A parade of personnel from HMS Northumberland in Morpeth was cheered by hundreds of people.
More than 160 servicemen and women, led by musicians from the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland dressed in scarlet tunics, bearskins and kilts, marched through the town centre last Friday afternoon.
The event celebrated the affiliation between the 4,500 tonne Royal Navy missile-armed warship and Northumberland and during a short ceremony, a scroll re-affirming its Right of Freedom of the County was presented to the Commanding Officer, Commander Trish Kohn.
The invitation was extended by Northumberland County Council’s civic head Kath Nisbet and following the ceremony, the HMS Northumberland personnel proceeded by coach to County Hall in order to attend a civic reception in their honour. The public figures from the county that attended the parade included Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, Air Vice Marshal David Hurrell and Lucy Carroll, High Sheriff of Northumberland.
Morpeth Mayor Alison Byard was also part of the welcoming party and she spoke to a group of servicemen and women.
She said: “It was a great day for the town and I think it’s good for the sailors’ morale to see how much their work is appreciated by the public.
“It was a real privilege to take the parade outside the town hall and speak to some of the personnel.”
Morpeth resident Dennis Gray said: “I’m pleased that there has been a great turnout for what was an excellent parade. When you get the opportunity, it’s important to show your support for our country’s Armed Forces.”
Alison Lattimer of Stakeford was among the people invited to have a look on board the warship the previous day.
“When we arrived it looked quite small from the outside, so we were taken aback when we saw all the rooms and equipment on the inside – there were even some exercise bikes in the corridors,” she said.
“We were also told about the new kinds of operations that HMS Northumberland has carried out in recent years.”
Among those waving flags was Morpeth resident Shirley Newlands, who said: “We always support anything that is to do with the Armed Forces and Northumberland, particularly as our son-in-law used to be in the RAF.
“It’s nice for Morpeth to have such a positive occasion and it was great to see so many people on the streets.”
Another Morpethian, Alan Lawson, said: “It’s a great honour for Morpeth to have HMS Northumberland personnel marching through the town.”
The ship was first granted the Freedom of Northumberland in 2004.
On Saturday, members of the public were able to go on board between 11am and 4pm at her berthing point in North Shields.
Commander Kohn said: “I’m incredibly proud to be able to bring the ship back to her home county.
“The reception we had in Morpeth was wonderful. The great turnout shows the strength of feeling in the community for the Royal Navy.
“Opening the ship to the public is very important. It is mainly out at sea, so this gives people the opportunity to get a better understanding of what we do and learn more about the work of the Royal Navy.”
HMS Northumberland, a type 23 anti-submarine frigate, was built at Swan Hunters on the Tyne and launched in 1992.
She is regularly engaged in maritime security operations, counter-piracy and counter narcotic operations in oceans around the world and has recently returned from a seven-month deployment in the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.
Michael McCormella has been with HMS Northumberland for 18 months. His role involves helping to make sure the propulsion system is functioning properly and the lights stay on.
“It’s always great bringing the ship home and we enjoy the parades and meeting the public,” he said.
“We’re grateful to everyone who made the effort to come along to Morpeth town centre to greet us despite the gloomy weather.”
Lieutenant Commander Helen Mackenow, the ship’s logistics officer/barrister, added: “I got a lump in my throat when I heard all the cheering.
“It’s also useful to get the opportunity to explain to people how we really live when we’re on board because most people don’t understand what is involved in being a member of a warship crew.”
Coun Nisbet said: “It truly was an honour to be part of this visit by HMS Northumberland and to re-affirm its right to the Freedom of the County.
“I was delighted to see that so many people came into Morpeth to watch the parade and ceremony and hope that everyone enjoyed seeing the servicemen and women up close.
“I would like to thank Commander Kohn and all of the ship’s company, as well as members of the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, who helped to make this such a spectacular event.”