More than 300 veterans and service personnel have now been honoured as the next phase of the touching stone tribute was unveiled in Sunderland today.
Each of the granite flagstones in the Veterans’ Walk in Mowbray Park is engraved with the names of service personnel who have served, or are currently serving, their country.
The walkway is the brainchild of Tom Cuthbertson, from Tunstall, whose 19-year-old son, Private Nathan Cuthbertson, was one of three paratroopers killed on June 8, 2008 when a lone insurgent detonated an explosive in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Tom said: “There’s a story behind each and every stone.
“Some people put ashes underneath ones where someone has passed away and we’ve got a lot of people who are still serving who’ve bought them - so it’s getting to be quite an achievement.
“This is more of a tribute path than a memorial we’re trying to recognise everyone’s service. It’s pretty unique.
“It means so much to people. There’s people crying there and saying thank you.
“It’s not me, I haven’t done anything - it’s them who have bought the stones. I’m just making it happen but I feel humbled and proud of all the gratitude.
“It’s their service and I’m proud to see it happen for them.”
Mayor of Sunderland Coun Lynda Scanlan officially unveiled the most recent phase of the walkway with war hero Ben Parkinson MBE today.
Tom added: "For this event we are delighted to be joined by Ben Parkinson MBE whose colleagues from 7th Para Royal Horse Artillery have bought a stone.
"Many will know Ben as he is a tireless worker for armed forces charities after suffering serious injuries in Afghanistan in 2006."
Families of 120 people who serve in the Army, Navy, RAF and Merchant Navy, whose names will be remembered in stone for generations to come, gathered to see the unveiling.
Among them was Lorraine Scaife, who attended the event with her husband Mick.
The couple, who now live in Devon, had travelled to see the walk but Loraine, who served in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service for 12 years, had no idea that Mick had arranged for her name to engraved in stone alongside his own and his grandfather’s.
Lorraine said: “After they’d done the unveiling the mayor pointed out that my name was on one of the stones.
“I was just completely overwhelmed - I had no idea. I was really emotional it made me cry it was just truly wonderful.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing not just for people who’ve served and made the ultimate sacrifice and died but for all those other people who are prepared to sign their name on the dotted line and be willing to do whatever their country wants.”
Mick, who served in the Army for 22 years, added: “It’s good that you can be remembered because normally everything is posthumously to have something like this that we can go see it and leave it for, kids and future generations to see.”
Money from the stones goes towards the Brothers In Arms charity which supports many good causes for ex-servicemen including the Sunderland Armed Forces Network.
Since 2016, 320 stones have been bought and laid as part of the pathway and there is room for a total of 2,000.
Rob Deverson, who teamed up with Tom to bring the path to Sunderland, said: said: “I think the amazing thing is that every stone has a story and that’s 300 stories which is more important really.
“As you can see from today’s turnout we’ve got 120 families here to mark this occasion.
“Everyone is so proud of what their family members have achieved.
“There’s lots of places to remember those who’ve been killed sadly, this is about a tribute to anyone who served.
“In some cases it does mean people who’ve sadly fallen in conflict but in many cases people who are still alive and in some cases people who are still serving so it’s a tribute rather than a memorial.”