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ARMED FORCES DAY 2018

For Armed Forces Day 2018 VFP UK decided that Blackpool would be an appropriate place to assist in the ‘celebrations’. With many members based in the North West and a private camp site for us to set up a temporary HQ, it was the perfect place.

Initially we registered to be to have an official presence at the event. The MOD registered us as a partner and we set about liaising with Blackpool Council about a stand on the promenade, which is a focus for the day in Blackpool each year. Their insistence that we had public liability insurance meant we made the decision not to have a stand but instead wander around the promenade with leaflets and our own personal testimony.

We started to congregate on the Friday at our camp site. A few arrived quite late – the M6 was a ‘challenge’ that afternoon and evening! Anyway, we made our plans for Armed Forces Day and generally enjoyed an evening of socialising.

On the day itself a few Veterans arrived early and watched the military and council set up the stands. It was good to see that junior ranks still conduct litter sweeps whilst seniors watch on!

The main body of Veterans gathered by the RNLI Station on the promenade at 11:30 hrs where we had our briefing, collected leaflets, and planned our tactics. It was a very hot day so like any preparation phase of a patrol we ensured we had sun screen, insect repellent, and plenty of water.

After the briefing we embarked on our action for the day. The aim was to discuss militarism with the public, engage with military personnel, and challenge the concept of war. To enable this, we all had a number of different leaflets and, most importantly, our own personal testimonies.

The key strength of our message is that all members of VFP UK are Veterans. We all have supplied proof of military service. Our personal testimony is what gives our arguments power and gets us notice.

Our members engaged with multiple people on the promenade, discussing militarism and war. We engaged with the public, andpeople is various uniforms. We also looked at what stands the military were running. Most were aimed at recruitment into a branch of the military, with various exhibits. Most disturbingly was a Royal Marine sponsored stand that had a number of weapons on display, including what looked like a Sterling Sub Machine Gun and a variant of the AK 47. What was disturbing about this stand was the personnel in military fatigues (combat trousers, some sort of unit polo shirt, and a Royal Marines green beret) were allowing children to handle these weapons and encouraging their families and friends to take photos of the handling weapons. This included children aiming weapons at people. Something that I was taught in my basic training was the one NEVER points a weapon at a person unless you are aiming at them to kill them. Bear this in mind when I discuss what occurred in the early afternoon.

After we had been engaging with the public for about two hours a Blackpool Council representative approached one of our members, Michael, and asked us to stop our action. As Michael explained, a member of the military staff had complained about Veterans engaging with members of the public. The rep said we did not have a permit and that should we continue to hand out leaflets on the promenade or even engage people wearing our tee shirts then they would ask the police to intervene. The rep explained that we could carry on our action off the promenade on the public highways but not private property.

We had a quick huddle and decided to have one last phot and withdraw. At this stage the security contractors attempted to herd us off the promenade, as the photos show.

After our last photo we wandered through Blackpool during which time we engaged with more members of the public and ended up in a pub to relax for a couple of hours. We then went back to our temporary RHQ and had a very pleasant evening social with a great barbecue and a couple of World Cup matches!

I was contacted by a couple of journalists about the event, which was widely shared in social media particularly Twitter. The Canary published an article by Mohamed Elmaazi: https://www.thecanary.co/uk/2018/07/05/veterans-threatened-with-arrest-on-armed-forces-day-for-handing-out-leaflets/

For balance I will quote Blackpool Council’s response to journalists: In response to many complaints from people at the event, including veterans, members of the public, cadets and staff, the council representative asked the Vfp to stop handing out leaflets. This was because the content of the leaflet was not deemed appropriate for the event or the audience at the event. Furthermore, the distributers of said material did not have a leafleting licence as needed to distribute printed material.https://www.blackpool.gov.uk/Business/Licensing-and-permits/Business-and-trading-licences/Leaflet-distribution.aspx
The event organiser advised that if they wanted to leaflet at another time how they could obtain a licence. Similarly it was stated that the group could stay if they stopped engaging with the public in the manner that they had been previously.

