It was an event charged with emotion and overwhelming pride for those who risk their lives to protect our country.
Even driving rain failed to dampen the spirits of those who turned out to support South Tyneside’s Armed Forces Day celebration yesterday.
Hundreds of people, of all ages, lined Sea Road in South Shields to first welcome the scores of bikers who have helped make the event possible.
Then, as the members of the borough’s Armed Forces regiments marched by and into Bents Park, crowds erupted with rapturous applause, flag-waving and shouts of “respect”.
A service, which included the playing of the Last Post and a two-minute silence, was led by the Reverend Paul Kennedy before the Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Ernest Gibson, officially opened the event.
Coun Gibson, in attendance with the Mayoress of South Tyneside Patricia Ridley, praised the crowds for braving the rain to come and support the event, and those who made it possible.
He said: “To see everyone here, coming out and supporting our Armed Forces – despite the weather, it just makes me immensely proud to be the Mayor of South Tyneside.
“It has been a fantastic day and great to see our local reservists and cadets taking part in this event.
“I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to the organisers and the council’s events team that have helped to make this day possible, and both myself and Patricia feel privileged to have been part of it.”
Following the service, visitors to the event were invited to browse a range of exhibition stalls celebrating the life and history of the Armed Forces, enjoy fairground rides, check out a range of motorcycles on display, climb aboard an army truck and scale the heights of a climbing wall.
Among the crowds enjoying the day and paying homage to those serving in the Armed Forces was Pat Long.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the death of her son, South Tyneside redcap Corporal Paul Long.
The 61-year-old was joined at the event by Elsie Manning, the mother of staff sergeant Sharron Elliott, who was killed during a tour of Iraq in November 2006.
Mrs Long said: “To see everyone lining the road in support of the soldiers, it was just a very emotional thing to see. I was stood with Elsie Manning, and we both had tears in our eyes, but it was so nice to be here. It has helped me a lot, being so close to the anniversary of Paul’s death.
“I’d also like to thank the Bad-Landers Motorcycle Club for the support they are showing our Armed Forces by organising this event.”
Captain James Foster of the Territorial Army, 205 Battery RA (V), based in Northfield Gardens, South Shields, said: “In previous years, it has just been a small ceremonial parade outside the town hall, but now we have been able to join forces with the motorcycle club.
“For 205 battery being the local regiment here in South Shields, it’s important for us to keep waving the flag, and it’s nice that it is not just reciprocated through the council but also through the people of South Tyneside.
“They always come out in numbers to support the Armed Forces, and it’s just a great pleasure to see just how welcome we are.”