The Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Ark Royal will be open to the public one final time over the weekend of 22 and 23 January. Her decomissioning will also be marked by a parade and ceremony in Portsmouth Guildhall Square on the Saturday.
About 250 sailors from the Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier – which is being decommissioned in March – will parade through the city on January 22 to celebrate the close affiliation between the warship and its home port. A Royal Marines band will lead the parade which starts at Paradise Street (near the city centre Tesco) at 11.20am. The crew will march to Guildhall Square via Commercial Road, past Portsmouth and Southsea train station and under the civic buildings.
A special service will then take place including speeches from Ark Royal’s Commanding Officer Captain Jerry Kyd, Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Paula Riches and Leader of the council, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson. Ark Royal’s padre, the Rev Martin Evans, will close the service with prayers. The event will conclude with Captain Kyd presenting the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Paula Riches, with a ship’s white ensign. The service is expected to finish around midday when the city council will host a reception for the ship’s company and their families in the Guildhall. The parade leaves Commercial Road at 11.15am, and the ceremony in Guildhall Square lasts until 12 noon.
Ark will be open to visitors at Victory Jetty in Portsmouth Naval Base between midday and 4pm on Saturday 22 January and 10am and 3pm the following day. Areas open on board will include the hangar, flight deck and operations room. I’m not sure what kind of state the ship will be in, as when I went past the Hard the other day I could see Containers on deck – I wonder if they’ve started stripping her out already? Entry to the jetty will be through Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s main entrance at Victory Gate.
Also on Saturday members of the ships crew will parade on the pitch at Fratton Park before the Portsmouth-Leeds United game. Leeds is the Ark’s adoptive city, and the ship also has an affiliation link with Leeds United Football Club.
As much as it is welcome to see the efforts being made to recognise Ark Royal, I hope the same efforts are made to honour HMS Illustrious when she is decomissioned in several years time. For some reason the name ‘Ark Royal’ has a cache of brownie points. As loved as she is, there are plenty of other fantastic ships that have gone off to the breakers yard without a murmur – Fearless and Intrepid, for example, and then we have some of the Falklands veteran Type 42 Destroyers.
It’s a welcome chance to take a last look at a famous ship, however. I’ve never actually been onboard Ark Royal. Whenever theres a Navy Days that I can get to it always seems to be HMS Illustrious on show!