PATRIOTS turned out early this year to celebrate St George’s Day in Southend.

More than 80 servicemen and women from the Army Cadets, Royal Fusiliers, Royal Artillery, Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy marched in the bright sunshine along Royal Terrace to St John the Baptist Church for Sunday’s annual service.

They then marched on, with the town’s mayor, Brian Kelly, taking the salute at the top of Pier Hill.

Fewer people were said to have been at the parade this year, possibly because it was held a week earlier than usual. However, the numbers inside the church to hear Canon Stephen Burdett lead the service still meant there was hardly a seat to be had.

Mr Kelly contributed a reading, as did David Amess, MP for Southend West, and Verina Weaver, chairman of Southend’s Royal Society of St. George branch.

In his sermon, Mr Burdett praised Great Britain for “still being great”, referring to achievements such as the 2012 Olympic Games, the work of medics at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital and the success of the film, Gravity, which was made in the UK and won seven Oscars.

St George’s Day is on April 23, and the service is normally held on the Sunday after the saint’s day, but was brought forward so as not to clash with St John’s main Easter Sunday service.

John Lamb, parade leader and deputy leader of Southend Council, said: “It has been a really good turn-out and I thank every single person who has come to support out servicemen and women.

“I always look forward to this day. I am English and I am very proud to be English.

“Days such as this should be marked and I think everyone in our country should be celebrating as well. St George is a great patron saint and this is a wonderful way to mark a very important day in our calendar.”