HMS Dragon swoops in to adopted home of Cardiff and receives Freedom of City honour

In only her second ever visit to her adopted city, the Royal Navy’s HMS Dragon sailed into Cardiff on 14 May for five days.

The 152-metre ship built on the already strong bond which has formed between this modern ship and Cardiff in a very short time.

HMS Dragon also received the greatest honour which the capital can bestow – the Freedom of the City of Cardiff; only the 10th organisation to have received this great accolade since records began in 1886 and proudly building on the fond legacy which began with Type 42 destroyer HMS Cardiff back in 1988.

The ultra-modern Type 45 destroyer had a packed schedule which kicked off in earnest on Thursday as hundreds of young people from schools and colleges across the area went on board as part of pre-arranged tours, before civic dignitaries and other guests went on board for a capability demonstration in the evening.

I know all of the Ship’s Company are especially proud of our links to the city and to Wales. Moments like these are very important in the life of a ship.

Captain Rex Cox RN

The schools and colleges visits continued on Friday and on Saturday it was the turn of local Cardiff people to get their own taste of life on the ocean wave when HMS Dragon opened her gangway to members of the public.

These included Stanwell Comprehensive , Pontlanfraith Comprehensive, St Illtyd’s High School, Blackwood Comprehensive, Glyn Derw High School, Brynterion Comprehensive, Radyr Comprehensive, Ebbw Vale PSC, Pontypridd PSC, Cowbridge Comprehensive, as well as Sea Cadets from Barry, Penarth and Newport.

HMS Dragon’s crew  welcomed  local people on board and chatted to them about the ship, her role with the Royal Navy and, more broadly, as part of NATO and allied forces, throughout the world.

The greatest honour for the ship came on Sunday when Cardiff City Council honoured them with the Freedom of the City and, for the first time ever, the ship’s company exercised that right with a parade through the streets.

Colours flying drums beating and bayonets fixed, the 190-strong parade, led by The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines from the Commando Training Centre Lympstone, stepped off from City Hall to parade through the city centre.

As guests of the Lord Mayor, the ship’s company attended a civic reception in City Hall immediately after the parade.

HMS Dragon’s Commanding Officer, Captain Rex Cox, said: “It is a real honour for HMS Dragon to be awarded the Freedom of the City of Cardiff.

“I know all of the Ship’s Company are especially proud of our links to the city and to Wales. Moments like these are very important in the life of a ship.

“Our friendships and affiliations with organisations across the country, in particular Wales, give a ship an unbreakable link to our society and as sailors come and go, these links will outlast us all and become a part of HMS Dragon’s history.

“The Ship’s excellent relationship with Cardiff is made stronger by this great honour and I have no doubt it will endure for years to come.”

City Council Leader, Councillor Phil Bale, said:  “Granting HMS Dragon the Freedom of the City is a fitting tribute to the dignity and bravery with which the ship and its crew serve our interests.  The men and women of HMS Dragon are a true credit to the city.”

There are a number of crew members, too, for whom, as proud South Wales locals, this visit is a particular highlight.

Lieutenant Commander Richard Harris, 32, was born and bred in Cwmbran and joined the Royal Navy in 2002 after being sponsored to read Electronic Engineering at Southampton University by the Navy.

Richard is now the ship’s Weapon Engineering Officer, directly responsible to the Captain for the provision of weapons, sensors and information systems.

He has served in HMS Marlborough and HMS Iron Duke, as well as at the Ministry of Defence in London. 

“It’s great to be visiting Cardiff, the city has changed loads since I was growing up. Dragon is Cardiff’s Ship, so it is all the more special.”

Another member of the Ship’s Company who hails from South Wales is 34-year-old Petty Officer Andrew James.

Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Andrew joined the Royal Naval Reserve in 2001 before signing up for the full time Royal Navy in 2005 as a Communications Information Systems Rating.

Andrew has previously served on board HMS Ark Royal and Dragon’s sister HMS Diamond in the Arctic Circle, North Atlantic, Mediterranean and the Gulf regions.

Andrew is responsible for the team onboard who provide all of the ship’s high tech communications.

“It was a real honour for me to take part in the freedom of the City of Cardiff parade.  I had the privilege of being present at HMS Cardiff’s decommissioning ceremony in 2005 when her ship’s Company had a parade within Cardiff Castle.”

Keeping HMS Dragon’s teeth sharp is the responsibility of a select group of Weapon Engineers and among them is Leading Engineering Technician Anthony Lewis (23) from Bridgend.

Anthony signed up to join the Royal Navy in Cardiff. Anthony’s work revolves around the complex systems that are at the heart of Dragon, processing radar, video and data communications into a single picture for the Captain and his officer’s to make decisions from. 

“This is going to be a career highlight for met; it is not very often you get to visit your hometown’s port, and it is even rarer to be granted the freedom of it!”

HMS Dragon, the fourth of the Type 45 destroyers, joined the Fleet in November 2012.