HMS Sultan sailors parade through Gosport

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MEN and women of HMS Sultan braved the cold and fierce winds to march through Gosport for the first time in eight years.

Dozens gathered to watch hundreds of sailors march from the Falkland Gardens to Timespace where their freedom of the borough was reaffirmed.

MARCH Sailors from HMS Sultan celebrate the freedom of Gosport

MARCH Sailors from HMS Sultan celebrate the freedom of Gosport

Caps and song sheets may have blown across the parade ground but all stood silent to listen to Honorary Alderman Graham Hewitt, Mayor of Gosport in 1974 when the freedom was awarded.

He read the original declaration to the marine engineering school as gathered dignitaries, including the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Dame Mary Fagan, looked on.

Current mayor, Cllr Richard Dickson, spoke to reaffirm the freedom, with HMS Sultan’s commanding officer Commodore Mark Slawson accepting.

Proud onlookers stopped in Gosport’s High Street to applaud the parade, led by HMS Sultan’s Volunteer Cadet Corps band.

They marched to the Town Hall, with bayonets fixed and drums beating to salute Cdre Slawson, Cllr Dickson and Dame Mary.

Cdre Slawson said: ‘The freedom of the borough is the greatest honour that the town can offer us.

‘It reinforces the links that we have with the borough of Gosport.

‘They are very, very strong, we help each other in all sorts of ways, in charitable ways – just with helping with the people.’

Cdre Slawson will leave the Royal Navy in four weeks’ time after more than 35 years of service.

‘This is probably the last big ceremonial event I’ve got and it is a good one to go out on,’ he added.

The sailors had been preparing ahead of the parade for months.

And they had sharpened their step, polished their boots and pressed their jackets last week for full ceremonial divisions.

Pupils from St John’s Primary School choir also braved the cold.

They opened the ceremony at Timespace with songs, including What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor, which was greeted with smirks from the gathered sailors.

Speaking to the sailors after the parade, former naval serviceman Cllr Dickson said: ‘We are very proud to have you in Gosport.

‘You guys are our heroes and you put yourselves in danger for us.

‘On behalf of the people of Gosport, on behalf of Dame Mary, thank you very much.’

Commander Mike Robertson is the executive officer at HMS Sultan and was the parade commander.

He said: ‘It was an incredibly proud day for us.

‘We’ve been planning this for a long time and we’re just pleased it went so well.’