contrast, is more of a celebration, something which would be inappropriate for Remembrance Sunday.
The procession on Saturday was colourful and vibrant.
The standard bearers from the Royal British Legion, Royal Artillery Association, Durham Light Infantry Association, Hartlepool Royal Air Force Association and the Merchant Navy carried out their duties with skill and professionalism.
The parade looked very smart, doing Hartlepool and their service proud. I was particularly pleased to see my friend, fellow Pools fan and stalwart of the RAFA, Ian Fraser, take the salute.
He told me on Saturday that this was because he was the youngest member of RAFA, but, knowing his age, I’m not convinced I believe him!
I would like more people from Hartlepool to attend the event, as I think there is huge support from the town for the armed forces.
However, I don’t believe the current location of the ceremony helps encourage a good turnout. Carrying out the ceremony in a car park a couple of yards from a busy and noisy dual carriageway and – frankly – next to a set of toilets – does not show the armed forces the respect that they deserve.
I don’t agree with the notion that the event should take place at the War Memorial – as I mentioned earlier, that location should have the status of a war grave, be viewed with utter solemnity and be reserved for the poppy-laying ceremony on Remembrance Sunday.
I would suggest that the ceremony should be moved to Church Square next year, with the possibility of the service being conducted in Christ Church, open to all.
I could see the procession march from the new Hartlepool College of Further Education – in many ways a symbol of what the armed forces are protecting: freedom and enlightenment through education – to a great municipal square.
The notion of having a ceremony in Church Square works very well for Workers Memorial Day and I hope it could be replicated for Armed Forces Day. In that way, I think more people from Hartlepool would have the ability to show support for our armed forces.