Page last updated at 00:05 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 01:05 UK

Thousands attend forces spectacle

By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

Tom Jones
Tom Jones said it was important to support the armed forces

The City of London has paid host to an event dedicated to Britain's armed forces.

BBC News was at the City Salute event, which was spearheaded by Princes William and Harry.

As the sun set, amidst the backdrop of St Paul's Cathedral, thousands of people of all ages gathered to pay tribute to members of the British Armed Forces.

And, as the hour-long event unfolded, the massed throngs patiently stood behind barriers cheered, clapped and whistled as they were treated to jets flying past, Chinook helicopters hovering overhead, tanks driving by and the musical backdrop of a military band.

There is a lot of coverage about unjust wars and it must hit morale
Steve Colwill

Steve Colwill, 49, from Finsbury Park, north London, said he brought a friend who was visiting from the US to show him the "ambience" of "a quintessentially British" event.

He said that the armed forces would feel "unrewarded" if they were not supported.

"There is a lot of coverage about unjust wars and it must hit morale, especially when their friends are being blown to pieces," he said.

The crowd reflected much of London's diversity - City businessmen dressed in expensive suits rubbed shoulders with tourists, teenagers and service personnel in full uniform.

To the many veterans it must have seemed like a bygone era as they watched the display of pomp, ceremony and music through a sea of Union Jack flags fluttering in the wind.

That was certainly how 76-year-old Tom Jones felt. He served with the Royal Engineers in the 1950s.

'Bring them back'

The veteran, who served in Cyprus and Egypt, recalled a time when "people always used to say hello" to people in the armed forces, adding that the City Salute was "fantastic" and it was "about time" the armed forces received the respect they deserve.

"They're treated like rubbish and it isn't fair," he said.

Explaining his stance, he said servicemen and women do not receive enough respect from the general public and have been let down by the government.

Princes William and Harry meeting injured servicemen

"Tony Blair was totally wrong in sending them out there. They ought to bring them back," he said.

And he was not alone in expressing concern at the treatment of servicemen and women.

His comments were echoed by fellow veteran James Ellard MBE, 74, a former Royal Marine from Orpington, Kent, who said he had come to "remember those who are not with us and support those who are working for us now".

"The British armed forces have a more difficult job now than ever," he said.

Mr Ellard, who is chairman of the Royal Marines Association and travelled as part of a group of about 20 veterans, went on: "They've been over-committed by the government, they aren't getting support in the field of battle and they don't get enough medical support.

"The lads come home to their families and they get poor accommodation. It isn't fair. They shouldn't have to rely on public charity. The government should be committed to looking after them."

As if to reinforce the conviction of those sharing this view, two short films aired on giant screens captured the attention of those struggling to find space on the crowded pavements.

In one, a soldier called Mark described how he lost both legs and an arm while serving in Afghanistan.

They shouldn't have to rely on public charity - the government should be committed to looking after them
James Ellard MBE

There was silence as the audience hung on his every word, while images of him in his uniform were displayed.

And there was an audible gasp when the camera panned out to reveal his missing legs and arms.

He was shown receiving treatment and learning to walk with prosthetic legs.

Mark explained that he wanted to "get back to normality" and "lead a happy life".

Another short film featured Rory, a military medic, who lost a leg while serving in Iraq.

While shown during his rehabilitation, we heard Rory explain that he had "realised there was light at the end of the tunnel".

"I love the Army. I would do it again - I really would," said Rory.

Rebecca Dessurne (left) andf Iayesha Kinsella
The event was conceived to raise money for injured service personnel

Despite the spectacle of the planes, helicopters and tanks, the event was primarily arranged to raise money for injured servicemen and women.

During the event Princes William and Harry spoke to injured service personnel.

And the money raised will be used to help fund projects at Headley Court, the tri-service defence medical rehabilitation Centre in Surrey, and Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

In order to remind people of the charity ethos behind the event, people carried buckets to collect money.

Two teenage girls - 18-year-old Rebecca Dessurne and 16-year-old Iayesha Kinsella - stood among the crowds carrying buckets to collect money on behalf of military charities Help for Heroes and SSAF.

They reported that people had tended to donate up to 10. As if on cue, two office workers stopped to give money - each giving money that folded.

"People have been quite generous," said Iayesha, who is from Limehouse and, like her friend, is volunteering through the Air Training Corps.

"We wanted to help the charity and this is an exciting experience."


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