Unfortunately, the options given to the Vtp was not satisfactory and the group refused to stop leafleting. As such the decision was made to ask the distributers of the materials to leave the site.

No-one at any point was threatened with arrest. The council did not receive instructions from members of the British armed forces. Blackpool council will take decisions what is best for the event based on the safety of all participants, including those distributing the materials. In this case a significant amount of complaints from all attendees at the event led to the above actions being taken.

I would take issue with the statement, which to me was inaccurate and not based on our conversations on the day. We were threatened with arrest, we were told we could face action if we returned to the promenade wearing our tee shirts, we were told one member of the military complained about us and not multiple people. They also were inaccurate in that we did not need permission to leaflet on the promenade. Their guidance, which can be accessed by following the link Blackpool Council provided, clearly states political groups do not need consent to leaflet. In a subsequent statement to a member of VFP they changed their minds about why we could not leaflet and that any leaflets must be vetted by them!

Blackpool Council responded to one member’s letter ‘they think we are being very confrontational and that it was unfair as they tried to help us on the day. Their grief was that we were giving out the ‘Don’t Join the Army’ postcards (https://dontjointhearmy.co.uk) to children, especially those in Cadet uniforms, and especially the reference to sexual abuse. Also, as this AFD was on private land the rules on giving out leaflets do not apply, and they should have been vetted by them beforehand.’

Blackpool Council have decided post event that cadets can be given instruction on weapons and how to kill people but cannot be warned about sexual abuse that occurs in the Armed Forces. Even the MOD accepts that sexual abuse is higher in the military than civvie street and that women of lower ranks are the most likely victims.

As a VFP member said ‘it is a bit ironic Blackpool Council are now playing the victim and trying to come across as though they were being reasonable. They weren’t up for a discussion on Saturday and were instantly confrontational with us, no discussion or other options given! They don’t have a problem with children being exposed to rampant sensationalised militarism.’

I think that it is quite worrying a local council requires that any leaflet handed out in public spaces is vetted by them. That does not allow legitimate discussion and undermines freedom of speech.

This shutting down or attempts to limit an alternative voice to militarism and war was not unique; testimonies are coming in from other towns and cities in the UK of similar issues.

Overall this was an extremely effective action because the response of the authorities helped create a story and photos that have been widely shared on social media. Many thanks to Blackpool Council!

Phillip Clarke served in the British Army and is the Chairman of Veterans For Peace UK

  • Gerry Osborne 10/07/2018, 10:22

    Reminds me of Germany in the early 1930s to some extent.
    Would hinting at this association (of conduct) during a confrontation help or hinder?

  • David longley 10/07/2018, 14:54

    I am reminded of an incident I was involved in back in the 1960s. I and two girls were handing out leaflets in a seaside town (Eastbourne?), when the girls, but not me, were arrested and charged with loitering with intent. In no time they were up in Lewes Crown Court and, on evidence given by the local police found guilty. As I understand it, loitering with intent means prostitution. But these girls were not prostitutes, but young socialists. Nothing changes.

  • Tom Cooper 10/07/2018, 17:48

    Keep up the good work.
    Informing the public before the get signed up, stitched up, messed up and generally screwed up.
    You are doing great service and remember that peace is inevitable.

  • David Halpin 10/07/2018, 21:54

    Labour – 26 councillors
    Conservative – 12 councillors
    Independent Blackpool Residents Group – 2 councillors
    Non-aligned Independent – 2 councillors
    Think of those Labour Defence Ministers like the thug Reid. Not true to Labour. Shams.

    Blackpool Coat of Arms – ‘Progress’.

  • Dorothy Runnicles 11/07/2018, 07:47

    As a WWII veteran at 93 I still feel the pain of the horrors of war.I am in touch with Grandmothers for Peace via the American organiser amongst Several other peace movements.
    I am delighted that the Reith Lecturer is focussing on War this year,Could We have a combined event, peace studies at a UNiversity might organise? PErhaps this already happens

    • Tom Cooper 19/07/2018, 15:45

      One excellent peace program I am aware of is the TPRF Peace Education Program. Four ten week programs were run with veterans in Crook and Catterick last year. Exceptional program.

