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Declining interest in Armed Forces Day welcomed by peace campaigners

Child handling a weapon at Armed Forces Day event

Declining interest in Armed Forces Day welcomed by peace campaigners

Joint press release by ForcesWatch and the Peace Pledge Union

Peace campaigners have welcomed the news that there will be no national event for Armed Forces Day this year, as no local councils have come forward to host it.

Local events to mark Armed Forces Day (29th June) this weekend are facing growing resistance from groups and individuals concerned about its uncritical portrayal of war and the armed forces.

There has been a sharp drop in the overall number of Armed Forces Day events across the country since before the pandemic. In 2019 there were 316 events listed on the official Armed Forces Day website, compared to only 189 this year. Campaigners say the drop in event numbers is a positive sign that interest in Armed Forces Day may be declining.

For several years local residents and campaigners have raised the alarm about Armed Forces Day events marketed as 'family fun’, with activities designed for children presenting armed violence as glamorous and exciting.

They have expressed particular outrage at the widespread practice of encouraging children as young as six to handle real weapons at these events, which they say shows a disregard of children's safeguarding and emotional wellbeing.

Previously, a national event for Armed Forces Day has been held every year in a chosen town or city. This is the first year that there will be no national event since Armed Forces Day started in 2009, apart from in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

An FOI request to the Ministry of Defence, made by ForcesWatch and the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), has revealed that no local authorities came forward to hold the national event this year, suggesting a lack of interest in funding and hosting it.

In previous years, the national event has cost councils hundreds of thousands of pounds to run. This year the Ministry of Defence is spending over £420k on local Armed Forces Day events with some councils having to find significant additional funding.

During a cost of living crisis, campaigners argue that this money would be better spent on education and public services. They point out that Armed Forces Day is a divisive topic within communities and that critical voices should be respected by local councils.

In the run up to Armed Forces Day this year, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) and ForcesWatch are supporting people who want to resist the occasion. They have reported increased numbers of requests for materials for protests. Postcards saying ‘War is Not Family Entertainment' have been sent to numerous groups across the UK.

Joe Glenton, a veteran from ForcesWatch who speaks about Armed Forces Day in a new film, said: "The annual Armed Forces Day was conceived as a response to the post-Iraq and Afghanistan crisis in public opinion. It serves to create acceptance for the use of violent force, and as a tool to recruit the next generation. While supporting individual personnel and veterans is important, this day seeks to put a gloss on military institutions and military action. We hope to see a continued decline in the number of local councils supporting this."

Geoff Tibbs from the PPU, the UK's leading pacifist organisation, said: "At a time when we are seeing schools and hospitals attacked in Gaza and Ukraine, Armed Forces Day events are presenting war as family entertainment. Children are being invited to handle the very kinds of weapons that are killing civilians abroad. We must resist these glaring examples of everyday militarism on our streets.”

Arthur West, local resident from Irvine who is planning a protest this weekend said: "Armed Forces Day attempts to glorify war and glamourise military service. I am pleased to say we will be organising a number of street stalls around the time to highlight our concerns."

In Cambridge this year, residents have organised a peace camp to oppose the city’s first ever event for Armed Forces Day, arguing that it seems “wholly insensitive” to hold a self-described military fair against the backdrop of the war in Gaza.

Further protests are taking place in Leicester, Portsmouth, Leeds, Weymouth, Aldershot, and many other places around the UK.

Armed Forces Day has faced opposition ever since it began in 2009, in the wake of resistance to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year the national event in Falmouth was met with a peace parade through the city. In Leicester, the City Council now prevents the armed forces from inviting children to handle weapons, following a campaign by local residents.

In response to FOI requests made by ForcesWatch and the PPU, many local councils have confirmed that they have no specific policies in place on children handling weapons in public spaces or the armed forces targeting children in their recruitment activities.

If you would like to get involved in resisting Armed Forces Day or to challenge an event happening near you, please get in touch at Find out more at and