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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 June 2006, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Veterans' Day unites and educates
By Alex Kleiderman
BBC News

The UK's first Veterans' Day has been marked in London with an event outside the Imperial War Museum.

Anthony Williams, Anthony Knott
Friendships were forged at the London Veteran's Day event

Marquees and exhibits filled Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park as hundreds of military veterans rubbed shoulders with members of the public and schoolchildren.

The government said national events, to be held every June 27, are to celebrate and draw attention to the contribution of veterans of all ages and experiences.

The message was backed by Lance Corporal Chris Finney, 21, thought to be the youngest military recipient of the George Cross medal for his bravery in Iraq in 2003.

"People see an old bloke in uniform and think 'there's a veteran who's served their country'.

"But if they see a young man they just think 'oh, he's been in the Army'.

"Not to recognise the sacrifices of people in the world wars would be crazy, but events like this can only help to educate people about everyone's contribution," he said.

Sombre moments

As the band of the Irish Guards struck up the theme from the Great Escape, the differences between Veterans' Day and the sombre tone of November's Remembrance Sunday were evident.

Lt Cpl Chris Finney
Veterans' Day can help educate, said L/Cpl Finney

Schoolchildren chatted to the veterans and took in an exhibit of World War II uniforms and weapons.

There was also a display of army fitness exercises and top chef Brian Turner hosted a military cooking presentation.

But it was difficult to move away totally from the seriousness nature of conflict.

Soldiers and merchant seaman recalled comrades who did not return from duty.

And veterans from World War II to Iraq listened intently as Defence Minister Des Browne used his speech to make the government's first public statement on the death of two British soldiers in Afghanistan.

"We are here, of course, today to honour Veterans' Day and the events last night in Afghanistan serve as a powerful reminder of the highest price that many members of our armed services have paid across the years," he said.

We need to transmit the message very strongly to our younger generation
Eddie Capone

Addressing the schoolchildren, he asked them to reflect on the efforts and sacrifices of all veterans.

Veterans minister Tom Watson said the day was a celebration of the "most remarkable people".

"All have their own stories to tell but are bound together by a shared set of values," he said.

The former servicemen and woman welcomed the government's announcement at the event that - when it comes - the death of last-known veteran from World War I will be commemorated with a national memorial service.

New friends

At noon, a group of local schoolchildren launched helium balloons into the air to mark the day.

Ron Kane
Films do not tell the whole story, said Mr Kane

"It's important that veterans can mix and discuss their experiences with the younger generation," said Ron Kane, 79.

Mr Kane, who saw action with the RAF in the Pacific and Korea between 1945 and 1952, attracted much attention after dressing his dog Bonnie in a camouflage coat.

"You can see films, but they count for nothing unless you can talk to people who were actually there," he said.

"Veterans themselves are also often reticent to talk about their experiences, but with other veterans around they can open up."

Two former soldiers, who served at different times with the Wessex Brigade, met at the event.

Edward Knott walked over to Anthony Williams after spotting the insignia on his jacket.

Mr Knott, 70, who was stationed in Cyprus between 1954 and 1956 said: "I did national service but people often don't appreciate the contribution we made."

Former Royal Transport Corp soldier Eddie Capone, chairman of West Indian Ex-Servicemen and Women's Association, described Veterans' Day as "step forward".

World War Two exhibit
The World War II exhibit proved particularly popular

"Let's be positive about what we've done," he said.

"We need to transmit the message very strongly to our younger generation so they can take pride in this country."

Teacher Malcolm Houston attended Veterans' Day with his Year Five class from Churchmead junior school in Leyton, east London.

"We've been here talking to various soldiers and finding out about their experiences," he said.

"It's a way for the children to learn about what the veterans did and what they have to be grateful for."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See people gathering for Veterans' Day



SEE ALSO
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16 Jun 06 |  Manchester

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