  • Norman Scarth 11/07/2018, 16:15

    I am a 92 year old veteran of the Arctic Convoys of WW2 (now a VfP), who, on becoming aware of the corruption which is rampant in Quisling ruled Britain, set out to expose it, in consequence of which I suffered many years of life-threatening persecution, until, at the age of 86, I belatedly accepted that Britain is not a safe place for any who tell the truth, & sought safety in Ireland.
    All credit to those who attended at Blackpool, but I feel they might have been a little more stubborn? The idea that The Promenade is a ‘private place’ is nonsense. If ‘Offering Leaflets Without a Permit’ was an ‘offence’, they could offer them ‘for sale’ – 5c each?
    Responding to the ‘Complaint’ I hope they themselves made an OFFICIAL complaint about those who were encouraging children to MISUSE lethal weaponry (to say nothing about encouraging them to join killing organisations!) (The Iraq war was a War Crime!)
    Threatened with arrest, they might perhaps have stood firm & invited prosecution? (they had a cast-iron defence, vide Michael Randle & Patrick Pottle, & the ‘Peace Women’ who did £1,000,000 damage to Hawker jet fighters).
    Having expressed my thoughts, for what they are worth, I end by wishing more power to your elbows!

    • David Marchesi 17/07/2018, 10:30

      as the generation which knew air warfare, and, if not directly, through their immediate family members, the reality of killing and being killed dies out,we are more and more living in a fantasy world where the profiteers ( in cash and/or false “patriotic” mind-numbing) are running amok.
      Few seem to reflect on the vast differences between a war fought largely by conscripts and where the nation was bombed widely and the adventures to defend the oilmen etc conducted by professionals (volunteers) and exposing the home population to virtually no violence – even the isolated cases of terrorism here are simply not comparable with raids by Heinkels and doodle-bugs etc.
      It is thanks to a relentless and sometimes subtle brain-washing that today’s younger people (for me, the below 50’s) are prepared , as in Blackpool , to fall into the militarist trap. Ironic, especially- a bitter irony- that the kind of militaristic mindset which Wilfred Owen etc were determined to defeat is now seen widely in the UK as desirable. One recalls the Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, a film which drew attention to the parallel thinking of many English and German professionals, often from a caste formed by an inhuman education. To hear a Gavin Williamson, wet behind the ears and with little between his ears, rabbit on about “defence” is really insulting one’s intelligence. As David Halpin notes, too, the “New Labour” party and even the “Old Labour party have had “Ministers of Defence” who would make Churchill appear a pacifist.The VFP folk are doing a great job in trying to alert people to the distinction between national defence and neo-imperialist adventurism.Nil carborundum !

      • David Lawrence 18/07/2018, 12:18

        Congratulations to Norman Scarth – 92. He was on the Arctic Convoys which must have been the most arduous of duties. I agree with him that we are approaching an authoritarian state with private security claiming that public right of way is private land. If it owned by the council and public has access it cannot be classed as private land, it is part of the Queen’s highway. These pseudo paramilitarys in their company uniforms have no authority. If the pamphleteer is no obstructing the path of people or littering, even the police cannot stop you. We must stop these self important little Hitlers, leaflets today tghought crime tomorrow. Norman fought along with my dad in WW2 to defeat the extreme right, my respects to him.

  • David Lawrence 13/07/2018, 08:29

    It is shameful that in the 21st century you cannot hand out leaflets opposing an event. The leaflets did not incite people to break the law so what was Blackpool council’s problem? The promenade in Blackpool is a public place maintained by the council, it is not private property. Allowing children to point weapons at people is frightening, as a soldier I was told before every weapon traing event: ‘do not point weapon at anyone, even in jest’.

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