TOP brass from the British Military have hailed Bournemouth Air Festival as one of the most important events on their calendars.

Senior officers from the Royal Navy, also representing the Royal Marines, the British Army and the Royal Air Force all addressed those gathered at yesterday's official festival launch, which took place in the private gardens of the Highcliff Marriott Hotel and included a stunt pilot display and buglers from HM Royal Marines Band Collingwood.

Royal Navy Commander Steve Ward told the Daily Echo that he was heading a team to "make sure the Royal Navy and Royal Marines are still relevant to the public."

Speaking with HMS Diamond, a type 45 destroyer, anchored off Bournemouth beach, Commander Ward explained: "This isn't a hard sell, we need to demonstrate we have veterans we look after, we have charities we support, we have cadets.

"Just to demonstrate the whole spectrum of the naval service family, and to engage in conversations with the general public.

"Some will be very familiar with the Royal Navy. Bournemouth is a maritime town - it is not a difficult conversation to have with Poole down the road."

As well as demonstrations throughout the festival featuring Royal Marines, the Royal Navy also has two patrol craft operating at the event.

Royal Air Force (RAF) Squadron Leader Ian Williamson said: "We are expecting up to 1.2 million people over the next four days.

"One of the things we need to do is engage with the public. Years ago, when I joined, virtually everyone I joined with had somebody they knew who had been in the military.

"They could talk to them about it, tell them about tales gone by and also enthuse about the service.

"Now, a lot of our recruits, when we talk to them, have had nobody who has served in the military.

"Most people perceive you as the uniform, so if we get an opportunity to engage with people - to talk to them, to laugh with them - we can break down barriers.

"Then people realise that underneath the uniform we are just the same as them."

The squadron leader also told the Echo he was looking forward in particular to one display.

He explained: "I have been in the air force for a long time, and when I worked with the benevolent fund we'd get the Bomber Command boys coming along.

"These guys are in their 90s and they talk about their experiences in World War Two, when squadrons were decimated in one night.

"Everytime I see the Lancaster, I think of those guys, I think of the sacrifices they made, and it epitomises my service for me."

British Army Lieutenant Colonel Guy Benson said: "This is a marvellous festival, the reality is it is the largest in the UK so may it long continue.

"As you know there is a substantial army presence in this part of the UK, almost a third of the regular army is in the south west now.

"So we are really privileged to be part of the Bournemouth Air Festival."