Monday, January 17, 2011

Pay your last respects to Ark Royal this weekend

THERE is a last chance to see Britain’s greatest modern warship – and her ship’s company – this weekend.
The sailors of HMS Ark Royal will march through the streets of Portsmouth on Saturday as the city bids farewell to the most high-profile victim of last autumn’s defence review.
As well as that parade the carrier will also be opening its gangway for the final time to members of the public allowing a last tour of the 20,000-ton veteran of the Adriatic and Gulf wars.
The ship made her final entry to Portsmouth on a bitterly cold December day – snow and ice meant that only a few hundred, rather than the anticipated few thousand, onlookers witnessed Ark sail into harbour trailing her decommissioning pennant.
Even before that last entry, however, civic leaders vowed to celebrate the carrier’s 25-year association with her home port, inviting the ship’s company to march through the centre of Portsmouth.
And so at 11.20am on Saturday around 250 men and women from Ark Royal will form up in Paradise Street (in front of the city centre Tesco supermarket) before following a Royal Marines Band down Commercial Road – Portsmouth’s principal shopping street – past the railway station and into Guildhall Square.

Once in the square, there’ll be a half-hour service of thanksgiving for the sacrifices Ark’s sailors have made since 1985.
Ark’s final CO Capt Jerry Kyd, Portsmouth’s Lord Mayor Cllr Paula Riches and city council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson will address the ship’s company and public, Ark’s bish will close the service with prayers, and proceedings will conclude with the carrier’s White Ensign being presented to the council.
Afterwards sailors and their families will be invited into the Guildhall for a reception.
Meanwhile, a mile away on Victory Jetty, the gangways will open from mid-day until 4pm on Saturday and 10am-3pm on Sunday.
Entry to Ark will be free, but it will be on a first-come, first-served basis; several thousand people are expected on both days (and, sadly, the ship cannot accommodate wheelchair users or pushchairs).
“It’s a real pleasure to be able to mark the links that Ark Royal has maintained with the city of Portsmouth throughout the past 25 years with a parade through the city, reception, and the opportunity to open my ship to the public for the final time,” said Capt Kyd.
“Ark Royal has played a very important role throughout her history and we have always been lucky enough to draw great affection and support from the British public wherever we go.
“I am only too aware that this famous ship and her iconic name mean a great deal to many people, but although Ark Royal will be decommissioned, the new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers are vastly more capable and will provide the Royal Navy with an exciting future.”
Cllr Vernon-Jackson added: “It’s very important the city celebrates the close links the Navy, and Ark Royal in particular, has with Portsmouth, and that residents have a chance to say goodbye to this special ship in this way. It’ll be a very moving day for the whole city.”
The White Ensign is lowered at sunset on Ark Royal in Portsmouth Harbour. Picture: PO(Phot) Ray Jones, HMS Ark Royal
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