Birmingham provided the stage yesterday for National Veterans Day. Emma Pinch and Ed Hancox met some of the men and women who have survived the scars of conflict.
Veterans and family members of soldiers from all British conflicts in the past century gathered to be honoured yesterday in Birmingham city centre.
The Lord Mayor, Coun Randal Brew, and Veterans Minister Derek Twigg, said thank you to members of all the service associations and veterans from conflicts spanning the Second World War to the Falklands and Iraq.
The event kicked off a week of celebrations including free concerts, an exhibition of military vehicles, and fireworks.
The city beat off competition from 15 other bids to win the right to host this year's main celebrations.
Yesterday the RAF band led a standards parade of 31 associated veterans clubs from the ICC to the Hall of Memory, while many proud old soldiers lined the route.
There, names of 10 servicemen who had died serving their country, seven from the First World War and three recent ones - among them Jabron Hashmi, from Small Heath, the first British soldier to die in Afghanistan - were added to the Book of Remembrance.
The Bishop of Birmingham the Rt Rev David Urquhart presided over the service. The Last Post was sounded while veterans stood to attention. More than 80 veterans then joined civic dignitaries for lunch in the Council House.
Mr Twigg said: "Veterans have served their country with pride and they have honoured their commitment to defend its interests.
"I hope that younger generations will continue to respect our Veteran community and draw inspiration from their many achievements."
Coun Brew said: "It will be a fantastic opportunity for people across the city to come and celebrate the contribution veterans made to the country and also perhaps learn a thing or two at the same time."
Veterans Day is held each year on June 27 to celebrate and recognise the contribution of veterans.
Tom McKie, aged 87, of the 11th India Division, was captured in Singapore by the Japanese in 1942. He then spent three years doing hard labour on the notorious Thai-Burma Railway and covered more than 1,000 miles of track, spanning 14 camps, from Bang Pong to Mergui.
One of the jobs he was employed on was 'Hellfire Pass', so-named because of the vast number of men injured and killed during its construction.
"I was everything from camp to camp, one day building bridges - we didn't have nails, it was all dog spike joints - then I was at Hellfire Pass, where the Japanese were blasting right through a cliff.
"I had a metre-length steel bar and your friend had a four pound hammer, and every time he hit it you twisted it into the rock to get it ready for blasting. We had to do around 90-foot of it because they were blasting the whole cliff away.
"Some men got blown up. The problem was, the Japs never gave you warning about when they were going to blast it and if you were caught on the run, that was it."
He joined up in 1938 as a gunner and was also involved in the Dunkirk evacuations, and left for the Far East four days later in 1941. He left England as a healthy lad in his early 20s - poor nutrition and 12 hour days of slave labour saw his weight shrink to seven stone.
"We called what they gave us to eat 'pap'," he said.
"It was rice boiled down to a slurry, like porridge, and you had that twice a day. If you were lucky you may have got a bit of 'green'. If there was green it would always be sour because it was that old by the time it got to us."
They were beaten and tortured for the merest disobedience, he said.
"The backs of my hands still have scars from cigarette burns," he said. "At the first camp I deserved it. I was stealing anything I could get my hands on, food, medical stuff and they caught us, so they beat us up and stuck us outside the guard room for 24 hours in the burning sunshine."
Mr McKie often visits the Burma Star Memorial Grove, at the National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield in Staffordshire, to remember his many friends who died in the Far East.
Many of them died in camps such as the Hindato Camp, which was decimated by cholera.
"Losing your best friends was the worst thing about the camps," he said. "Coming in at eight or nine at night off a track, and finding your best mates in the cholera tents. By morning they had gone. I'll never forgive the Japanese for what they did to me, and my friends."
Alfred Winstone, 87, served in the Army for seven years between between 1940 and 1946. He was among the second group of British soldiers to land in Normandy at Gold Beach in 1944.
Mr Winstone was a member of the Dental Corps and worked as a plastic surgeon, treating the horrific injuries suffered during the Normandy landings. "I prefer not to think too much about them.
