SPECTACULAR Red Arrows routines and a dramatic Royal Marine rescue exercise are set to compete with celebrations to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, after the plans for Stirling’s Armed Forces Day event were revealed.
Classic wartime aircraft including a Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster, modern-day Tornado and Typhoon fighters, and the Royal Navy’s Sea King search and rescue helicopters will be among the star attractions at the free event, which will be staged in the shadow of Stirling Castle on the weekend of 28 - 29 June.
The event takes place on the same weekend as the two-day Bannockburn Live event to commemorate the battle’s 700th anniversary.
Thousands of people are expected to line a route from the historic landmark to a vast display field at Kings Park for a parade of military bands, serving personnel and around 1500 veterans from conflicts as far back as the Second World War.
Up to 50,000 people - more than twice the total capacity of Bannockburn Live - are expected to descend on Stirling for the UK’s main Armed Forces Day event.
Stirling Council is paying around £250,000 to host the event, after being selected from five formal bidders.
It emerged today that the Scottish Government had agreed to help meet the overall £400,000 cost of staging the event, which senior members of the Royal Family and the UK Government are expected to attend.
Highlights of the programme at Kings Park are expected to include an open-air “drumhead service”, a recreation of a major ground assault and casualty evacuation operation, a chance to inspect a huge model of the new Royal Navy super-carrier which the Queen is due to unveil at Rosyth naval base a few days after the event, and parachute displays from the Army’s Red Devils and RAF Falcons teams.
The full scale of the free event in Stirling, which will be the focal point of the UK-wide Armed Forces Day celebrations, will raise further questions on its potential impact on the Bannockburn Live festival being staged next to the new £9 million visitor centre at the battlefield.
Free entertainment, including live music and street entertainers, is planned for the streets of Stirling throughout Saturday, and a further veterans parade will be staged through the city centre on the Sunday morning, before a special service at the Church of the Holy Rude in the city’s medieval quarter.
Stirling ‘ready for challenge’
Council chiefs insisted the city would be able to cope with the “challenge” of hosting both the Armed Forces Day event and the Bannockburn anniversary festivities. They insisted the Armed Forces Day event would not be hijacked by politicians, although crowds will not be discouraged from bringing national flags to the display field at Kings Park.
Provost Mike Robbins admitted a formal bid to host the event had been submitted in December 2012, two months after the council pulled out of staging a costly clan gathering on the same weekend as the Bannockburn anniversary.
He said: “We bid along with other cities and were lucky enough to be selected. The 2014 events in this area have been planned for three or four years. Our intention right down the line has been to make this the most momentous weekend for Stirling.
“We always have an event in Stirling for Armed Forces Day and when an opportunity arose to bid for the national event, it was to be seized. It’s not a political event or rally in any way shape or form.
“Stirling has had a close association with the military for hundreds of years and we are very proud of that. This is a superb chance for us all to express our thanks to members of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force - past and present - for the remarkable work they do for the whole of the United Kingdom.
“It’s going to be challenge to handle the two events but I believe we’re very well placed to do that. Our intention is to make Bannockburn Live a huge success as well. We are approaching both events very positively. This is probably going to be the busiest weekend ever in Stirling.”
Military chiefs who attended the launch of the event at Stirling Castle insisted there was no question that the event had been deliberately timed to clash with the Bannockburn event.
Brigadier Paul Harkness, Commander of 51st Infantry Brigade, and the senior officer in charge of the event, said: “Armed Forces Day is always held on the last weekend in June and there are many other events being held across the country.
“To have the two events on the one weekend is a brilliant opportunity for Stirling. It is going to be the most memorable event they’ve ever laid on and I’m looking forward to visiting Bannockburn Live with my family.
“There are more than 400,000 veterans here in Scotland. The military community of veterans and service personnel make up around one in 10 of the adult population of Scotland. It’s an opportunity for the country to say ‘thank you’ but for us it is also an opportunity for us to say ‘thank you’ to those who have served before us.”
While there is no admission charge for the Armed Forces Day event, the adult ticket price for the Bannockburn Live event is £22 for each of the two days.
It is being headlined by singer-songwriters Dougie MacLean and Karine Polwart, Gaelic star Julie Fowlis, indie icon King Creosote and Celtic supergroup Treacherous Orchestra, while it is hoped thousands will turn out to see experts stage a series of re-enactments of the actual battle.
Although 45,000 tickets for the event went on sale last June, it emerged in February that it was having to be dramatically scaled back, with the capacity now pegged at 20,000 and a planned third day scrapped completely.