SOLDIERS past and present were honoured as Southend took part in the the first Armed Forces Day.

Flags were waved and a military band played as veterans of historic conflicts joined active servicemen and women on Saturday.

Southend’s highlights included an Armed Forces parade and a fly-past by the Red Arrows as mayor Brian Smith was joined by guest of honour and former head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, in meeting members of the Armed Forces as they formed up in Royal Square following the parade down the High Street.

Gen Dannatt said: “It was a great turn-out for the parade. We had members of the Territorial Army, cadets and veterans, and there were a lot of people waving their flags and clapping. It was a really good show.”

The day is the first official event dedicated to celebrating the work of all the Armed Forces, from veterans down to new recruits and cadets.

Gen Dannatt added: “A day like today is really important, because we are citizens of this country who have chosen to put on uniforms and we go to faraway places which are often difficult and dangerous.

“It’s really important to us that we can feel the support of the people behind us. The biggest tragedy for a soldier would be to think: ‘I’m doing this, but no-one really understands, appreciates, or even agrees with what I am doing’.

“So a day like today is really important for encouraging our people and making them feel valued and appreciated.”

Among those watching the parade was Francesca Bird, 27, who had brought her stepsons Joe, eight, and Alex, four, to watch their father Mark take part in the celebrations.

Mrs Bird, from Bury St Edmunds, said: “My husband is in the TA and we are so proud to see him here today.

“It’s so important to celebrate the job the Armed Forces do because they are all brilliant. It’s about time something was put on to show how people feel, so today is wonderful.”

Also cheering the marchers was David Roberts, 70, who went along to remember his brother Thomas, who was killed in 1956 while serving in the RAF when the plane crashed while bringing him home from Malta.

Mr Roberts, of Lower Road, Hullbridge, said: “He was a smashing lad, one of the best.

“Today is a great way to remember and there is lots going on. The band is brilliant, and I think we are highly honoured to have the top brass here.”

On Canvey, a town centre parade of almost 1,000 veterans and current service personnel was cheered by huge crowds before a service and remembrance ceremony at the Paddocks Community Centre, in Long Road.

Castle Point MP Bob Spink was among those giving speeches, and highlighted the crucial job the Armed Forces do.

He said: “We had Gurkhas, Chelsea Pensioners, representatives from the Royal Anglian regiment and members of the Special Forces in the parade. It was just wonderful.

“People were so warm and enthusiastic and came out to wave their flags in their thousands. It was a very proud moment for me and also very poignant because we still have a number of our local lads serving out in very dangerous places in the world, doing their duty.

“Our Armed Forces are simply the bravest and the best. It has been a fabulous day and Canvey Town Council has done us proud.”