It was a spectacular sight as the Rolling Thunder veterans’ procession travelled along the seafront on Saturday, July 30, set to the poignant backdrop of the First World War Tommy statue and Cenotaph War Memorial.
Billed as the North East’s largest bike meet, the procession was led by local bikers, Eights and Aces.
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Member and former paratrooper Andrew Harrison, 52, who helped organise the event, said: “I served for 20 years and when I came out, like most former service personnel, I experienced mental health difficulties.
"The majority of people leaving the forces experience mental health difficulties which can be post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from what they may have witnessed or the difficulties of returning to civilian life.
"Many veterans turn to motorbike groups for support. It gives people a purpose and provides a camaraderie that can help replace that support network in the forces. It’s also a way for people to release the tension and stresses they may have experienced.
Veterans travelled from across the country to take part in the event including Rolling Thunder leader and former paratrooper Graham Parson, 57, who had rode his bike from Kent.
He said: “People underestimate the difficulties veterans can have when they leave the forces and it’s important they get all the help they can.”
Following the seafront procession, the veterans held a short Remembrance service for fallen heroes which included laying two wreaths at the town’s war memorial.
One of those laying a wreath was Eights and Aces biker and former army serviceman John Main.
John, 51, told the Echo: “It’s absolutely vital we remember the sacrifices veterans have made. This is also a statement of the biking community coming together to raise the awareness of mental health.”
Among the crowd of people watching the procession was Sunderland man Bobby Lamb, 90, who saw active service during the Korean War on HMS Comus.
Bobby, who proudly displayed his medals, said: “It’s very important we remember people’s sacrifices. I go to all the veterans’ events and I’m impressed with the turn-out.”
Son Gary Lamb, 63, added: “It’s important to recognise the help veterans need when they leave the service. The Government want people to sign up to the armed forces but there’s very little help when they come out.”
The event was also raising money for veterans’ charity Tail End Charlie.
Andrew added: “In military terms a tail end Charlie was the person at the back covering everyone else’s backs. The charity plays the same role in covering the backs of veterans’ welfare after they leave the forces.”
The Rolling Thunder bike movement was set up to raise the Government’s awareness of the difficulties experienced by a large number of armed forces veterans following exposure to the horrors of war and returning to civilian life.
The event had added significance as it was the first since the movement’s founder, former veteran Harry Wragg, died.