The company of Royal Navy frigate HMS Kent exercised its honour of receiving the freedom of the county by staging a major civic parade through the centre of Maidstone yesterday.
In what was described as a “display of immaculate military ceremony”, the ship’s crew joined Kent Sea Cadets and the Massed Bands of the Royal Marines to march from the Town Hall to the steps of Sessions House.
Schoolchildren, residents and shoppers lined Week Street in beautiful autumn sunshine to cheer the marchers through.
The Freedom of the County is the highest honour Kent County Council can confer and HMS Kent's award has been a personal quest of its chairman Gary Cooke and his team.
Under the ship’s fluttering ensign at County Hall, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, The Lady Colgrain, addressed the gathering with a special message from Vice Admiral Philip Hally, Chief of Defence People.
And the timing was not accidental either as it marked the 34th anniversary of the bombing at the Royal Marines School of Music in Deal, killing 11 bandsmen and injuring many more.
The Lady Colgrain read: “Today is not just an event of military significance; it's an opportunity to remember that behind the steel of a modern warship are the dedicated sailors who breathe life into its heart.
“The honour of the Freedom of Kent is a tribute to the men and women who serve in HMS Kent as much as it is to the ship itself and a potent symbol of the deep and enduring connection that exists between the people of Kent, the Royal Navy and the ship that bears the county's name.”
Cllr Cooke said: “I know that I speak for everyone when I say how much we applaud you all for your enthusiasm and smart turnout.
“The public including local school children showed their respect for all of you, giving you all a very warm welcome to Kent and to Maidstone in particular.
“You are all most welcome to come to Kent at any time and I know that KCC will now work closely in partnership with you.
“We are proud of you all. We salute for your bravery and your stated wish to help keep Britain safe and free.”
HMS Kent’s Cammander Jeremy Brettell said: “How honoured we all feel in having the Freedom of Kent bestowed upon us.
“I feel today really seals the solid relationship that we now have with Kent County Council as together we work in partnership to support the armed forces including our ship’s company across Kent and beyond.
“As HMS Kent is deployed once more in the next few weeks, it is especially reassuring to the ship’s company to know the goodwill and support that you have shown today for us all and in the long term.
“I am sure that friendships will develop between the ship, the ship’s company and yourselves in the months and years ahead.”