Flying the flag for our forces

YOUNG cadets and armed forces veterans stood shoulder-to-shoulder with civic dignitaries during an annual service to honour past and present service personnel.

Around 70 people, including forces veterans and members of Hartlepool Air Cadets, joined ranks in a ceremony to mark Armed Forces Day.

The group gathered outside Portofino’s, at Hartlepool marina, before “falling in” for a short march to Hartlepool’s Maritime Experience car park, where a service was held.

The procession was led by six standard-bearers, representing the Royal Navy, the Royal Artillery Association, the Light Infantry Association, Hartlepool Royal Air Force Association (RAFA), the Merchant Navy and the British Legion.

Next in line were veterans from various sections of the forces, followed by civic dignitaries including Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, Mayor Stuart Drummond and vice-chairman of Hartlepool Borough Council Kevin Cranney.

Also marching were councillors including Keith Fisher, Mary Fleet and Sheila Griffin.

The procession listened intently as Reverend Val Towler, of St George’s United Reformed Church, told the crowds: “This is a day on which we celebrate the service and commitment of all those in our armed forces, both past and present.

“Their contribution to the life we have is enormous and we owe them a debt of gratitude as well as our full support and our prayers.”

During the service, which included the hymns, Onward Christian Soldiers and Jerusalem, Rev Towler paid tribute to various members of the military, including 9,500 currently serving in Afghanistan and 420 who have lost their lives in the conflict.

The event was co-ordinated by Hartlepool man Tug Wilson, 67, a former Army commando and secretary of the Royal Artillery Association.

He said he was pleased with the turn-out and added: “This day is as important as Remembrance Sunday.

“The reason is that just because some of these guys came back from conflict doesn’t mean they did anything less than those who didn’t, they were just more fortunate.

“That’s not to take anything away from those we have lost.

“These lads have done their bit, and they deserve to be remembered, especially with ongoing things in Afghanistan and other places.”

Mayor Drummond said: “I have attended every year and it gets bigger each year – this is the biggest turn-out.

“People are very aware of the job that the armed forces are doing and I think throughout the country today they are being celebrated, and rightly so.”

Mr Wright added: “The armed forces are an integral part of this country, keeping us safe.

“It is right that we pause and reflect on the enormous service that they provide.

“Armed Forces Day provides us with an opportunity to ensure we can say thank you to current and former servicemen and women who work incredibly hard and bravely to keep us safe.”