SOUTH Tynesiders flocked to the seafront yesterday to celebrate and commemorate our armed forces.
Ahead of National Armed Forces Day on Saturday, the borough stages its own tribute as thousands gathered in Bents Park, South Shields.
The event, now in its sixth year, once again began with a special cavalcade of 200 motorcyclists led by the Bad-Landers Motorcycle Club riding along Sea Road into the park, followed by the sounds of the 101 Pipe band and a parade of local military groups, cheered on by the crowds as they marched past.
Once inside the park, the troops lined up as the Reverend Paul Kennedy paid tribute to the borough’s armed services personnel.
An inspection by the Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Fay Cunningham, and Colonel Jeremy Feggetter, who was representing the Lord-Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, followed before the haunting sound of the Last Post marked the traditional two-minutes silence and a rousing chorus of the National Anthem marked the end of the service.
A feast of family fun then followed with live music, a rock choir, fun fair rides, face painting, street entertainers and an exhibition of motorbikes, scooters, classic cars and military vehicles.
The event, organised by the Bad-Landers Motorcycle Club in partnership with South Tyneside Council and supported by 205 Battery RA (V), Royal British Legion and Durham Light Infantry, pays tribute to the borough’s servicemen and women past and present, as well as raising funds for military charities.
Bad-Landers chairman Joe Fairrie said: “The event is an annual event organised by the Bad-Landers and we always get a huge amount of support from the biking community from around the North East. We have a lot of fun and we also raise a lot of money for the armed forces charities.
“In the past we have had some really bad weather, but thankfully this year, the rain has stayed off so we all have big smiles on our faces.”
Coun Cunningham said: “The celebration has two sides to it, a fun side but also a very serious side in that we must remember those in the armed forces, as without them we may not be standing here today enjoying such a great day, if it wasn’t for the sacrifices of the men and women from previous generations. I think the turnout is amazing, but the people of South Tyneside always get behind events like this. It makes me very proud.”
Captain James Foster, of South Shields-based 205 battery, said: “As a member of the armed forces, it give you a massive sense of pride to see all the support there is from the local community.”
Former soldier David Findlay was among those who attended the day. He said: “It has been a very good turn out again.
“As an ex-soldier I belong to the generation that hid the fact you were in the armed forces so to see the level of support the armed services are receiving now it is absolutely fantastic.
“When they were marching down and everyone was clapping and cheering, you could see the older ones, their heads lifted a little bit higher and they started stepping out a little bit more - it was very proud moment to see.”
Biker John Ellison said: “Every year it seems to get bigger and bigger. They turnout has been absolutely fantastic with bikers coming from Cumbria to take part.
“Six years ago when we first started this, hardly anyone turned up, but now it’s amazing the numbers of people who are here. There is a lot of respect for our armed forces, and it’s great we have had the weather this year.”