I READ with some sadness that Skipton Deputy Mayor, Mrs Sheila Bentley is of the opinion that the celebration of the recent Armed Forces Day (AFD) in Skipton was ‘appalling.’ (Armed Forces Day this year, 'appalling', Craven Herald online). Furthermore she stated that veterans had been very unhappy and so many disliked it being held on Skipton Sheep Day.

I have to disagree with these comments, and as yet, I have not met any veterans who have expressed their displeasure at Armed Forces Day being held on Sheep Day.

It should be understood that the events of AFD’s in Craven come under the jurisdiction of the Craven District and Skipton Town councils and are not organised or run at all by the Royal British Legion (RBL). That said, in recent years,’ the councils have discussed its format with the RBL on account of its knowledge of military affairs.

I have been a member of the RBL for 12 years and from 2015 until 2019 I was the Skipton Branch Chairman.

Prior to my chairmanship Skipton’s AFD and closure ceremony had been held on the Sunday prior to Sheep Day, the Sunday most towns celebrate the event.

Unfortunately without the guaranteed captive Sheep Day audience, the attendance of veterans and the well-wishing public during this event then was limited to at best, two or three dozen and more often less, to a somewhat underwhelming short flag lowering ceremony held outside the town hall. This did not promote or do any justice to the aim and rationale of AFD.

The prime objective of AFD (and the preceding week) is to raise awareness of the armed forces today. The inclusion of veterans by way of support is encouraged and commendable but is very much secondary to that of the prime objective. We already, very appropriately, remember in Skipton the gallantry and sacrifices made by our armed forces veterans each year on 11th November and other landmark dates.

It was therefore one of my ambitions to raise the profile of our armed forces as they are today and to that end I engaged with both the councils and it was agreed that AFD would be part of the Sheep Day event.

Both the councils were very supportive of my ambitions and for that they have my sincere gratitude.

By holding AFD on Sheep Day there is already a large captive audience and so the goal of raising awareness of our armed forces today in Skipton is made to its best effect

At the same time I had engaged with the 5th Regiment Royal Artillery, often nicknamed the ‘Yorkshire Gunners’ with a view, as a local Regiment based in Catterick, to building a lasting relationship with Skipton.

Their then Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Sheppard who was also equally keen to foster the relationship between the Regiment and Skipton. To that end she agreed to fully support AFD in 2018 with numerous soldiers, associated equipment and props to be in attendance to display and demonstrate their wares to the public. On AFD the entire town hall forecourt was handed over to the regiment and the RBL.

The result was an outstanding success with children, adults, mums and dads alike all clambering over the equipment and engaging with the soldiers the like of which, had not been seen before in Skipton.

The goal to raise the awareness of the armed forces was achieved.

The traditional AFD flag lowering ceremony and its hand over to a deserving local veteran was witnessed by many more people than if the day had been held discretely.

I would find it very hard to justify requesting 5 Regiment Royal Artillery to produce these efforts outside Sheep Day to what would be, comparatively, a very small audience.

2019 saw the event repeated and had it not been for Covid the same armed forces exposure would have occurred through the following two years.’

This year as the pandemic receded, the Regiment agreed to again support AFD in Skipton on Sheep Day with the Councils organisational assistance but unfortunately, events in Ukraine once again precluded their involvement as they were deployed away from Yorkshire on operations.

For this reason alone AFD did not quite achieve its previous acclaim and success: but to say it was ‘appalling,’ I think is very derogatory and bordering on insulting to all those in the several organisations who still tried so hard to make it a success.

Finally, I would suggest that any return to holding AFD on a discrete quiet Sunday afternoon other than Sheep day would be a retrograde step back in the past where few people get to appreciate our wonderful armed forces of today.

Keith Wright