THE CREW of the British navy’s flagship will parade through the streets of Wantage next year.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth was given the freedom of Wantage following a ceremony to commemorate 80 years since the sinking of the Royal Oak, in which 835 people died, including two residents of the town.

The Royal Oak was sunk on October 14, 1939, after being hit by torpedoes from a German U-Boat at Scapa Flow near the Orkney Islands.

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The HMS Royal Oak.

On Monday, October 14, residents of Wantage were joined by naval servicemen, as well as members of the Royal British Legion and local cadets for two ceremonies at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, and the Royal Oak pub.

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Town mayor, Jim Sibbald, said a ‘moving service of remembrance’ was held at the church for the two Wantage crewman of the HMS Royal Oak on the day it sank: Verdun Loos James Pierpoint, a marine, and Joseph Paschal Wilkins, an able seaman.

The second service in the pub commemorated all the seamen who died on the ship.

Major Sibbald said the invitation for the freedom of Wantage was initially thought of as unusual when he visited the ship and spoke to Commodore David Elford, naval regional commander for eastern England.

But once the mayor had explained the plan to commemorate the local connection to the navy, he said they were happy to take up the offer.

He said: “They knew we were sincere and what we wanted to do and were delighted to accept the freedom.”

As navy’s flagship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth has the freedom of the City of London and of Edinburgh.

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A freedom parade will be held in spring 2020, with crew members taking to the streets of Wantage in full uniform.

In a speech given during a town council meeting following the church service, the mayor said military units of the air force and the army had been granted in the past, and that it was fitting to grant freedom to a unit from the ‘senior service’ of the navy as well.

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The Royal Navy presented Tania Bolton, the great niece of Marine Pierpoint, with a White Ensign.

He said Wantage had a long established connection with the navy, despite being 41 miles from the sea in any direction.

The town was a centre for rope making in the 18th century, producing ships ropes for the HMS Victory, and Rev Edward Nelson, a relative of Admiral Nelson was once a curate in the parish church.

Marine Pierpoint grew up in Grove Street, and worked as an errand boy for a stationers shop before he enlisted in the navy in 1934, aged 17.

Marine Pierpoint’s descendants attended the ceremony and were presented with the naval ensign flag.

Also remembered at the ceremony was Lance Corporal Sarah Jayne Holmes, the last Wantage resident to die in conflict.

She died on October 14, 2007 after sustaining injuries in a road accident in Qatar.