UP TO 15,000 people are expected to converge on Rayleigh on Saturday as the town celebrates Armed Forces Day.

The King George V playing fields will set the scene for a huge Armed Forces Day event, which runs between 10am and 5pm.

The highlight of the day will be the flypast of three military aircraft – the Battle of Britain Spitfire, an RAF Sea King helicopter and an RAF Tornado GR4.

Southend Airport was known as RAF Rochford during the Battle of Britain, so seeing the Spitfire soaring through the skies couldn’t be more appropriate.

The event is likely to be one of the last opportunities to see the Sea King in operation, as it is due to be retired in 2015.

The Tornado is making its longawaited return to the south Essex skies, and will be honouring a Hockley man who died last year while on a training exercise in Scotland.

Squadron Leader Sam Bailey, 36, who went to school and grew up in Hockley, was one of three RAF airmen who were killed when two Tornado jets collided over the Moray Firth in Scotland last July.

The Tornado will be piloted by Squadron Leader Scott “Mox” Williams and accompanied by his navigator, Flight Lieutenant Phil “Toddy” Todhunter.

Both servicemen were friends and colleagues of Sam’s.

They have said how humbled they were to be given the opportunity to honour Sam and show the people of Essex what the Tornado can do.

The day has been organised by the Essex Military Support Association, and chairman Dan Rodgers can’t wait for months of preparation to be realised.

He said: “With a representation from every military unit in Essex, this is people’s only opportunity to meet local troops and find out exactly what they do every day to keep us safe and is also an opportunity to say thank you for their hard work.

“From the firing of 25lb field guns, Spitfires, Tornados, inflatables, static displays, and trade stalls, we have something to cater for every taste.”

Rayleigh Town Council chairman, Ian Ward, added: “It’s going to be a really positive day and a celebration of the Armed Forces and their families.

“I’m sure it will also be a very patriotic event.

“It’s something that the whole town can get involved in and to welcome people from other areas.”

Programmes for the event are available at all Sainsbury’s stores including Basildon, Canvey, Southend and Rayleigh.

Rayleigh’s Armed Forces Day will not only feature the flypast of three famous military aircraft, but will also feature an array of activities on the ground.

Throughout the day there will displays from military dog display units and the Band of the Parachute Regiment.

There will also be musical performances from the Colchester Military Wives Choir, who recently returned from the Canadian International Military Tattoo.

Grovewood, Rayleigh and Wyburns Primary Schools’ will all be performing on the day, along with comedians and Hildale Stage School.

As well as the aircraft, punters looking towards the sky will also see the Army Tigers Parachute Display team as they fall simultaneously fall from the sky with their decorated parachutes and coloured smoke to accompany their descent.


Bumper three days of celebrations 

SOUTHEND is hosting three days of celebrations to salute the heroes.

On Friday there will be a “Camo Day” from 10am to 4pm in Chalkwell Park with children from 14 schools in Army gear and taking part in activities.

There will also be a tag rugby tournament with the Southend Spartans rugby team, martial arts with the British Military Martial Arts Corp, military charities, veteran associations and other stalls, plus a barbecue outside the Park View Suite in Chalkwell Park.

On Saturday, the day kicks off with a military parade from the area near the railway bridge across Southend High Street at 10.30am and then up towards Victoria Circus for an open-air service, which will start at 10.45am.

The Big Brew Up serving cuppas will run all day, with entertainment on a stage from 11.15am until 9pm.

Acts including Treacle, Bombshell Belles, DJs Chris Dukes and Dean Courtney, and leading comedians.

A grand finale features local singing star, Marilena Gant, 15 – a finalist in the national talent competition, Britain Does Variety – and a special poppy drop at around 9pm.

On Sunday, on Southend seafront, there are more free attractions with entertainment from 10am until 5pm, including a motorbike, military vehicle and scooter rally, beach rugby festival and sea cadet demonstrations.