2016 Sunderland International Air Show

Thousands of people attended the 28th Sunderland International Air Show on July 23, 2016 in Sunderland, England. On and above the seafronts at Roker and Seaburn on the north east coast of England it is the largest free air show in Europe. The spectators are entertained by an impressive display of aircraft from across the world along with a simulated beach assault where Royal Marines Commandos assaulted from landing craft launched from HMS Bulwark and attacking an enemy position, simulated by the Army on the beach. The show is held over three days.

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Some of the pictures from the day also ran here Daily Mail and here Northern Echo

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Under marble shields

Today marks the anniversary of the start of one of the most bloody battles of World War One. The Battle of the Somme. The battle took place between the 1st of July and the 18 November in 1916 and which by the end of the battle the British Army had suffered 420,000 casualties including nearly 60,000 on the first day alone and the French lost 200,000 men and the Germans nearly 500,000.

The vast majority of those Commonwealth soldiers who were killed were buried either where they fell or in hastily prepared graves nearby. The practice of non-repatriation of the dead was established during the First World War and meant that servicemen and women who died on active service abroad, were buried abroad. The countryside of France and Belgium is peppered with the immaculately maintained cemeteries that are looked after by the CWGC – The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

But closer to home there are many headstones from soldiers of the First World War that are scattered in cemeteries all over the country. The majority of those buried in the United Kingdom are predominantly the men and women who died at home in military hospitals after evacuation from the front. Others may have died in training accidents, some were killed in action in the air or at sea in our coastal waters.

I’ve photographed the headstones of a number of World War One soldiers who have graves marked in cemeteries near where I live. I visited Saltburn, Brotton, Skelton and Guisborough and through the project I made a record of a number of graves of those killed during or soon after the end of WW1.

 

The headstones of all British and Commonwealth are maintained and funded by the CWGC – The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Facts about the Battle of the Somme:

  1. The Battle of the Somme was originally meant to be a French led offensive with the British in support. It was also initially planned for August 1916
  2. When the German army attacked Verdun in February 1916 it was clear that France would not be able to lead any major offensive in 1916, indeed a British diversionary attack was needed fast to take the pressure of the French and divert German resources away from Verdun. That diversionary attack turned out to be the Battle of the Somme
  3. The preliminary bombardment lasted eight days and saw over 1,600 pieces of British artillery fire 1.73 million shells on to the German lines.
  4. The first infantry attack took place in the early morning of 1st July 1916 – the battle continued until the 18th November
  5. Many of the shells that were fired in that preliminary bombardment were duds and failed to explode. Those that did explode tended to be shrapnel shells which had little effect on barbed wire defences, dugouts and enemy strong points
  6. The average British infantryman carried 30kg of equipment as he went over the top during the first phase of the battle
  7. Britain lost 57,470 casualties (killed and wounded) on the first day of the Battle of the Somme
  8. 19,240 British soldiers were killed on the first day of the battle
  9. The oldest British soldier to die during the battle was Lt Henry Webber, 7th South Lancashire Regiment. He was 68 when he died on 27th July 1916
  10. On 15 September 1916 at Flers-Courcelette the tank made its operational debut. Although they scared many of the German soldiers in the front line, a mixture of poor tactics and unreliability meant that overall they failed to make a great impact
  11. During the Battle of the Somme 51 Victoria Crosses were awarded – 17 of them were awarded posthumously
  12. During the battle between July and November 1916, the French and British armies suffered around 625,000 casualties
  13. Germany casualty figures for the battle are estimated at 500,000
  14. The furthest advance of any allied force during the battle was five miles

 

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Armed Forces Day – Cleethorpes 2016

Out and about at the National Armed Forces Day event in Cleethorpes. Armed Forces Day is an annual event that gives an opportunity for the country to show its support for the men and women in the British Armed Forces.

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Trust, Courage and Team Spirit

The Army Foundation College in Harrogate in North Yorkshire trains the soldiers of the future. School-leavers aged between 16 and 17 years and five months of age are eligible to attend the AFC which offers young men and women the opportunity to continue learning as they build their military skills and experience more of the Army life they have chosen.

