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Armed Forces Day divides community as police flip-flop over right to protest

Four people forming part of a peace protest in Falmouth

Armed Forces Day divides community as police flip-flop over right to protest

The Armed Forces Day National Event divided people in Falmouth today as the town saw protests, graffiti and questions over freedom to protest.

Police told local Quakers on Friday to abandon plans for a Peace Parade on the grounds of "security", before changing their mind this morning and allowing the parade to go ahead.

While some local people cheered the military marches, others applauded the Peace Parade that followed afterwards.

Various peace protests over Friday and Saturday were organised by members of local groups including Cornwall Quakers and Cornwall Resists, supported by national organisations including the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Forces Watch and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

Armed Forces Day involves events around the UK on the last Saturday in June, with the National Event held in a different town or city every year.

The Armed Forces Day parade included cadets as young as 12 in military uniforms, while even younger children were invited to sit at the controls of weapons and military aircraft. Friday was a "Youth Day", at which children from local schools were invited to view and handle military equipment.

The Peace Pledge Union has challenged Armed Forces Day since it was created in 2009, describing it as an example of everyday militarism.

Many local people approached the peace stalls to express support or ask questions, with some saying that they would have joined the protests but feared that their employers or neighbours would disapprove.

Anti-war graffiti appeared on a number of Armed Forces Day signs around the town, including posters publicising the sponsorship of the event by the arms company BAE Systems.

Other signs had Peace Pledge Union stickers pasted over them, or stickers about Yemen, which is being bombed by Saudi forces trained by British troops.

While many shops displayed Armed Forces Day posters in their windows, others declined to do so and at least three shops deliberately displayed pacifist or anti-war materials instead.

Several young people in Falmouth told the Peace Pledge Union that they were disgusted by the armed forces targeting them for recruitment. The UK is the only country in Europe that recruits people as young as 16 into the army.

Roberta Jenkins, 16, a Falmouth resident, joined the protests and explained she would never join the armed forces. She said:

“I have no sense of a connection to this army. The army is advertised as giving a sense of belonging, but you can get that sense of belonging from other more important things that are actually about your shared values. It’s sad to see people walking past in uniform who go to my school. It’s really creepy to be honest.”

Lucie Gill, 22, who works in a shop in Falmouth, said she saw both the Armed Forces Day parades and the Peace Parade go past. She said:

I just saw the Peace Parade and I thought, this is exactly what I’m into and exactly what I’m about. Seeing all the kids in actual combat gear, I felt sick. Do they fully realise what that symbolises, what that represents? It’s all propaganda.”

Roman, a Latvian who lives in Cornwall, joined the protests and said:

They allow little children to try using big guns. It’s nothing to do with safety. Sending weapons to Ukraine is making nuclear war more likely, instead of sitting round the table and talking.”

Alison Meaton from West Cornwall, who also joined the Peace Parade, said:

“I’m very concerned about the recruitment of children from Cornish schools to the armed forces. I volunteer for a homeless charity. I meet rough sleepers who are military veterans who have addiction problems, mental health problems, relationship problems, which often stem back to their time in the military. The UK government does not look after veterans well. I don’t think it’s a job for the charities to pick up the pieces. That isn’t presented today. I don’t think it’s a true picture of what the military is all about.”

A few passers-by shouted insults at peace campaigners in Falmouth, accusing them of supporting Putin. In response PPU members pointed out that the PPU has long supported and worked with Russian peace activists challenging Putin's militarism. As the British section of War Resisters' International, the PPU is a sibling organisation of the Movement for Conscientious Objectors in Russia.


Read the Peace Pledge Union's briefing: What's Wrong With Armed Forces Day?