Armed Forces Day is an annual event celebrated in late June to commemorate the service of men and women in the British Armed Forces. Formerly known as Veterans’ Day, it was first observed in 2006 when plans were announced in February of that year by then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, who said the aim was to ensure the contribution of veterans was never forgotten. The day is marked across the UK by local ceremonies and the presentation of medals to living ex-servicemen and women. The date of 27 June was chosen as it came the day after the anniversary of the first investiture of the Victoria Cross, in Hyde Park, London in 1857. Its name was changed to Armed Forces Day in 2009, and each year the number of events and their size have increased with 2013 being particularly well presented, with many areas including a whole week of remembrance activities.
This report focuses on two such events in Essex on Saturday 29 June, one in the High Street of Southend-on-Sea – titled the ‘Big Brew Up’ – and another in the King George V Playing Fields in Rayleigh. The Southend event began with a parade of veterans, cadets and current servicemen marching towards Victoria Circus which provided the centre-point for that town’s activities.
An open-air service and remembrance speeches was accompanied by marched ‘colours’ and tributes. Further events during the day included appearances by the Bombshell Babes and other wartime-era musical acts, whilst the High Street was filled with appropriate charity stalls and entertainers.
The Rayleigh venue also offered a day of performances by musical acts, bands and other entertainment acts, plus a number of flypasts. A parachute jump by the Tigers Parachute Display Team was followed by a number of passes by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s recently restored Spitfire LFXVIe TE311 flown by Andy Millikin.
Later in the day a single fast pass by Tornado GR.4 ZA398 of II (AC) Squadron RAF – which carries the special 100th anniversary paint scheme on its tail of ‘Shiny Two’ – woke up the local residents! Flown by pilot Sqn. Ldr. Scott Williams and back-seater Phil Todhunter, the flypast was especially significant for the people of Rayleigh who lost local boy Sqn. Ldr. Sam Bailey in a collision of two Tornado aircraft over the Moray Firth in 2012.
Essex can be rightfully proud of its contribution to the country’s commemorations for Armed Forces Day 2013, and long may it continue.