National Armed Forces Day could be biggest event Falmouth has ever seen
By Richard Whitehouse - Local Democracy Reporter
9th Nov 2022 | Local News
The councillor leading the plans for Cornwall to host National Armed Forces Day says it will be the biggest event that Falmouth has ever seen. Louis Gardner, a Royal Navy veteran himself, said he was immensely proud that Cornwall would host the event for the first time next summer.
He said that events connected with the event will start in the new year and culminate in a three-day event in June in Falmouth including National Armed Forces Day on June 24. This will include displays by the Red Arrows, a Battle of Britain memorial fly-past, Naval ships in Falmouth Harbour and multiple events around the town.
Thousands of serving personnel and veterans from all over the country are expected to descend on Falmouth for the event which Cllr Gardner said will be like "Falmouth Week and Tall Ships put together".
Newquay councillor Mr. Gardner, who is also part of the leading Cabinet at Cornwall Council, said that he was proud to be leading the planning for the event but said he could not do it without the help of a number of individuals and organisations in Cornwall.
He said: "When I joined the council in May last year, I had only left the forces five months before. As soon as I won my election, Linda Taylor (leader of the council) appointed me as Cornwall Council's armed forces champion, which gave me the job of championing the armed forces and veterans and make sure we work with them and look after them."
Cllr Gardner chairs the armed forces covenant board in Cornwall which brings together organisations that work with personnel and veterans – such as the Royal British Legion – along with organisations in Cornwall such as the NHS and Cornwall Council.
"It became apparent to me that we have a lot of veterans in Cornwall and quite a few were disengaged with the community. I thought 'what big gesture could we do to help re-engage with that?' I went away and thought it would be fantastic if Cornwall could host the national armed forces day."
The event, which was started in 2006, has since become a major event on the calendar for the armed forces for both serving personnel and veterans – bringing them together and giving the public a chance to celebrate their achievements.
Cllr Gardner said: "Having come off the back of hosting the G7 and with Cornwall's experience of hosting large-scale events, we knew it was something we could do. When I mentioned it to others, there was a clear enthusiasm for us to host the event and everyone has been really keen to help make it happen.
"Linda Taylor has backed it from the start and is a huge fan. Not only is it a great event for Cornwall, but (it is) a unique opportunity to engage with a sector of the population in Cornwall that we maybe haven't engaged with all that well in recent years."
Cllr Gardner not only sees it as an opportunity to engage with veterans and celebrate their efforts and achievements but also to get young people interested in the armed forces. He said that a series of outreach events would be starting in the new year with an aim of getting veterans and personnel to visit every single school in Cornwall.
He said that as well as letting young people know about the opportunities available to them if they want to join the armed forces as a career he also wanted them to see that there are other job and training opportunities that are also linked with the armed forces in STEM and other sectors.
For the events next June, Cllr Gardner said that as well as armed forces personnel and veterans being involved there would also be a role for the many reservists and cadets in Cornwall as well.
Cllr Gardner attended this year's armed forces day event in Scarborough and said that the area had seen a knock-on benefit in hosting the event with people travelling from all over the country to attend. He said that he has already had groups from as far afield as Scotland indicating that they will be coming to Falmouth in June.
He said: "We hope to have around 250,000 visitors a day over the three days of the event. It's going to be as big as any event seen in Falmouth before.
"We want to have a real Cornish flavour to the events and want people who are coming from elsewhere to know it is distinctly Cornish."
Cllr Gardner said he hoped that there would be a Royal visit as part of the events and that Government ministers would also attend.
As a former Royal Navy officer, Cllr Gardner is particularly proud to be leading the plans for the event. Having served for 20 years in Plymouth as a submarine officer, he said that he "loved" his time in the forces and "would do it again in a heartbeat".
"I have been very, very lucky with my career. I got to see the world. There isn't a continent I haven't been to and I have been to the North and South Pole. I left at the right time but I loved it.
"Cornwall has a rich, proud military history and those links are so strong – I am so pleased that we will be hosting the Armed Forces Day here."