A VETERANS’ organisation will boycott the official Bombardment centenary commemoration after the council scrapped plans for a military parade.
The Hartlepool Combined Ex-Service Association, which has hundreds of members, says it will not attend or take part in any of the events run by Hartlepool Borough Council to mark the historic day.
Association chairman Tug Wilson says it comes after the council changed the event’s status from having a military parade to it being a civilian-led ceremony.
He says he has been forced to cancel several high-ranking officers from the Royal Artillery Association at short notice who were due to attend.
Mr Wilson says event organisers asked him in March to arrange a military presence before receiving a letter “out of the blue” from the council in September changing its position.
But the council say the programme of events was decided upon by councillors after considerable consultation with groups and individuals.
And they add any serving member of the forces or veterans are welcome to attend the day, which will include the unveiling of a new memorial to the bombardment on the Headland.
Mr Wilson met a senior council officer where he says he was asked to organise a military parade.
But councillors decided in September to abandon the idea for a parade following concerns over the number of people at the event.
He said: “In March it was decided to be a military event. I had a general officer, two colonels and two battery commanders coming.
“Then on September 25 I got a letter from Denise Ogden at the council saying it was to be a civilian event with no military participation.
“We had people coming from all over the place. Now I have had to say don’t come.”
The council letter stated: “Members resolved that it should be a civilian event designed to commemorate the lives of the 114 civilians and 16 service personnel who lost their lives as a result of the enemy action on December 16.”
It added the council had written to the Royal Artillery Association, Royal Engineers, Royal Navy and Durham Light Infantry to see if they wanted to have representatives there on the day.
“There is a lot of bad feeling about it,” said Mr Wilson. “The Ex-Service Association say we won’t participate in any of the activities on December 16 apart from the parade at the Heugh Gun Battery in the morning.
“There may be one or two descendants of people who were killed in the battle choosing to lay a wreath.
“It is a national event. We will get noticed by our absence.”
The event will include the unveiling of the new memorial at around midday and numerous music, poetry and film shows at the Borough Hall throughout the day.
Denise Ogden, the council’s director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, said: “We are sorry that the Combined Ex-Service Association has decided not to attend the event to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the bombardment of the Hartlepools.
“The decision to mark this important date in the way proposed was reached by councillors after considerable consultation with groups and individuals across the borough.
“The four military services who lost personnel as a result of enemy action on December 16, 1914 have been invited to send representatives to help us commemorate one of the most important days in the history of the borough, and members of the council’s Regeneration Services Committee made it clear when they considered the event that any serving representatives of the military or ex-service personnel wishing to join us would be warmly welcomed.
“We have been in constant contact with the Heugh Gun Battery and they are in full agreement with the format and content of the day.
“The council is and always will be a strong supporter of the military services and our support for events such as Armed Forces Day and Armistice Day on the closest Sunday to November 11 reflects this.”