This weekend will see the last visit by Newport’s own Royal Navy ship, HMS Severn. MARTIN WADE looks back at the special relationship between the city and the ship.

Since they were twinned in 2003, thousands of Newport people have gone onboard the Severn and the men and women of the ship have played a major role as ambassadors of the senior service to the city.

The vessel joined the fleet in August 2003 at an auspicious time. In the presence of the Queen, the 1,700-tonne patrol vessel joined the carrier HMS Ocean during a review of 20 vessels of the Royal Navy to mark the granting of a new Colour to the Fleet and the 415th anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

As well as Her Majesty and Admiral Sir Jonathan Band, the Fleet’s commander-in-chief, was the mayor of Newport, Cllr Ray Truman, who said the twinning of Newport with a ship of the Royal Navy was particularly appropriate given the city’s long and distinguished maritime history.

Looking forward to her first visit to Newport he said: “We wish HMS Severn well and we shall be particularly pleased to welcome her to Newport in September”.

That visit was the first of many to the city and her company would become a regular visitor.

The main role of the ship was the enforcement of national and EU fishing rules within British waters. The patrol vessel is the ninth to carry the name Severn since 1695 and has a crew of 43 and a range of 6,000 miles.

With one 20mm gun and supporting small arms she is also set up to help Customs and Excise and also take part in homeland defence.

The ship was also designed to carry out a number of other tasks including environmental protection, search and rescue and maritime security.

Based in Portsmouth, HMS Severn typically spent around 320 days at sea around England, Wales and Northern Ireland and has made an annual visit to Newport over the last 14 years.

As well as being affiliated to Newport itself she was linked with schools and organisations in the city, including Bassaleg School, St Michael’s School in Pill, Newport Sea Cadets and Army reserve unit 104 Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Each time the Severn came to Newport, pupils from local schools, cadets, dignitaries and more would tour the ship and her crew would have a busy schedule of parades, visits and even football matches against local teams.

A solemn duty performed in June 2006 by members of her company was when they bore the coffin of Gwent Royal Navy veteran and former boxer Jim Blackborow.

The former sailor served in several theatres in the Second World War, was mentioned in dispatches and was the son of Antarctic explorer Perce Blackborow.

Six ratings from the Severn carried his body into St Stephen’s Church in Pill, not far from where the 84-year-old was born.

They honoured another veteran in 2013 when crew-members presented a Risca naval man with his war medals.

Great-grandfather Cliff Davies served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, seeing service in the South Atlantic, Egypt and in the Arctic convoys.

In the run-up to his 90th birthday he was presented with a display case containing his medals and photographs from then and now by members of HMS Severn’s crew.

Petty Officer Wilkinson, Leading Engineering Technician Sinclair, Lieutenant Berry and Able Seaman Butterworth, of HMS Severn, presented Mr Davies with his medals while their ship visited Newport for Remembrance Day that year.

There was light and shade for the Severn’s many visits to Newport and her company were there to bring fun the city too.

In 2012 when Newport was scattered with colourful Super-Dragon sculptures, one of them found its way on to the deck of the Severn.

The brightly coloured floral dragon, called Blodeuwedd, sat proudly near the bow of the vessel on a visit to the city.

In July 2016 a Newport youth group aiming to reduce anti-social behaviour in their area learnt about life at sea on a tour of the ship.

Members of the Shaftesbury 'Youf Gang' [sic] – made up of nine to 14 year olds – were shown the ropes by Lieutenant Commander James Reynolds and Sub-Lieutenant James Broad at Newport Docks.

Captivated youngsters were shown the ship’s equipment and also got to sit in the captain’s chair, with the stunning backdrop of the Transporter Bridge behind them.

Sometimes by happy coincidence, one of the ship’s company was a native of Newport and her visit became something of a homecoming.

In June 2012 a Newport sailor, Ken Brickell, came home on a Royal Navy ship for the first time in his 22 years of service.

The 53-year-old leading seaman, known, unsurprisingly to his ship mates as ‘Taff’, returned to Newport on HMS Severn when she visited its own ‘home’ city.

Mr Brickell joined the Navy after leaving Hartridge High School in Newport.

Since then, he travelled with the Navy to places as varied as Sierra Leone and the Falklands, but this was the first time in nearly a quarter of a century of service that he came home to Newport with a ship.

Mr Brickell, said at the time: “I’m from Ringland originally and live up in Llanyravon now, so to come back to Newport with the ship is absolutely brilliant.”

The ship’s commanding officer at the time, Lieutenant Commander Marcus Hember, was equally positive about the ship’s return to Newport.

He said: “The city of Newport make us so welcome, it has been a great relationship over the last nearly 10 years.

These affiliate events really are one of the highlights of the men’s year.”

As well as patrols around the UK and visits to Newport, the Severn was deployed to distant shores during her career.

The Severn sailed across the Atlantic in February 2015 on a seven-month deployment to the Caribbean.

As the recent relief efforts in that part of the world have shown, British forces still play a key role in the Caribbean.

One of the Severn’s jobs was to provide assistance in the event of natural disasters, alongside tackling drug smugglers and providing reassurance to overseas territories in the region.

She visited the British territory of Anguilla and her crew gave training in firefighting and boarding fishing vessels. She also visited Bridgetown in Barbados and Nassau in the Bahamas.

The ship’s company have also been regulars at Newport’s Remembrance Sunday parades and have also taken part in the mayor’s civic service parade when the crew marched to Newport Cathedral.

They will march through Newport for the last time this weekend when she pays her final visit to the city, before being taken out of service at the end of the month.

The parade will start at noon on Saturday in Cambrian Road, then then turning left into Bridge Street, then left again into High Street before marching up to the D-Day Memorial, where a short service will take place.

The parade will then travel down High Street, cross Stow Hill and continue down Commercial Street to its junction with Charles Street and Llanarth Street.

As HMS Severn was welcomed to Newport on behalf of the council 14 years ago, so they have expressed their sorrow as the twinning comes to an end.

Council leader Cllr Debbie Wilcox said: “We are sad HMS Severn, which has patrolled the shores of the UK for many years, is now being decommissioned.”

This last march will give Newport people the chance to say farewell to a ship which has been a good friend to the city.