Last weekend was supposed to be the Freedom Weekend in Wantage with the Ship’s Company of HMS Queen Elizabeth exercising their Freedom of Wantage by marching from Newbury Street to the Market Place, where they would have been given their Freedom Scroll.
After the ceremony, they would have marched to the Manor Road Memorial Park with drums beating, bands playing, bayonets fixed, swords drawn and colours flying.
The Park would have been full of live music from local bands and Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth (Royal Band), and there would have been a Royal Navy parachute display and a Royal Navy Merlin Helicopter on the ground as well as lots of charity stalls and children’s entertainment.
But all of this had to be cancelled.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed for the Royal Navy. It’s 280 metres long, 70 metres wide at deck level and 56 metres high.
So it’s a little bit longer than the Memorial Park (the bow would be over the Comrades Club carpark) but would fit between the road and the edge of the tennis courts.
It’s more than three times the height of Wantage Church Tower so would definitely dominate the town.
The ship has a crew of around 700, increasing to 1,600 when a full complement of F-35B jets and Crowsnest helicopters are embarked. So the total crew is slightly smaller than the number of pupils in King Alfred’s School.
So why had the Mayor decided to give the Freedom of Wantage to an Aircraft Carrier?
When Major Sibbald was Mayor in 2011 he had already given the Freedom of Wantage to the Royal Scots Guards because Baron Wantage of Lockinge was an Ensign with the Scots Fusilier Guards in the Crimean War and won one of the first Victoria Crosses.
In March 2019 as the Chairman of the Wantage British Legion, Major Sibbald was invited, along with the Wantage Royal Naval Association, to visit HMS Queen Elizabeth because one of the Ship’s Company, a serving Lieutenant RN, went to school in Wantage and still lives here.
So when he became Mayor again, he wanted to show the appreciation of the Town to the flagship of the Navy.
Anyway Wantage was the birthplace of King Alfred who (some say) founded the English Navy and therefore Wantage is the birthplace of the Royal Navy so why shouldn’t they have the Freedom of Wantage?