The commanding officer and crew of HMS Cornwall said farewell and thank you to the County of Cornwall today (Thursday) as they performed the final act of ceremony for the ship under the White Ensign at the decommissioning ceremony.
The ceremony staged at Devonport Naval Base, to mark the ship retiring from the Royal Navy after 23 years, was an occasion for the ship’s captain Commander David Wilkinson to pay tribute to the affiliated organisations and the affiliated County of Cornwall as a whole for their support
Cdr Wilkinson said he and the ship’s company had been proud to represent the nation and Cornwall worldwide on operations and other duties. The event included a parade of the crew, a band of the Royal Marines, a religious service, the ceremonial final sounding of the ship’s bell and the lowering of the commissioning pennant, White Ensign and Union Flag.
HMS Cornwall, known as the Fighting 99, is the last of the Type 22 frigates to be decommissioned under the MOD Strategic Defence and Security Review. Sister ships HMS Cumberland, HMS Chatham and HMS Campbeltown have preceded HMS Cornwall. The ship has circumnavigated the globe, visited every ocean and taken part in Cold War Operations and recently served east of Suez on counter-piracy duty.
Commander David Wilkinson, HMS Cornwall’s commanding officer, described his ship as world-beating and was proud to have served with his crew in the last 13 months who he thanked for their support and professionalism. They were both compassionate and aggressive when needed, served with good grace and humour and were his strength.
He admitted to the event being ultimately sad although also a celebration of its past and struggled to keep his emotions in check during his tribute speech: “It was an emotional event, but we aimed to say goodbye to HMS Cornwall and our links with the County of Cornwall with dignity and I think we did that successfully. My ship’s company have been fantastic, a wonderful example of the youth of today. I look back on my command with pride. It is an honour to be the last commanding officer of HMS Cornwall.
“I hope the people of Cornwall have good memories of HMS Cornwall and all who served on her. This was an occasion to say farewell and to thank the County of Cornwall. The Freedom of the City of Truro Parade by the ship’s company on 13th of July is chance for the country to say goodbye to us.”
Chief Petty Officer John Midwood, of Dewsbury, near Leeds, lowered the White Ensign for the last time at the stern of the ship. He said: “It was a poignant moment and an honour for me. This is the last of the Type22s to go, but things must move on. I only knew I was taking on this duty on Monday because the lad due to do it was ill. It all went well, so I am very relieved because I was very nervous at such an important time. It is shame such a good ship’s company will be broken up.’’ He now moves onto work for the Queen’s Harbourmaster helping manage the Port of Plymouth.
Leading Seaman Malcolm Ratcliffe (above water warfare specialist), 43, of Polperro, Cornwall, has served in all the Type 22 frigates during his 20-year career and now moves to the Type 23 frigate HMS Portland. While deployed on counter-piracy duties he raised £1,000 for his son’s school Polperro Community School.
Malcolm, married to Teresa Luke with children Jake, 6, and Luke 3, said: “It is a shame these ships have to go, but I am very proud to have the rare distinction of serving in them all. I started on HMS Campbeltown and ended on HMS Cornwall. I have two years left of my naval career and would have liked to have ended it on a Type 22.’’
The ceremony was presided over by The Reverend Scott J Brown. As well as family and friends of the ship’s company and the ship witnessing the event, the Guest of Honour was Lady Mary Holborrow, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, who is the ship’s sponsor said she had followed the ship and the crew very closely since 199 and the country and her would miss the close affiliated links: “This is a very sad day for the County of Cornwall.’’ She wished the crew al the best in their new careers.
Other distinguished guests include former commanding officers of HMS Cornwall, Royal Naval Association members from across Cornwall, councillors from Cornwall County Council and the County President of the Royal British Legion. The Band of the Royal Marines from HMS Raleigh will entertain the guests.
The Freedom of the County of Cornwall March through Truro is on Wednesday 13 July 2011 and everyone is invited to witness it.
Most of the crew will stay together until late October after which they will attend courses and move onto new posts. In the meantime the physical decommissioning process will continue and the future of the ship is yet to be determined.
HMS Cornwall was built by Yarrow Shipbuilders Limited in Glasgow, launched on 14 October 1985 and commissioned into the Royal Navy on 23 April 1988. Over a 23-year career, the ship has steamed 706,248 nautical miles (equating to 62,572 hours at sea) and has deployed to the United States, the Caribbean, the Far East, West Africa, the Arabian Gulf (five times) and most recently the Indian Ocean on counter piracy duties.