SAILORS from HMS Ark Royal marched through Portsmouth City Centre this morning to officially bid goodbye to their home port.
Around 200 men and women serving aboard the axed aircraft carrier began marching from Paradise Street near Commercial Road at 11.20am, making their way down the shopping precinct towards Guildhall Square.
A short ceremony was held in the square from 11.45 to midday, during which a White Ensign flag was be presented from the Ark to the city.
There were emotionally-charged speeches from Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson and the Ark’s commanding officer Captain Jerry Kyd.
Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘It was brilliant. I don’t think we’ve done anything like this before. I thought it was a great way to say goodbye to the ship and show our appreciation. Ark Royal is a very special ship, she captures people’s emotion, not just in Portsmouth but across the whole country.’
Ark Royal’s commanding officer Captain Jerry Kyd said: ‘It was a really lovely way to commemorate Ark Royal’s time.
‘I’m very touched by the people of Portsmouth and the Lord Mayor of the city council for giving us the honour and opportunity to formally say goodbye.’
The parade was especially poignant for Able Seaman Nikki Bodkin, 28, who is from Copnor.
She said: ‘Because this is my home town it was very special for me. Seeing how many people appreciate the ship and the ship’s company gives me a fantastic feeling of pride.’
75-year-old Bill Edwards was one of hundreds of locals who turned out to bid farewell to the Ark.
The former Grenadier Guard from Cosham, said: ‘I’m a Portsmouth person and I’ve come to say my goodbye to one of our greatest ships. It’s a sad day, as Queen Elizabeth I said “we build ships to protect the nation”. To hell with the cost, we need ships because we are an island. Our security is poorer without Ark Royal.’
After the ceremony, which ended in prayer, families and sailors congregated in the Guildhall for a reception.
Meanwhile, at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, hundreds of people are waiting to look around the ship, which has officially opened to visitors until 4pm. It is free to go and have a look around the ship, which has two helicopters on board.
The ship is also open tomorrow 10am to 3pm.
Around 6,000 people are expected to come aboard the famous vessel this weekend.