Heroes' welcome for forces

THEY served their country in conflicts more than 60 years apart but at the weekend stood side by side at events marking the nation's first ever Armed Forces Day.

THEY served their country in conflicts more than 60 years apart but at the weekend stood side by side at events marking the nation's first ever Armed Forces Day.

Royal Marine Marc Goddard, 21 and injured last year in Afghanistan, and 88-year-old D-Day veteran Len Bloomfield from Beetley were among the military personal and civilians who gathered for a ceremony at Dereham's war memorial on Saturday where the Armed Forces Day flag was blessed and raised before a poignant two-minute silence.

The event - like many others across the country - marked the commitment and dedication of the nation's serving military personal and veterans alike in all three branches of the armed forces.

Marine Goddard, from Thetford, who is still recovering from his injuries after the armoured vehicle he was travelling in hit a mine in Helmand Province in May 2008, highlighted the dangers servicemen continue to face on a daily basis.

He suffered from 25pc burns to his left side as well as a number of broken bones, and he is now in the middle of a long process to have both legs reconstructed.

He felt the forces were well-supported by the public and it was great to see people line to streets to pay tribute, but he called for more to be done to help people fully understand the harsh reality of what servicemen and women face on operations.

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Mr Bloomfield, who joined the Royal Marines as a gunner in 1939 and was involved in all four major landings in the second world war, said: 'Events like Armed Forces Day are very important to highlight what those in the forces do and have done.

'Many people today do not understand what a catastrophic event it would have been if we had failed at D-Day. We owe everything to those people who never came back.'

In Shipdham people showed their pride in the nation's forces with a mixture of serious reflection in a Sunday service at All Saints Church and also a fun-filled family day at Thomas Bullock Primary School on Saturday organised by the Shipdham branch of the Royal British Legion. There was also a 1940s-themed dance and a sunset ceremony where the village beacon was lit and the flag lowered before a firework display.

Royal Green in Lowestoft played host to more than four hours of events on Saturday. Healthy crowds visited the seafront site to watch a series of displays including performances by the band of the 469 Squadron Air Training Corps and the Royal British Legion Band. A parade and drumhead service of commemoration was a highlight of the day, while displays of rifle drills and seamanship also entertained spectators.

Leo Whisstock, secretary of the Lowestoft & District Combined Ex-services Association, said: 'I think it's been brilliant and better than expected. We had a lot of support from the associations and armed forces.'

Fakenham observed a one minute's silence at the town's war memorial on Saturday and the King's Lynn branch of the Royal British Legion held an open day. There was a Viking Family Fun Day in aid of the Royal Anglian Regiment at The Chase Pub in Thetford on Saturday and an Armed Forces Day event in Sporle yesterday.

George Freeman, prospective parliamentary candidate for the new mid Norfolk constituency, took part in the Norfolk Superhero Challenge with his wife Eleanor to raise funds for the charity Help for Heroes on Saturday. The challenge, which began in Burnham Overy Staithe, involved a one mile sea swim, five mile sea kayak, 40 mile bike ride and a seven mile run.