Although the list of VIP’s might have been rather shorter than that seen at Saturday’s UK National event in Scarborough, Armed Forces Day, held at La Inmaculada Concepcion church in Torrevieja on Saturday was no less poignant, as former servicemen, women and members of the public from across the region, joined together with their colleagues from Spain, to celebrate and show their support for those currently serving in the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, as well as veterans, reservists and their families.
This was the first time that the event, organised by Spain District North of The Royal British Legion, has held the event in Torrevieja. After three successful years at the Orihuela Cathedral the decision was taken to decentralise the occasion and move it around the country, with the ‘City of Salt’ the chosen venue, where the Ayuntamiento have always been so supportive to the expatriate community.
This year was no different with Jean Paul Mulero, Director of the office for international residents (OARI), together with his predecessor, Graham Knight, providing the necessary links between the two bodies.
Although Mayor Eduardo Dolon was out of the country and not able to attend the event, his two representatives, deputy mayor Federico Alarcon Martinez and councillor for foreign residents Ms Gitte Lund Thomsen, proved more than capable substitutes.
They were joined in the front rows by the British Vice Consul Elizabeth Bell MBE along with the Chief of local police, Vicente Gutiérrez and Wing Cmdr Jon Millington from the NATO Project Team in Albacete.
The service, led by Fr Richard Seabrook, got underway as Standard Bearers representing the RBL Guardia Civil, RNA, RMA, British and Spanish military veterans, marched into the magnificent church, reconstructed in 1844, using stones reclaimed from the original Torre Vella, (Old Tower). Their entry was accompanied by music from The RBL Concert Band in Spain, directed by David Last, as it welcomed their arrival with the Royal British Legion March.
During the joint denominational service of readings and hymns, conducted in both English and Spanish, there was further musical accompaniment by the Royal British Legion Band, who were supported throughout by The Crescendo International Choir.
In his sermon, Fr. Richard talked about the good work provided in Spain by the RBL, about which he said “we all owe so much.” He spoke of his grandfather and his father, both military men, adding that “this event is also a great opportunity to recognise the bravery and dedication of all those who have served, and who still serve, in whatever branch or arm, and it is so humbling to be among you all today. Thank-you to everyone in the vast military family. Thank-you to our incredible veterans. And thank-you to the family and friends whose support is so crucial in these difficult times.”
As Fr Seabrook skilfully manoeuvred his way through the service, tributes and welcomes were given by Elizabeth Bell, followed in Spanish by Federico Alarcon and in English by Gitte Lund Thomsen who spoke about Torrevieja’s perpetual support for the British Community in the municipality and about how moved she had been during parts of a very emotional and appropriate ceremony.
Midway through the ceremony Crescendo moved from the transept to the altar from where gave a emotional performance of ‘Mansions of the Lord’. They were followed a few moments later by local entertainer and RBL member Stevie Spit BEM, who gave a flawless recital of the the Andrea Bocelli arrangement of ‘Perfect’, written by Ed Sheeran.
Following the Acts of Remembrance, read by Jack Kemp and Nick Keen, the Last Post and Reveille were played by Mark Benton. He was followed by Falklands veteran, Pipe Major Brian Day, from the Torrevieja Pipes and Drums, who promenaded though the church as he regaled the congregation with the Scottish lament ‘Hector the Hero,’ written over 100 years ago in praise of Sir Hector MacDonald.
The service ended with the National Anthems of Spain and the United Kingdom and the blessing by Fr Seabrook after which the congregation stood as the RBL and other Standards were marched out of the church by the Parade Marshall, Mike Whitbread.
Following a photo opportunity in the church square a small reception was provided by the Ayuntamiento for both the veterans and guests in the Cultural Society Casino on the Torrevieja seafront where they were able to reminisce and swap stories of their service and campaigns, war and peace; a short social occasion, a way to make sense of their own service and now their new lives in retirement, here in Spain.
The RBL would like to convey it’s thanks for hosting the event to the Torrevieja Mayor, Eduardo Dolon and his staff, to the Bishop of Orihuela-Alicante for making the church available for the service, and to the standard bearers, bugler, piper, RBL musicians and Crescendo Choristers, who all performed so wonderfully on the day.
Armed Forces Day, held in the surrounds of the historic La Inmaculada Concepcion, truly was an especial occasion. It is hoped the event will continue to grow in both size and reputation for many years to come.