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Pomp and ceremony as thousands honour nation's armed forces

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 02, 2012

  • The band of The Royal Marines takes centre stage at the Armed Forces Day parade on Plymouth Hoe that was attended by Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex. Tens of thousands of people gathered to watch the ceremony pictures: John Allen

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A small tower of drums stood on the stage, draped in the colours of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the British Army.

As tens of thousands of people gathered on Plymouth Hoe, joined by Prince Edward and Prime Minister David Cameron, the drums stood as a pertinent reminder of those service personnel who couldn't be there – those who have lost their lives in the service of their country and those still in harms way overseas.

The traditional Drumhead Service, which is normally conducted "in the field", could have been held anywhere but literally took centre stage on a day Plymouth and the wider Westcountry honoured and celebrated its Armed Forces.

The crowd stood still and quiet as prayers were offered. The Reverend Jonathan Woodhouse, Chaplain-General to Her Majesty's Land Forces, said "military service and civilian support" were "little notes that like each other" referencing a response once given by a young Mozart.

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Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the First Sea Lord, said the clear demonstration of support was "very humbling" adding that the backing of the people of Plymouth, a city of long standing military and maritime heritage, was "hugely appreciated by all of us and our families".

Nothing was more apt during the ceremony that the hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save, sung by the Military Wives Choir, and the words "Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea".

The service was a moment for serious reflection on a day which showed the genuine, heartfelt warmth in which all the Armed Forces, particularly the Navy for obvious reasons, are held in Plymouth.

Hundreds of sailors, soldiers and airmen, marched from the imposing walls of The Citadel to the Hoe, applauded by thousands of ordinary men, women and children lining the route.

Dotted among the crowds were veterans sporting the vaunted green beret of the Royal Marines and the maroon of the Parachute Regiment. They clapped as well.

Small children sat on the shoulders of their parents straining for a better view as the parade, led by the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, turned towards the towering Naval Memorial.

The massed ranks of serving service personnel were followed by veterans from the Second World War, Malaya, Korea and the Falklands.

Dozens of standards flew high in the blustery weather, representing countless regimental associations. One bearer gave a slight puff of the cheeks as he reached his mark.

The formal ceremony, the centrepiece of the Armed Forces Day national event, made way for the celebration of the city's long standing and proud relationship with the services.

And as the dignitaries left, and the uniformed men and women marched away, right on queue a Sea Fury flew over the Sound.

It's low drone was in marked contrast compared to the deafening roar of the modern Typhoon which had earlier swept past Smeaton's Tower.

Some in the city and on the other side of the River Tamar must have wondered what the noise was.

Jet engines glowing red hot, it banked, rolled and then climbed almost vertically before swooping down over the water again. One young boy rather summed it up. "That's awesome, dad".

Then, just after lunchtime the Spitfire, the icon of the Second World War, did its bit, transfixing both those old enough to have witnessed them in action and the Playstation generation.

Not to be outdone, the Royal Navy's frigate HMS Argyll conducted a "steampast" firing a 21-gun salute in honour of the Earl of Wessex.

If that wasn't loud enough, as Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay, with local children on board steamed past the Hoe, the salute was returned by the guns of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery from the battlements of the Citadel.

The shots rang out over the bronze figure of St George – the Royal Marine Memorial which was erected in 1921.

In the main arena, the crowds cheered on the field gun crews – at first those aged between nine and 11 and then those from HMS Drake and HMS Raleigh. Drake took the spoils.

With the beat of the drum and sound of brass an almost permanent presence, people marvelled at the grounded aircraft, a Red Arrow, a Typhoon and a Merlin helicopter as well as the tanks and armoured troop carriers.

Amid all the excitement was a sense of quiet pride from a people, a city and a region, which not only honours its mighty military past but those who now wear the uniform, who now make the sacrifices.

The most telling tributes, perhaps, were broadcast on a large screen which showed the individual tributes of school children, the children of forces personnel, men, women, old and young. "Thank You", they all said.

We were told that it was the most "community spirited" Armed Forces Day there has ever been. It showed.

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  • EndUKRule  |  July 02 2012, 3:54PM

    It really all is meaningless as 20,000 more are about to be made redundant. That's the English system for you!

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  • nickthompson  |  July 02 2012, 3:02PM

    ""Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Today is an opportunity for everyone up and down the country to clearly show how grateful we are to all our brave servicemen and women for all that they do"------------------------------------And here are your P45s. JUDAS CAMERON."

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  • Big_Ger  |  July 02 2012, 9:50AM

    What a beautiful and fitting tribute!

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  • trelawneyone  |  July 02 2012, 9:48AM

    after all his government cuts to the armed forces how cameron has the cheek to attend this cermony is beggers belief the man certainly has no morals or sense of decency shame on him

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