28/06/2010

Veterans Week Marks Past Sacrifices

Northern Ireland's main parade to mark the second annual Armed Forces Day has been held in Carrickfergus - with another taking place across Belfast Lough in Bangor.

More than 300 veteran servicemen paraded in Carrick on Saturday before the Royal Irish dedication parade which included the regimental band and pipes and drums. The special week was also marked on the other side of Belfast Lough, in Bangor, next day.

A further commemoration took place on Sunday, when 200 ex-service men and women, civic representatives and Chelsea Pensioners recalled those from Co Antrim and from across Ireland who fought in the bloody Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Local MP Sammy Wilson was at the now annual ceremony revived by the locally based Whiteabbey Royal British Legion over a decade ago.

The salute at a short parade afterwards was taken by the Queen's official representative, Joan Christie, the Lord-Lieutenant of Co Antrim, shown here chatting with Lieutenant John Read, Glengormley Army Cadets.

The service was conducted by the Rev Dr Sam Grant, who also underlined the continuing sacrifice of service personnel in the bloody conflict in Afghanistan, as the Last Post was sounded and wreaths were laid and the traditional two-minute silence observed high above Belfast Lough at the County Antrim War Memorial, Knockagh.

Sunday's celebration in Bangor was also well attended with the DUP MLA for North Down Peter Weir commenting: "Bangor was one of the local venues of a nationwide programme of events and played its part to the full."

The day was designed to provide civilians with a chance to honour past and present military personnel.
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It follows a week in which eight UK service personnel were killed in Afghanistan, taking the death toll among British troops there to 307.

Peter Weir said: "I am delighted at the outstanding success of Armed Forces Day in Bangor.

"In particular the Beating of the Retreat near McKee's clock at the seafront was warmly received by the large local crowd who observed proceedings.

"The drill expertise of both the Sea Cadets and the Band of the Royal Marines Scotland, along with the musical prowess of the later must be highly commended."

However, beyond the entertainment and the pageantry of today, he said "there is a more a serious underlying message".

"We should never forget the efforts and sacrifices made by our Armed Forces, both at home and abroad, which allow us to enjoy the liberty and democracy that we often take for granted in this country.

"I commend the efforts of groups such as Help For Heroes and the Glentoran Community Trust amongst others who locally have campaigned and raised money for army causes," he commented.

In Belfast meanwhile, Sinn Féin Belfast Councillor Caoimhín Mhic Giolla Mhín has labelled the decision by Belfast City Council to celebrate 'Armed Forces Day' by flying a military flag from City Hall as "divisive", and "an insult to families of victims of those killed by the British military in Ireland who are still campaigning for truth and justice".

"Sinn Féin opposed the request to fly the military flag at City Hall, and we believe the decision by unionist parties to push ahead with this move is provocative and divisive.

"We don't believe that these actions, and the role of the British armed forces in Ireland, are something to celebrate."

(BMcC/GK)

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