THE blast of a restored field gun led a 21-gun salute celebrating the Queen’s 87th birthday yesterday.
Onlookers watched at Tynemouth Priory as the sounds of Vera, lovingly named by those who have returned her to her former glory, echoed round the historic ruins and out over the North Sea.
The crowd joined cadets and members of the Royal British Legion for what is hoped will become a popular annual event marking the monarch’s big day.
Leading the two-gun celebration was Sgt Martin Hutchby, the Royal British Legion representative for the riders section Tyne and Wear, who helped find and restore Vera, a 25-pound field gun built in 1942.
It was only the second time the gun had been fired since its restoration by Sgt Hutchby and his team of ex-servicemen, many from the Royal Artillery.
The project has been tinged with nostalgia for Sgt Hutchby who first trained with the gun as a 16-year-old. He said: “I saw it was shortly going to be sold to America and recognised it as the gun I used to train with in the Junior Leaders Regiment Royal Artillery in Nuneaton when I was 16.
“I didn’t want it being bought as a toy for someone with money in America and so with three others raised the thousands of pounds needed to keep it here in the UK.”
The gun got its unlikely moniker after being filmed for the last series of the ITV detective series Vera based in the region.
Mr Hutchby said: “We completely stripped it down and rebuilt her. She was first fired last year when we held our inaugural salute for the Queen’s birthday here at the priory.
“We were approached and asked if she could be used in an episode of Vera. They had to recreate an Army base and did so up in Bedlington. Vera was used as a gate guardian at the base.
“It would be great if we could make the 21-gun salute an annual event. The effort that has gone in to this with English Heritage has been tremendous because of the history of the site and the risk assessment.
“The event has cost us about £660 to make it happen and this was largely raised by the cadets.”
The salute at noon yesterday was followed by a rendition of God Save the Queen by the Durham Army Cadet Force Band and Bugles with donations being raised for the Poppy Appeal.
Among those who made the trip to hear the salute was Tynemouth resident Carole Waller and her family.
She said: “We came to the priory specially for the salute and thought it was lovely. I would love to see it become an annual event and grow with other things going on as well.
“Hopefully the more people who know about it, the more support it will get.”
The salute followed a military parade through Newcastle city centre on Saturday to celebrate St George’s Day.
Onlookers cheered and clapped as more than 150 Regular and Territorial Army soldiers belonging to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers marched through the centre of Newcastle.
Stepping out to a military band, the soldiers wore red and white roses on their uniforms in tribute to England’s patron saint, who is also honoured by the Fusiliers on their regimental flag.?