THOUSANDS of people turned out to pay their respects to the town’s servicemen, women and veterans as part of Armed Forces Day.
Organisers of the now annual event estimate more than 4,500 people visited Alexandra Park on Sunday, with 40 stalls and a host of displays keeping them entertained throughout the day.
And it was not only a bumper turn-out from the public, with the numbers of people taking part in the parade also up on last year. In fact, so many veterans, cadets and regimental representatives signed up to take part that stewards had to increase the length of the arena by 50 foot overnight to fit them all in.
Richard Vallery-Peters, spokesman for the Hastings and St Leonards Veterans Association which runs the event, said it had been the best ever.
Speaking to the Observer the following day, he said: “It really was a brilliant occasion and lovely to see so many people come out and show their support.
“I know it means a lot to the veterans to know their service is recognised and see the town turn out in the way it did.
“And of course, it is good for the families of current servicemen and women to know the town appreciates what they are doing.”
As well as the parade and a memorial service, led by the association’s chaplain Rev Robert Featherstone, there was also a field gun carrying competition, in the same vein as the old Royal Tournament contests.
First, second and third places in that went to team from TS Hastings Sea Cadets, who were awarded the Peter William Memorial Shield for the second year running.
Elsewhere, a tug-of-war between the Royal Artillery and the Medical Corp took an unexpected turn with the best-of-three score tied 1v1. Peter White, who formed the local veterans association and very nearly missed the occasion due to a spell in respite care, saw the teams fighting it out and weighed in on the side of the Royal Artillery - by hitching the rope to the back of his mobility scooter and helping to pull.
Among those thanked for helping make the day a success were Graham Ward from the Oddfellows Arms pub for stepping in at the last minute to staff the beer tent, park ranger Nick Hennessey, all the volunteers, the veterans and Alan Taylor who helped transport 120 crash barriers to the park.
And, despite being worn out by the preparations for this year’s Armed Forces Day, the veterans association is already busy planning how to trump it next year.
Mr Vallery-Peters said: “We are hoping to do a two-day event in 2012 with a family day on the Saturday. It was great to see so many youngsters out on Sunday - they looked like they were really enjoying themselves and it is important that we keep that family friendly appeal.
“Sunday was the biggest and best yet but we have already had people asking about next year saying they would like to get involved.
“Hopefully it will keep getting bigger and better.”
The veterans association already has 160 members and recently unveiled the Duchess of Cornwall as its new patron.
And anyone buoyed into joining by the recent Armed Forces Day is encouraged to head down to the Hastings and St Leonards Angling Club on The Stade tomorrow (Saturday) from 10.30am for the group’s next meeting. Membership is just £5 a year.