By Tony May
Alexandra Park was the beautiful setting for this year’s Armed Forces Day organised by Hastings & St. Leonards Veterans Association. As well as helping to raise money for St. Dunstans (a charity for blind ex-service men and women) the primary aim of the event was to celebrate the cadets 150th anniversary and remember all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in times of war.
That ‘The Armed Forces Day Fair’ should take place on the same day England were due to play Germany in the World Cup may not seem of great significance to most of you. As someone with no personal or family connection to the forces, visiting such an event on the morning of the match and witnessing the remembrance ceremony really made me stop and think about ‘the old enemy’, as us football fans like to call the Germans.
The s t r a ng e s t thing about this from my point of view was my realization that, having shared so closely the terrible pain and anguish of war, having known the deepest feelings of fear and hatred towards each other and having experienced stomach sickening, life changing moments of loss at the same time in our histories, the English and German people have every reason now to be the closest and most supportive of friends.
This may seem and odd conclusion to come to for those reading this who fought or lived through Britain’s darkest hours but I know only too well myself in life how valuable it is to be able to talk with someone who truly KNOWS how you are feeling and can help you to process and understand your emotions.
Of course the past cannot be changed nor the hurt and resentment ever completely forgotten but surely this in itself should make all of us that bit more determined to never, ever, let what happened between our two countries happen again and that has to be a good thing, no? At this point I feel I should apologise to any of you finding my words and sentiments offensive or upsetting. It is not my intention to evoke such emotions I can assure you – I am simply trying, as someone born in 1965, to grasp some understanding of the emotional and humbling scenes I witnessed, that is all.
And humbling scenes there were. As Dame Vera Lynn’s voice could be heard singing ‘We’ll Meet Again’ from the public speakers, the marching came into view led by The Reed Pipes and Drums Academy. In front of Baroness Fookes of Plymouth (D.B.E, D.L) and a number of local dignitaries including Hastings new MP, Amber Rudd, veterans marched proudly alongside their wheelchair bound comrades MP Amber Rudd opened Hastings Armed Forces Day and Summer Fair The Reed Pipes and Drums Academy.
In front of Baroness Fookes of Plymouth (D.B.E,D.L) and a number of local dignitaries including Hastings new MP, Amber Rudd, veterans marched proudly alongside their wheelchair bound comrades The Reed Pipes and Drums Academy. and modern day counterparts. There was a parade of standards, pageantry, impeccable uniforms, tradition and the result of typical British discipline and training on show for all to see.
My photographs depict and describe what happened next far better than I could ever put it into words and so, bar to inform you that Father Robert Featherstone conducted the ceremony, I will leave you to sit, gaze and gather your own thoughts…
About the rest of the event
Well, it was rather a joyous day in lots of ways. The weather was perfect and it was a typical short-sleeves summer’s day.
Alexandra Park looked stunning and there was every reason to have a smile on your face.
Interesting stalls of every description surrounded the central parade ground. For military enthusiasts there was not only a number of fascinating stalls dedicated to historic artifacts, equipment and uniforms but also some fine military vehicles to examine and modern day soldiers to converse with.
One stall even had copies of what they described as ‘Adolf Hitler’s 1940 Holiday Snap Of Hastings’ for sale. This turned out to be an aerial shot of Hastings taken by a German reconnaissance aircraft and had very little to do with Adolf’s intention to buy a ‘kiss me quick’ hat off Hastings Pier!
Thankfully, as we now know, Hitler did not get the chance to paddle his feet in the sea but it is a sobering thing to see a copy of that photo, I can tell you.
Away from the serious subject of war, a number of things helped to make the event a family day. Mickey and Minnie Mouse were in attendance and both worked tirelessly to put big smiles on kids faces dishing out hugs and posing for photos.
There was a small funfair with a number of rides including a recently restored children’s carousel from 1895, a beer tent, plenty of places to get a variety of delicious smelling food, an abundance of Tombola’s and raffle stalls with marvellous prizes and even the opportunity to buy fresh strawberries and cream.
I had a few goes on the ‘Lucky Dip’ myself. Tickets were £1.50 a go but you were guaranteed a prize every time. All of the prizes had been wrapped so you had no idea what you might win. Being a big kid, I loved that idea as it reminded me of Christmas! Thankfully, didn’t win a comb or a pair of ladies tights this time either as I have in the past!
Add to all of this, arts and craft stalls, face painting, a mini jumble sale (where I purchased some nice Jazz cd’s) and the arrival of ‘Happy Harold’ mid morning and you can imagine why the mood on the day was far from sombre.
The Drum Head Service was conducted by the Reverend David Wooton
“Hastings Town” August 2010
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