"The technology was quite basic then, but we were just beginning to experiment with things like artificial eyes. They are years I look back on with huge satisfaction, because I was doing a job I enjoyed immensely. I served my country in the name of a good cause."
John Allen, a retired insurance representative from Erdington, Birmingham, saw the name of his grandfather, Arthur Allen, finally inscribed in the Book of Remembrance.
"My grandfather joined up as a volunteer aged 40. "My cousin was tracing the family tree and found out he was killed shortly after joining, at the Somme, in April 1916. He had left a widow, who got the dead man's penny, and five children.
"We couldn't find his name in the Book of Memory and it has taken three years to get his name put in. It felt wonderful, really, seeing his name go in. I just feel it's such a shame that I never knew him."
Zoubia Hashmi, aged 29, watched the name of her brother being written into the Book of Remembrance at the Hall of Memory.
Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi, aged 24, from Bordesley Green in Birmingham, was the first British soldier killed on active duty in Afghanistan, on July 1 2006.
He was serving in the Intelligence Corps for the 14 Signals Regiment.
She said her family were immensely proud. "I miss him every day," said Miss Hashmi, who has taken a year off from her degree in accountancy and finance while her family tries to come to terms with their loss.
"There's not a day which goes by or a meal we sit down for, or when my mum is cooking his favourite things - everything reminds us of him. He was just so full of life.
"He could make you laugh in seconds and at the same time make you cry. He enjoyed life at the fullest."
Before following in his older brother Zeeshan's footsteps, he had worked in a variety of jobs, including in a bank.
When she last spoke to him he had been urging his mother to undertake the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, and offering to pay for it.
"I was worried as a sister when he went to Afghanistan - you do worry, but he was doing his job," she said.
"Joining the Army was something he always wanted to do. Zeeshan was in the Army and from playing soldiers as little boys, it was their childhood dream. He loved every minute of it."
Alan Clarke and John Reeves are both Canal Zoners, a group for veterans who from the Suez Canal Zone. They remember the time leading up to the Suez Crisis as one of mounting tensions between the British Army and Egyptian antagonists.
The Suez Zone was a notorious posting for British soldiers after the Second World War and Mr Clarke remembers it as "hot, smelly, dirty and disease-ridden".
Mr Reeves said: "The enemy were using guerilla tactics to force us out, including snipers, roadside bombs and kidnapping. Sometimes it was a truly terrible place."
Vidah Pearce, 76, was living with her family in Moseley, Birmingham, when the Second World War broke out in 1939.
After a bombing raid on their house, Mrs Pearce's parents took the decision to evacuate her and her sister from Birmingham to Shropshire.
Tragically, she was orphaned less than a year later, when her mother and father were killed in a bombing raid which hit a cinema in Sparkbrook.
Mrs Pearce has vivid memories of the night-time attacks at the beginning of the war. She said: "The siren would go and we'd all pile into the cellar of our house, which doubled as an air shelter during the war."
"One night, we were down in the cellar and heard a horrible din that sounded like a car crash. When we came out, we saw that two incendiaries had been dropped on our garden. My parents were terrified."
Thursday June 28, 12pm to 5pm - Victoria Square activities and exhibitions 12pm to 2pm - Lunchtime 'swing' concert in Chamberlain Square.
2pm to 5pm - BBC big screen in Chamberlain Square showing veterans visiting Birmingham schools.
Friday June 29, 12pm to 5pm - Victoria Square activities and exhibitions
2pm to 5pm - 7pm until 9.30pm - Falklands 25 "The Experience" conference in the Veterans Grand Marquee in Centenary Square. Free tickets can be collected by ringing 0121 303 3008.
Saturday June 30, 12pm to 5pm - Victoria Square activities and exhibitions 12pm to 2pm - Lunchtime concert in Chamberlain Square. Duo Ten Days Later to perform.
8pm to 1am - Veterans Gala Dinner at the ICC. Tickets are #20 per person or #175 for a table of 10. This includes a four course meal, and a swing band. 10.45pm - Veterans fireworks display at Centenary Square.
Sunday July 1, 12pm to 5.30pm - City of Birmingham Pipe Band Championships 2007 in Centenary Square. 4.30pm - Parade along Broad Street.