Poet on a Hill

Saturday, 26 September 2009



26 June 2010: Armed Forces Day in Cardiff. We bus into town and join the crowd of 50,000 fellow Brits in blazing sunshine in the city centre. We clap and cheer along with the others as 1,000 sailors, soldiers and airmen march by, led by the band of the Royal Marines.

The Royal Navy (Senior Service) are first, then several contingents of the army, Guards, Dragoons, Infantry; colourful in their dress uniforms, blues and reds and desert sands, then the RAF, along with their Regiment, in their sky blue; each contingent led by its own band, brass or silver, and stirring marching beat.

We follow them from Cardiff Castle to Roald Dahl Plass in Cardiff Bay, with military music, marching feet, clapping and cheering all the way.

Now the march past with the Prince of Wales taking the salute.
No show of might or strength, force, threat or aggression, like our friends in Russia, China and North Korea so often treat us to.
No. This is British stuff to make you proud; dedicated to our young service people, Brits, and kids from the Commonwealth, smart, disciplined, skilled and willing to serve humanity; and more, something indefinable that takes in selflessness, camaraderie, heroism – and ambitious enthusiastic youth. I can’t find the word but let’s say – feel-good … British feel-good.

Now it’s the Drumhead Service. The prayers are appropriate and cover it all; self-sacrifice, past and present. Speeches are few, short and relevant. And now, maybe the most moving moment of the day, a giant Lancaster Bomber roars overhead; a Spitfire escorting from behind like a faithful hound. Ghosts of the past mirrored in the youth below; feel-good again.

The parade is dismissed – enjoy the fun of the fair; stalls and demonstrations by the army, marines and air force; there’s military hardware here, not a lot, we don’t have a lot, tanks, guns, armoured vehicles, the frigate HMS Kent open to the public. No aggressive stuff, more a recruiting drive, come and join us, get a life; cheek by jowl with military bands, a jazz group, tumblers, and comedians, burgers, fish and chips, bars and restaurants, tables in the sun – Cardiff Bay.

Now for my only criticism, and I lay this at the feet of the MOD and above. The Finale is billed as a Dynamic Display – Sea King Search And Rescue; Helicopter Formation Flyover; Sea Hawk Flyover; Harrier Formation Flyover; and to round off the day … Red Arrows Flyover. And we get just that, exactly what it says on the box, so we can’t complain. First, the SAR Display out in the bay – and this is brilliant; a 20 minute demonstration of skill and daring; so far so good. And then come the flyovers – and they are just that – flyovers. Ten minutes after the SAR finishes 5 helicopters fly over in V formation, how long does that take? Three minutes? Wait 10 minutes then a Sea Hawk whips over, taking a few seconds. Wait 10 minutes then Harriers come and go even quicker. But never mind, we’ve still got the big one, the Red Arrows Finale. Then whoosh, some jets roar out of nowhere then disappear into nowhere leaving a colour trail behind them. ‘They’ll be back,’ murmur the transfixed crowd, staring at the empty blue. ‘They’ll be back … They’re the Red Arrows ... They do all kinds of wonderful stunts ... So they’ll … be … back …’ Realisation dawns. ‘Ah well …. Sod it ... Let’s make a dash for the bus ... Beat the crowd.’

And that’s it; apart from the SAR there’s not a lot of dynamism. Like I say we get what’s on the box, so no complaints. I know we are strapped for cash but I can’t help feeling that 1,000 loyal troops and 50,000 taxpaying well-wishers who wait to the bitter end in a frying sun on a broiling day deserve a bit more. After all, the very name Red Arrows conjures up exciting pictures of near collisions and derring-do; even when the posters say Fly-over. It’s like a prayerful wait for the cavalry, then they just gallop past. You think ‘… eh?’

But for all that, here’s the real point I want to make.
Here I am, among a crowd of 50,000 people and 1,000 troops and dignitaries – and I feel so … insignificant. And, maybe, you and thousands of others in the same circumstances might feel the same; insignificant. Like, ‘It wouldn’t matter if I wasn’t here. It would all go on just the same if I had stayed at home and read a book, or watched tele, or whatever.

Wrong my friend!


Without me, without my wife, without each and every one of these other insignificant people there would never have been a crowd of 50,000. Without each and every individual, there wouldn’t be an Armed Forces Day. Without every Jack and Jill in uniform there wouldn’t be any Armed Force. We might all feel insignificant – but we each count; you and I count – both of us, equally; as much as the best of ‘em! Get a grip on that. You count!

To prove my point … things don’t come much smaller or more insignificant than atoms. Individually atoms are pretty pointless – 99% space. And yet everything in the Universe is composed entirely of atoms – insignificant little gits like you and I. And that goes for The Great Star of Africa – the world’s most priceless diamond. The Great Star is composed entirely, and only, of atoms; each of them insignificant. But if all those insignificant blobs of electricity never came together, that diamond wouldn’t exist.

That’s all I wanted to say in the first place.

You Count!

So goodonya!

Charlie Gregory
Armed Forces Day