Portsmouth to show its pride in the Navy with rare Freedom parade

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Photographer: LPhot Matt Bradley - UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021

The people of Portsmouth are encouraged to line the city’s streets on Friday March 11 as more than 120 sailors and Royal Marines march through.

Personnel from Portsmouth Naval Base – including the reservists of HMS King Alfred – will parade through the heart of the city, exercising their right to do so ‘with fixed bayonets and colours flying’ as they celebrate the Freedom of the City.

Despite an association between the city and Navy going back well over 500 years – long before the name Royal was added – the Senior Service has only enjoyed Portsmouth’s highest honour since the mid-1960s… and has rarely exercised the privilege.

Although sailors are seen every year at November ceremonies, freedom parades are much more rare: HMS King Alfred personnel marched in 2003 and 2011, and the crew of ice ship HMS Endurance – affiliated with Portsmouth – marched through the city centre in 2007.

The Freedom of the City was originally granted to the then Portsmouth Command back in November 1964 to “pay tribute to the glorious traditions of the Royal Navy over many centuries of gallant and distinguished service to our Sovereign and country and to acknowledge the great part which the Royal Navy plays and has for so long played in the life and the development of the city and further wishing to strengthen and foster the close bonds which exist between the city and the Royal Navy”.

On a typical day, 13,000 people are employed in the base, and an estimated 1,200 firms – many of them local – supply or support activities in the yard. Collectively, they pump around £450m into the city’s economy every year.

Although the Command itself has passed into history, the city council unanimously voted to approve the transfer Portsmouth’s highest civic honour to the present-day Naval Base and Royal Navy ships based in the city, capturing the spirit of the original award.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Leader of Portsmouth City Council says:

“We are a proud and historic maritime city, and the Royal Navy is at our heart. The naval base, where the first dry dock in the world was built in 1495, generates thousands of jobs and gives a significant economic boost to the region.”

“I am very grateful that we had the support from all the parties across the council to transfer the grant of the Freedom of the City and look forward to the march where Portsmouth’s close bond with the Royal Navy will be officially marked.”

Over 120 sailors, led by the Band of HM Royal Marines Portsmouth will march step off from Nelson Gate in Queen Street 11.30am, then along Bishop Crispian Way to Edinburgh Road, down the southern end of Commercial Road and past Portsmouth and Southsea Station before parading on to Guildhall Square shortly before 12pm.

In the civic square, there will be a short ceremony conducted by a Royal Naval Chaplain and Chaplain Anthony Cane in the presence of the city’s Lord Mayor, Cllr Vernon-Jackson and Nigel Atkinson, Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire. 

Naval Base Commander Commodore JJ Bailey said:

“It is a huge and significant honour for the Royal Navy to be able to march through Portsmouth ‘with fixed bayonets and colours flying’. A long and rich tradition exists of cooperation and symbiosis between the Royal Navy and the people of Portsmouth; indeed many of the sailors based in HM Naval Base Portsmouth call the city and surrounding area home.”

“At the start of 2022, now we have completed the first operational deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth, and as we approach the anniversary of the Falklands Campaign, there is no better time to celebrate this rich and meaningful relationship.

“To have achieved so much through the Covid Pandemic is testament to the strength of our collective success. For the significant number of Portsmouth people who work in support of the Royal Navy in the region, this Freedom Parade reflects on your amazing contribution. It is a relationship built on respect and loyalty stretching back centuries; long may it continue.”

Source: Royal Navy

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