Proud troops at forces day parade defy the gloom...and cuts

COMEDIANS are legion in the armed forces but yesterday, it was Prince Charles who was promoted to joker-in-chief.

Standing on the raised dais outside the Scottish Parliament and perplexed at the momentary halt to the 2,500 servicemen and veterans due to parade past, he turned to the Secretary of State for Defence and said: "Is that all? It must be the cuts."

Elegantly attired in the uniform of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and sporting a sporran that would rival the Old Man of Lochnagar's beard, the Duke of Rothesay proved a hit at Armed Forces Day with veterans and cadets alike.

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To one regimental bandsman, the Duke suggested moving from drums to the bagpipes so as to utilise the pipes for "sucking up the beer".

Laughter has long been the sandbag that serves as a defensive wall between the servicemen and women and the often tragic outcome of their call to arms.

As one spectator commented: "Do you think they compete to see who was in the gnarliest war? 'Burma was quite tough', 'Yes, Suez was quite hard - for four months.'"

It was a question George Lamben, 63, a veteran of 1 Para had thought about: "These boys today have it harder than anyone has had for decades. But its good that the public is making an effort. When we came home, you dumped your bag at home and then went to the pub. There was no public parades."

Yesterday the third National Armed Forces Day began with 90 bikers from the Royal British Legion Riders revving their engines and sporting Saltires and Union Jacks as they trundled down the Royal Mile from the Castle towards Holyrood Palace. On the stroke of noon the Red Arrows made their second appearance over Edinburgh to trail the colours of red, white and blue. Afterwards personnel from the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, followed by a host of veterans associations, paraded down the Royal Mile and past the Duke of Rothesay, the Prime Minister David Cameron, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox and First Minister, Alex Salmond.

On the Royal Mile, Jane Gray stood on behalf of her son who serves with the Black Watch and is due to return to Afghanistan in the autumn.

During his last six-month tour the fear of injury and death never left her.

"It's horrendous," she said. "You don't stop thinking about it for a second."

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Yet amid the support for the troops was a dark dollop of disappointment in the politicians who issue orders then dispatch P45s to troops under fire.

Further down the Mile was the McClelland family from Kilmarnock, whose father, daughter and son have all served in the Royal Navy. David McClelland, who served from 1968 until 1976, was angry at the current cutbacks. "They need more support, better kit and better food.

"If you are going to war you need three square meals a day. Who sends boys out to fight then makes them redundant?"

After the parade 35,000 people visited Holyrood Park for a celebration of Britain's military that included flight simulators, armoured vehicles from the dust of Afghanistan and a combat demonstration by the Royal Marines, who crawled on the grass amid the pop-pop of blanks.

As members of the public rapelled down a wall at the back of the site, those at the front stood and listened to a Drumhead service, a tradition that dates back centuries when, unable to access a church, troops would lay drums on top of each other then consecrate them by laying their standards on top then use it as an altar.

The Prime Minister listened as the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, George Grubb read a passage from Ephesians: "For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic power of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

Salmond paid tribute to the armed forces with the announcement of a new bursary scheme worth up to 8,000 to provide financial support to the children of those killed in action, but he declined to comment on whether such an event would take place in an independent Scotland: "We will leave the politics for another day".

But Cameron, when asked during his impromptu walkabout, if he wished to see the National Armed Forces Day return to Edinburgh after the referendum vote, replied: "You betcha".