SOUTHAMPTON is set to bestow its highest honour on the Royal Navy warship that takes the city's name around the world and on the troops of 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps based at Marchwood.

Councillors will gather at the Civic Centre next Wednesday to formally vote that the honorary Freedom of the City should be given to the crew of the guided missile destroyer HMS Southampton and the soldiers who operate Marchwood Military Port on Southampton Water.

The honour to "commemorate the city's long and close association'' with the ship and the regiment is due to be highlighted in a full military parade at the Civic Centre forecourt on Wednesday, January 26.

HMS Southampton, which was built by Vosper Thornycroft at Woolston, and the regiment will join a long and distinguished list of individuals and organisations, both well-known locally and nationally, who have received the city's ultimate gift in previous years.

Southampton Football Club, Cunard's luxury liner, Queen Elizabeth 2, former soldiers of the Royal Hampshire Regiment and many other personalities from past decades all make up the list of 75 honorary freemen of Southampton.

Ornate scrolls in specially commissioned caskets will be handed over to the sailors and soldiers in front of hundreds of guests.

Besides being the top honour of any city, military units who are Freemen of the City are able to march through the streets with "Colours flying, drums beating and bayonets fixed.''

HMS Southampton was laid down on Trafalgar Day, October 21 in 1976 at the Woolston yard, launched in 1979 and commissioned into service two years later.

The sixth ship of that name, HMS Southampton, a Type 42 destroyer, has over the years developed many links with her home city and her crew has raised an enormous amount of money for local charities.

HMS Southampton has been in the headlines many times in her career including rescuing 13 people from a tiny Caribbean island during a devastating hurricane in 1995.

At one time in 1988 HMS Southampton was nearly lost altogether as a result of a major collision with a huge container ship in the Gulf of Oman.

The soldiers who work at Marchwood Military Port are well known in the community for their role in supporting British forces around the world.

Only last year the Port and Maritime troops worked round the clock when Marchwood was loading stores and equipment during the Balkan crisis.

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