WE owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our armed forces.
Quite rightly, we view the men and women who serve in our Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Forces as constituting the finest armed forces in the world.
These men and women are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of our country.
They show remarkable bravery on a daily basis when in combat to help us enjoy the type of life we lead in this country.
The first duty of any Government is to protect its citizens and this would not be possible without the bravery, dedication, commitment and honest patriotism of our Armed Forces.
I mentioned that they show bravery when in combat.
However, on the streets of Woolwich last month, we saw extremism and wickedness directed at a brave and committed young man who served his country but was not on the front-line of war.
This year’s Armed Forces Day will have a particularly high level of emotion and poignancy because of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.
Some will, and have, want to use the heartless and his cold-blooded killing as an excuse to show yet more hatred, division and intolerance.
That is not the truly British way – British values are about freedom and tolerance.
The notion that my love of my country and celebration of our history, society and culture is based on hatred of someone else is not something I recognise. Loving my country doesn’t mean that we should hate someone else.
On Saturday, there is an opportunity for us as individuals – and collectively, as a town and as a country – to demonstrate that gratitude for our Armed Forces and celebrate the values of our country.
A parade and service will be held in Hartlepool to say thank you to all those who have served and who are currently serving in our Armed Forces.
Organised by the Combined Ex-Servicemen’s Association, it is an opportunity for the people of our town to come together to celebrate the great contribution that our servicemen and women have made to our country.
This is particularly poignant as we start to think about the centenary of the start of the First World War in 2014 and something which we in Hartlepool think about with the centenary of the bombardment of the Hartlepools in December of that year.
It was the courage and professionalism of service personnel 100 years ago that meant that many more people were not killed in the bombardment.
I hope you will attend on Saturday to show your gratitude. Anybody who wishes to take part in the parade should meet at the car park near Jackson’s Wharf pub by 10.40am. The parade is due to march to the Maritime Experience where the service will be held at 11am, next to HMS Trincomalee. Those wishing to attend the service should meet at HMS Trincomalee, with access gained next to the Jackson’s Wharf pub. I very much hope that the event is the best ever attended to pay tribute and celebrate the enormous contribution made to this great country of ours by the Armed Forces.