TEARFUL crowds gathered for an emotional farewell to the Ark Royal yesterday as the doomed Royal Navy flagship was decommissioned.
The last 150 sailors serving on Britain’s most famous warship watched as her white ensign was lowered for the final time.
Principal guest First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope inspected a guard comprising 30 of the ship’s company at the aircraft carrier’s home port of Portsmouth.
The Royal Marines Band played ceremonial music during the hour-long service given by the ship’s chaplain and attended by more than 900 family and former commanding officers.
The 689ft-long ship was controversially decommissioned three years early due to Government cuts.
Captain Jerry Kyd, last Commanding Officer of HMS Ark Royal, who now commands sister ship HMS Illustrious, said: “Ark Royal is the best of British and represents everything great about our country.
“I’m very proud to have served as her last captain. Ark Royal has played a very important role throughout her history and has had considerable success in delivering carrier strike.
“My very first job after finishing my initial officer training 25 years ago at Dartmouth was in the then brand-new HMS Ark Royal.” Ark Royal’s operations included a pivotal role in the Nato campaign during the Bosnia conflict. In early 2003 she led the UK’s naval forces during the invasion of Iraq.
She clocked up 621,551 nautical miles during her career.
One of the final crew members of the Ark Royal was Wren Shannon Brown, 20, from Hull.
She said: “I have to admit I had a lump in my throat during the ceremony and at times it was hard to hold it together.”
The ship, the fifth to bear the name Ark Royal, was launched in 1981 on the River Tyne by the Queen Mother.
The name Ark Royal has played an important role in Royal Navy history since the first ship earned her stripes against the Spanish Armada in 1588.
The third Ark Royal played an integral part in the Second World War, helping to track down German battleship Bismarck before herself being torpedoed and sunk.
The ship’s future is unclear. She may be sold, used for spares or turned into a museum.
The decision to scrap her leaves the UK without the ability to launch fast jets from a British carrier until the Queen Elizabeth class comes into service at the end of the decade.