Military precision sees first Ards Veterans' Day hit the target
VETERANS' Day went off with a bang at the weekend in Londonderry Park, Newtownards, as visitors were treated to a raft of military stalls, a parade by war veterans, a World War II exhibition, and numerous other activities including a trials bike exhibition and a climbing wall.
This year marks the first large scale event for Veterans' Day in the town.
The day began with a parade of veterans – including Association Standards – followed by a short service of Thanksgiving that finished around noon.
It was organised by Ards Borough Council in conjunction with the 38 (Irish) Brigade, Reserve Forces and Cadets and with the support of the Royal British Legion.
The event recalled the long service given by people from across Northern Ireland during wars and operations worldwide, as well as to mark the on-going service given by both Regulars and Reservists.
Numerous vintage military vehicles were parked up to allow visitors to take a peek at machines of war from the past and present.
An old RUC Land Rover – the original Simba variant– stood out as one of the few RUC grey vehicles, but there were also British Army Pigs – a vehicle seen on the streets of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles – numerous logistics vans and trucks and amphibious vehicles.
Two centre-pieces to the event were the SAS 4x4 Desert Raiders, kitted out with Vickers and Bren machine guns webbing, and every other piece of equipment conceivably needed to take on a variety of enemy positions.
The inimitable WWII hero Lt Col Blair Mayne, a Newtownards man who went on to become one of the British Army's most decorated soldiers, used the same type of vehicle during the war, along with the SAS men under his command.
At 2pm soldiers from the 38 brigade demonstrated the use of numerous WWII weapons and kit, from the British, Russian, US, and German forces in their 'War Years Remembered' exhibition.
They described the dress of paratroopers, marines, the uses of kit, and a Russian Mosin Nagant rifle and German FG 42 were fired to show the crowds just how difficult giving and following orders could be while gunfire is occurring. The Nagant was deafening at close range and the FG 24, which is quite unreliable in its old age spat out shells at an impressive rate. The demonstrators also showed off their German MG 42 machine gun and the American .30 cal Browning, the Thompson machine gun, and the "grease gun", a mass produced steel pressed cheaper variant.
A Bofors Anti-aircraft gun was set up close to the flight path of gliders and planes coming into land at Newtownards airstrip, but luckily there was no flak fired into the air.
Mayor of Ards, Councillor Stephen McIlveen said: ""Veterans Day was a fantastic opportunity for Ards Borough Council and the people of Ards to show their gratitude to those who have served in our armed forces.
"I know from speaking to a number of the veterans who were there that there were delighted to be recognised in this way. We estimate that over 2 000 people were in attendance and they were entertained by the Band of the RIR (V) as well as a range of activities, displays and military memorabilia," he added.