End of an era as HMS Ark Royal bids a final farewell

The crew of HMS Ark Royal will say an emotional farewell to Leeds next month when they exercise the Freedom of the City for the final time.

About 160 sailors from the aircraft carrier will march with bayonets fixed, colours flying and to the drum beat of the Royal Marines band of Scotland on February 12 as they exercise the right granted to them nearly 40 years ago.

The parade will start at 11am in Millennium Square, take in the Headrow and other city centre streets before passing the Town Hall at about 11.30am where the Lord Mayor, Coun Jim McKenna, will take the salute.

It will finish around noon when a Civic Hall reception will be held for the ship's company.

Leeds' links with the Ark Royal, whose battle honours date back to the

Armada in 1588, were forged during the second world war when the people of the city raised a staggering 9m to replace the third ship to bear the proud name, which was torpedoed and sunk in November 1941 just six months after she had helped sink the Bismarck.

The carrier is a victim of government defence spending cuts and will be decommissioned in March.

Commanding officer Captain Jerry Kyd said: "The strong association that Ark Royal has maintained since the Second World War with the city of Leeds is immensely important.

"It is a real pleasure to be able to mark these historic and strong links with a parade through our city and attend the reception in the Civic Hall. I hope that one day a future Ark Royal will once again have the privilege of this special affiliation with the great city of Leeds.

"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, in particular from Leeds.

"I have been exceptionally proud to serve as her captain – my very first job after finishing my initial officer training 25 years ago at Dartmouth was in the then brand-new HMS Ark Royal. It is therefore a great honour for me to be her last captain.

"I am very fortunate to have an exceptional crew, whose professional skills will be re-allocated and valued in the wider Royal Naval service, long after the ship herself has been decommissioned – so her success will continue to serve the Royal Navy well."

Coun McKenna said: "It will be fantastic to see HMS Ark Royal's ship's company coming to march through the city of Leeds. The day will be one of great celebration, but tinged with the sadness of the decommissioning.

"The ship has and always will have a firm place in the heart of the city of Leeds. After adopting the ship in 1942, the city of Leeds really put their hearts and souls into raising an enormous sum of money to ensure that a replacement ship could be put into commission.

"People will be lining the streets to welcome the officers and crew."

Paula Dillon, President of Leeds Chamber Commerce.

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