Reservists honoured by Wolverhampton

HMS Forward, the only Royal Naval Reserve Unit in the West Midlands received the freedom of the city of Wolverhampton on Saturday 28th September 2019.

The Freedom of the City is a honour reserved for military units, and as such, the Ship’s Company of Birmingham’s Royal Naval Reserve Unit, now has the privilege  to march through Wolverhampton with; ‘Swords drawn, Bayonets fixed, Bands playing and Colours flying’.

And supported by the Band of the Royal Marines Portsmouth and an armed Guard drawn from the Unit, that is exactly what they did.

Despite its distance from the sea, HMS Forward has a large naval footprint and is an important training facility providing vital skills to the 150 Royal Naval Reservists and Royal Marines Reserves who live in the West Midlands area.

I had the responsibility of bearing the White Ensign on behalf of HMS Forward. It’s not an honour that’s bestowed lightly, it’s a great honour for the Unit.

Petty Officer Chris Aspin RNR

Members of the Unit serve with the Fleet and the regular Naval Service at home or overseas, where ever they are needed.

"It is a huge privilege for HMS Forward to be granted Freedom of the City of Wolverhampton.  This is an honour that British cities have bestowed on naval and military units for hundreds of years and we are thrilled to be part of that continuing tradition,” said HMS Forward’s Commanding Officer, Commander Phil Sparke.

“HMS Forward hugely values its relationship with the City of Wolverhampton, and I hope that today’s ceremony will cement that for very many years to come."

The Freedom of a City or Town dates from when fortress walls were necessary to protect its inhabitants against outlaw bands. Bodies of armed men were often refused entry unless citizens were confident that they meant no harm.

The granting of permission for a formed body of armed men to enter became a mark of trust and confidence from the town. To be granted freedom of a City is the greatest honour that can be bestowed on a unit within the Armed Forces.

Community leaders, dignitaries and council officials, along with senior Naval officers, watched on as the Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Claire Darke, thanked HMS Forward for its duty to the community, she said; “For more than 20 years you has been a regular presence, forging strong links with Wolverhampton and Wulfrunians, developing relationships and supporting us at many events across the City.

“On behalf of Wolverhampton I am delighted to present this scroll and bestow on the Unit the freedom of our City.”

Royal Marines Brigadier Jock Fraser, Naval Regional Commander Wales and Western England said, “It has been a real joy to be in Wolverhampton today and to meet Royal Navy Reservists from HMS Forward who have proudly participated in this very special occasion.

“The presence of so many members of the public here in Wolverhampton city centre highlights the fantastic support that the Royal Navy and Royal Marines continue to enjoy from the people of Wolverhampton.”

Taking part in the parade was Leading Diver Robert Powell who has been a reservist for 12 years. He said the Unit had worked pretty hard getting their kit and drills correct before the parade.

“It has been a great honour for me to be here today. Everyone is really, really chuffed at receiving the Freedom of Wolverhampton.”

Similarly Petty Officer Chris Aspin, who stood alongside Robert and also had the privilege of being the Sailor carrying the Queen Colour during the Freedom parade.

Chris said, “I had the responsibility of bearing the White Ensign on behalf of HMS Forward. It’s not an honour that’s bestowed lightly, it’s a great honour for the Unit.

“There’s been a lot of hard work and effort from everybody in the Unit.

“Even the weather was working with us, but to be honest, even if it had of been pouring down we would have still proudly marched, it’s been immensely proud moment for us all.”