Today saw over 600 of the Junior Soldiers graduate from the Army Foundation College following a year of undergoing military skills training, vocational qualifications and City and Guilds apprenticeships. Following the parade which, other than Trooping of the Colour in London, is the largest in Europe the Junior Soldiers will go on to complete their ‘phase two’ special-to-arm training for their respective regiments or corps before then joining their units to continue with their military careers.

From drawing their weapons out of the armoury first thing in the morning to the final tweaks to their uniforms ensuring that everything is perfect. To a final bit of packing as they head off on leave after the parade. To farewell hugs with strangers who became friends who they now know better than their own family and finally to a proud march onto the Regimental Square…today I went ‘behind the scenes’ with 19 (Kohima) Platoon as they carried out last minute preparations on their kit and uniform ahead of the parade in front of parents and family members and readied themselves for the most important parade and one of the most important miles stones of their career to date…

 

Trust, Courage and Team Spirit‘ – Motto of AFC Harrogate

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Exercise ‘Medical Challenge’

Doctors, nurses and medical staff from throughout the North East put their medical skills to the test Army style today as they took part in Exercise ‘Medical Challenge’.

The competition, which attracted participation from over 200 medical and support staff, was designed to give the medics and their NHS trusts and universities an insight into the medical role of the Reserve Forces. The teams took part in specially created military scenarios involving rescue missions and medical emergencies.

The civilian medics were able to sample a brief part of life under the extreme conditions within which the military often operates. During the day they were put to the test on a wide range of scenarios which included: Boat casualty rescue on the River Tyne, aid to a casualty under fire, rescuing of casualties and investigation skills, static helicopter emergency medical drills.

Participants included staff from Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Gateshead NHS Foundation Trust, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Newcastle Faculty of Medicine.

Assisted by many of the Reserve units throughout the North East including Infantry, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Gunners and Royal Marines, the exercise took place in Nunsmoor Park in Newcastle Upon Tyne and was organised and run by 201 (Northern) Field Hospital, an Army Reserve unit based at Fenham Barracks in the city.

 

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Afghanistan

After eight years of front line operations in Afghanistan the UK’s military headquarters in Helmand Province were disbanded yesterday in the latest stage of the draw-down of UK military operations in Afghanistan. The role played by the Headquarters Task Force in Helmand has now been integrated into the wider US-led Regional Command (South West).

This milestone marks the end of the 16th Task Force Helmand operation for the British-led coalition task force, which has comprised soldiers from the Danish, Estonian, Tongan, Jordanian and Bosnian armed forces.

British troops will however remain in Camp Bastion throughout the rest of this year and will be employed to either work within the coalition force under the US-led Regional Command or by supporting the redeployment of equipment back to the UK.

The number of British service personnel in Afghanistan will continue to drop as the operation draws to a close and the Afghan National Security Forces prepare to stand alone without ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) support.

 

In 2010, as I was approaching the end of my 22-year military service I spent a short time in the country.

 

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Afghanistan – through the window of a C-17 aircraft

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A dust storm rages as a briefing is given to troops

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British soldiers take part in further training given to them on arrival

AfghanistanAn explosion during a route clearance operation in Helmand Province

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Young boy in an Afghan village

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Soldiers from 1 Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles patrol through a village in the Nahr-e Saraj area of Helmand Province

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Afghan National Army soldiers

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A marihuana crop grows within a compound in the Green Zone

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Patrolling through the Green Zone

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A village elder enters a building to attend a Shura

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Village elders attend a Shura

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A mortar line fires in support of ground troops

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A command vehicle sits at the entrance to a patrol base in Helmand Provine

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A soldier from 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment in a troop house in Helmand Province

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A soldier shouts directions to fellow troops as they come under fire whilst on patrol in the Green Zone

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During a firefight in the Green Zone a soldier runs along the edge of a track to give directions to his men as a machine gun provides covering fire behind him

AfghanistanNight patrol

Ian Forsyth Photography

Images remain (c) Ian Forsyth/Crown copyright