Sunderland honours adopted warship + VIDEO

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THE people of Sunderland came out to honour the men and women of their adopted ship HMS Ocean. Mark Scully attended Saturday’s parade through the city centre.

THE crew of the Royal Navy’s largest ship paraded through the city centre as thousands of Wearsiders lined the streets.

HMS Ocean Freedom Parade 26th May 2012.'Officers and ratings from HMS exercised their Freedom of the City of Sunderland with a parade from the Civic Centre.'Part of their right is the freedom to march with bayonets attached.

HMS Ocean Freedom Parade 26th May 2012.'Officers and ratings from HMS exercised their Freedom of the City of Sunderland with a parade from the Civic Centre.'Part of their right is the freedom to march with bayonets attached.

The march came after their Captain, along with the Mayor and Leader of the Council, signed the Armed Forces Covenant. The agreement pledges the support of the city to our service personnel.

The parade itself took place as the crew exercised their freedom of the City of Sunderland, awarded to them in 2004 and began with a service at the war memorial on Burdon Road.

The 220-strong crew then marched through the city centre, along Fawcett Street then on to High Street West, Union Street, Market Square, Waterloo Place and Holmeside.

Led by The Band of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, they then returned to Burdon Road, before a reception hosted by the City Council in the Pottery Gallery of the Museum of Sunderland and Winter Gardens.

The day began in Mayor Iain Kay’s offices, where he was joined by Captain Andrew Betton and Council Leader Paul Watson as well as other service personnel and city business leaders.

Captain Betton said that it was fantastic that Sunderland had embraced the ship as it has. He added: “We never forget our adopted city, wherever we are in the world.”

Before the troops stepped off, the Mayor presented the Captain with a panorama of the River Wear, taken from almost the exact spot Ocean is berthed. He said: “It is my great honour and privilege to recognise what has already been a hugely-successful visit.”

The Mayor again spoke highly of the relationship between the ship and city in a speech at the war memorial. He said: “May I say just how proud our city is of HMS Ocean and the close relationship we have built over the years.”

Excited crowds were lining the streets up to an hour before the parade began, with some travelling as far as 200 miles to witness the occasion, including Malcolm and Sarah Lawson, from Stanford, whose son Tom, was on parade.

Raymond Kirwan was eager to support the troops. The 85-year-old from Sunderland said: “I’m dead against the Government cutting the services down. They need to be supported.”

Daughter Elizabeth, 49, said the day meant a lot to the family, who always come out to support the crew.

Marie Biggs, 74, from Ryhope, wanted to show her appreciation for the ship’s service. She said: “We’re here to cheer them on. They’ve been fighting for the country and they deserve some respect from all of us.”

Sunderland benefits greatly from the link with HMS Ocean, according to Margaret Wilkinson, also from Ryhope. The 72-year-old said: “I think the city of Sunderland needs to be put on the map.

“People forget about us, but we’re always here to support them. It means an awful lot to us.”

Having served on the original HMS Ocean in 1956, 74-year-old Malcolm Fox, from South Shields, says the crew will appreciate the support from the public. He said: “A lot of people think this sort of thing is a total waste of time but it isn’t.”

Captain Betton echoed those comments. He told the Echo: “The crew cherish the relationship they have with Sunderland and very much look forward to the infamously-warm welcome we always get here.”