‘Why we should support Armed Forces Day’ – by our own veterans

Published Wednesday, 6th June 2018
‘Why we should support Armed Forces Day’ – by our own veterans
Veteran Harold Gregory is urging people to support the celebrations.

As the clock counts down to this year’s Rotherham Armed Forces Day, some of the town’s military veterans are urging people to support the celebrations.

For 97-year-old Harold Gregory, from South Anston, the event, which takes place on Saturday, June 30, is an occasion to remember and a chance to thank those who have fought for our country as well as those who are currently serving in the Armed Forces.

Harold joined the Territorial Army aged just 18, and was called up four days before the Second World War was declared.

“We were all assembled at Dinnington School as part of the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment, which later became the Sherwood Foresters,” he said.

“We had no uniform or equipment for over a month. I became a dispatch driver in the Army Service Corps and spent time in Algeria and Tunisia, Sicily, Italy and Austria.”

Harold’s role in the war was to pass messages between different companies which were spread out across the countryside – dangerous work for a young soldier who could be ambushed by the enemy at any time.

“The companies had been spread out for safety,” said Harold. “Due to the blackouts we had to find our way around in the dark by just reading a map. We were on our own.

“If we were lucky, we would be able to follow a path cleared of landmines by a tank which had led an advance party. The tanks laid white lines for soldiers to follow effectively clearing the way. It was dangerous work.”

For Harold, Armed Forces Day has special meaning.

“For me, it’s a day to remember and respect my comrades and friends who I fought with and who were killed in the war,” he said.

“They fought and died for this country and for the future of others to make it a better life for everyone.

“We have to remember those who are serving in the Armed Forces today as well because our country still needs defending to protect us and our freedom of life.”

Greg Beck is a younger veteran who echoes Harold’s call for everyone to come along and support and enjoy Armed Forces Day.

The 40-year-old former paratrooper saw active service in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone during his 12 years in the Army.

“I wanted to join when I was 16 but I was good at rugby league and got signed for the professional club Hunslet,” said Greg, who lives in Wath-upon-Dearne.

“After about three years I realised I wasn’t going to get my contract renewed so I went to college and learnt a bit of joinery. Then I got to 21 and my uncle died. He had been in the Army and I decided ‘that’s it’ and I joined up and didn’t tell anyone.

“Armed Forces Day is different to Remembrance Service – it’s more for the public to enjoy and celebrate, it’s a great day and pulls everyone together.”

And former RAF Senior Aircraftsman Chris Watson, agrees.

The 47-year-old, who lives in Kimberworth Park, and whose career was cut short by injury, believes Armed Forces Day is an important and special occasion.

“There is a very strong community of veterans here in Rotherham and I would encourage people to come along and support Armed Forces Day,” he said.

Cllr Ian Jones, Rotherham Council’s Armed Forces Champion said: “It will be a memorable day for the veterans and their families and gives everyone a chance to thank them. We owe so much to the service men and women who risk their lives for our country, and I know that Armed Forces Day will be an emotional, but truly proud day for us all.”

This year’s Armed Forces Day celebrations will include a Lancaster Bomber flypast (weather permitting) and a military parade from Rotherham Town Hall led by the Mayor of Rotherham.

A ceremony will be held to remember those who have given their lives for our country and to give thanks to veterans and active servicemen and women. There will also be faith blessings as part of the ceremony.

Entertainment for this year includes a Dame Vera Lynn tribute act, music from the Band of the Royal Armoured Corps, a performance by singing Rotherham PCSO Paul Newman and marching from the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

The day will also feature street entertainment, face painting, a range of stalls and performances by award-winning cadets.

Led by Rotherham Council, a large number of organisations including the Military Community and Veterans’ Centre (MCVC), voluntary groups and South Yorkshire Police, are working together to make this year’s Armed Forces Day the best yet.

The scheduled programme for Rotherham Armed Forces Day 2018 on Saturday 30 June is:

  • 10.30am - The parade will leave the Town Hall
  • 11.00am to 11.20am – Speeches and inspection of the troops
  • 11.25am – Raising of the Armed Forces Day flag
  • 11.25am - Lancaster Bomber Flypast (weather permitting)
  • 11.30am - The parade will continue around the town

Visitors can use the free weekend car parking spaces which are available in Forge Island car park.