HMS Ark Royal crew in sporting farewell

Crew from Leeds' "adopted" aircraft carrier the Ark Royal are to take part in a sporting extravaganza in the city on their last visit before the vessel is de-commissioned.

As reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post, 160 crew members are to exercise their Freedom of Leeds with a march carrying fixed bayonets in February.

Leeds has been associated with different versions of the Ark Royal since the Second World War when the people of the city raised 9m for a new aircraft carrier after it was sunk by German torpedoes in 1941.

The association with Leeds also involves sporting links with Moortown Rugby Union Football Club.

It began in the 1970s through club member Paul Walker, a former crew member of the immediate forerunner of today's Ark Royal, and who served from 1972 to 1986.

He organised four sporting events during visits to the city by crew members – two Veterans' Day matches and two sports events for the Help for Heroes charity.

Now he is organising a series of games when the crew visit for the last time on the weekend of February 12 and 13.

Mr Walker said: "The crew first played rugby in Leeds when they took on Moortown RUFC in the 1970s.

"In 2009 to mark Moortown Rugby clubs 75th Anniversary the crew of HMS Ark Royal came up to Leeds for a sports tour to play a number of teams at football, rugby, golf, netball and squash."

An Ark Royal team will take on Moortown at rugby.

Its Wrens (women sailors) will play Leeds University at netball, and a team is being sought for a football match.

Mr Walker said: "This is a fantastic opportunity to strengthen the ties between Leeds and HMS Ark Royal. We are looking to feed the teams but we are looking for a kind sponsor to cover these costs.

"The weekend will be a sad occasion as it will be the last time this crew visit the City of Leeds. Hopefully the name of HMS Ark Royal will be passed onto a future ship.

"It was rumoured they may change the name of one of the new aircraft carriers which are due out in the mid-decade.

"I believe it is important for this city to thank the servicemen and servicewomen of this country and we can certainly do that over this February weekend for the crew of HMS Ark Royal."

Mr Walker can be contacted at pawalker@callnetuk.com or by phone at 0113 2675225 or 07980 989096.

Raymond Manners.

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