Ulster-born actor and military veterans’ ambassador Charlie Lawson is one of a number of high-profile figures converging on Lisburn on Saturday to commemorate the fallen of the Troubles.
The parade and drumhead service at Wallace Park – marking 50 years since Operation Banner brought troops onto the streets of Northern Ireland – has been organised by the NI Veterans Association (NIVA) and will include groups representing former regular Army and UDR soldiers, RUC, NI Prison Service personnel, An Garda Siochana and Irish Defence Forces, as well as the other emergency services.
Up to 10,000 people are expected in the city for the special tribute to the 1,242 men, women and children who were murdered because they were serving in, or had a connection with, the security forces.
“I’ve had a long connection with the armed forces and indeed veterans,” Mr Lawson said.
“A lot of my family served, including my mother, three uncles and my dad in the Second World War, so that starts off the connection and for a long number of years now I have been doing a lot of work with veterans.
“The combined services in Northern Ireland get very little help from anybody, with notable exception, so more needs to be done.
“I am aware of several ex-RUC members who are suffering terribly with PTSD and alcohol problems etc.”
Commenting on the significance of Saturday’s commemoration, Mr Lawson said the soldiers were placed in a difficult situation from day one.
“On the day we are paying particular attention to commemorating and remembering those who came over with the British Army and found themselves in a fairly intolerable situation. The whole situation was intolerable, but it was particularly intolerable for our armed forces.”
The actor, best known for his role as Jim McDonald in Coronation Street, said many politicians, from all of the parties in Great Britain, are prepared to “sweep veterans’ issues under the carpet.”
He said: “It is to be hoped that Johnny Mercer, having been appointed [as a minister for veterans’ affairs] by Boris Johnson, will actually do something for veterans, but on Saturday I am particularly looking forward to meeting veterans and widows and the orphaned children. There are also the families of prison officers who are frequently overlooked.”
Mr Lawson said he was not back in the Province “to beat a drum or fly a flag,” and added: “I’m there because I know veterans who served in Northern Ireland, with English regiments, and there are a few coming over that I know of. “We’ll have an enjoyable day. It will be a great chance for a few old comrades to shake hands and have a pint.
“There are so many people who performed above and beyond the call of duty in some very difficult circumstances.”
He added: “The last 50 years has been hugely traumatic for all sides of the community and we all recognise the importance of commemoration, so let’s do just that.”
The drumhead service will take place in the grounds of Wallace Park at 11am to begin proceedings.
From there, veterans will parade into the city centre via the Lisburn War Memorial, past the UDR statue, the site of the 1988 Lisburn fun-run bombing, up Bow Street and back for dispersal at Wallace Park.