HMS Kent celebrates the Freedom of the County of Kent

The ship's company of HMS Kent parade at County Hall in Maidstone

In a display of immaculate military ceremony, the ship’s company of HMS Kent thanked its namesake for the honour of being awarded the Freedom of the County.

The crew of Royal Navy’s Type 23 Duke class frigate marched through Maidstone today (Friday) waved on by excited schoolchildren’s homemade flags and shoppers, bathed in sunshine, applauding the parade.

They were in step with the Massed Bands of HM Royal Marines who accompanied them, alongside Kent Sea Cadets.

HM Band of the Royal Marines march through Maidstone

The Massed Bands of HM Royal Marines lead the parade

In a show of cross-party solidarity, the day before Members across the chamber at Kent County Council's (KCC) full meeting voted overwhelmingly to grant the ceremonial privilege for the first time, followed by a standing ovation.

This is the highest honour KCC can bestow and is a moment a number of years in the planning not to mention history-making in the process.

Chairman of KCC Gary Cooke presents the Freedom of the County of Kent to HMS Kent's Commanding Officer Jez Brettell

Chairman of KCC Gary Cooke presents the Freedom of the County of Kent scroll to Commanding Officer of HMS Kent Jez Brettell

As the ship’s ensign fluttered above County Hall, the Lord-Lieutenant of Kent The Lady Colgrain addressed the gathering with a special message from Vice Admiral Philip Hally, Chief of Defence People, about this historic bond. In it was reference to the poignancy of the military musicians being in Kent today, 34 years on from the bombing at the Royal Marines School of Music in Deal, killing 11 bandsmen and injuring many more.

The Lord-Lieutenant of Kent greets HM Royal Marines

The Lord-Lieutenant of Kent The Lady Colgrain speaks with HM Royal Marines

The Lady Colgrain read: “Today is not just an event of military significance; it's an opportunity to remember that behind the steel of a modern warship are the dedicated sailors who breathe life into its heart.

“The honour of the Freedom of Kent is a tribute to the men and women who serve in HMS Kent as much as it is to the ship itself and a potent symbol of the deep and enduring connection that exists between the people of Kent, the Royal Navy and the ship that bears the county's name.”

Gary Cooke, Chairman of Kent County Council, said: “I know that I speak for everyone when I say how much we applaud you all for your enthusiasm and smart turnout. The public including local school children showed their respect for all of you, giving you all a very warm welcome to Kent and to Maidstone in particular.

“You are all most welcome to come to Kent at any time and I know that KCC will now work closely in partnership with you. We are proud of you all. We salute for your bravery and your stated wish to help keep Britain safe and free.”

The HMS Kent ship's company march past County Hall in Maidstone

The ship's company march past County Hall

Commander Jez Brettell said: “How honoured we all feel in having the Freedom of Kent bestowed upon us. I feel today really seals the solid relationship that we now have with Kent County Council as together we work in partnership to support the armed forces including our ship’s company across Kent and beyond.

“As HMS Kent is deployed once more in the next few weeks, it is especially reassuring to the ship’s company to know the goodwill and support that you have shown today for us all and in the long term. I am sure that friendships will develop between the ship, the ship’s company and yourselves in the months and years ahead.”

Children wave flags at County Hall to welcome HMS Kent's crew

Pupils from Allington Primary School welcome the crew of HMS Kent

Canon Peter Bruinvels, Armed Forces Covenant Lead and Civilian-Military advisor for KCC, said: “I am so pleased for the ship’s company that they have been honoured in this very public way having got to know them so well during my recent tour with them in Norway. They are a family to me, and they are now a family to Kent and especially KCC. A special day which they will remember, and so will I.”

Two Able Seamen Josh and Peter in HMS Kent uniform

HMS Kent's Able Seamen Joshua Ovard  (lef) from Canterbury and Peter Asekokhai from Faversham

Able Seamen Joshua Ovard and Peter Asekokhai both serve on HMS Kent and said it was good to be back on home turf today. The 19-year-old from Canterbury and the 22-year-old from Faversham had family in the crowds.

Josh added: “It’s a special day and we’re glad to be a part of it.”

Also in attendance were veterans and members of the Royal Naval Association.

Leading prayers and giving the blessing was The Very Revd Dr Philip Hesketh, the Dean of Rochester Cathedral, which is home to an original bell from World War One's HMS Kent, rung every day at 11am in memory of those who fought and who fell.

HMS Kent on manoeuvres

HMS Kent on manoeuvres

HMS Kent in brief

HMS Kent is a Type 23 Duke class frigate and is the 12th ship to bear the name.

She was commissioned in 2000 and is named after the dukedom of Kent.  She was built on the Clyde and was launched by her sponsor Princess Alexandra of Kent in 1998.

The ship has a proud history with 16 Battle Honours, and units of the name have fought from the 17th century in Cromwell’s Navy fighting on the Barbary Coast, to the Spanish War of Succession in 1702 and fighting Napoleon’s forces in Egypt, through to more recent conflict in the 20th century in World War Two where Kent patrolled the Northern approaches and supported operations in Norway.

HMS Kent is a versatile anti-submarine frigate but is able to multi-purpose to the demands of a modern warship.

She is complemented with 185 sailors but can surge to over 200 when deployed on operations. Equipped with state-of-art weaponry, including Sea Ceptor anti-air missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and the ubiquitous 4.5” gun, HMS Kent is a formidable opponent.

Bearing a motto of ‘Invicta’ (Unconquered), the ship’s most dangerous asset when hunting submarines is her embarked helicopter (normally a Merlin Mk II, equipped with spearfish torpedoes).

Since her last refit in 2016-18, HMS Kent has deployed to the Gulf to conduct a range of tasking, including anti-piracy, commercial ship protection, and narcotics interdiction.

She then returned to the UK and undertook regional activity, including trips to the Baltic, Northern Europe, and the North Atlantic.  As part of the UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG), she conducted Operation Fortis in 2021, a multi-national task group that deployed for eight months to the Far East with the flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth.

This was a particularly challenging deployment in light of the COVID pandemic, although HMS Kent travelled as far as Japan and conducted regional defence engagement activity in Guam, Bangladesh, Kenya, and throughout the Mediterranean.

She returned to her home port of Portsmouth in November 2021.

The current Commanding Officer, Commander Jeremy ‘Jez’ Brettell joined in January 2022, and within a week the ship was activated to escort Russian units transiting near to the UK as they supported Russian combat operations in the Black Sea. The ship then enjoyed an affiliate visit to Dover in February and continued to regenerate, culminating in a six-week basic operational sea training package in summer 2022, whereby the equipment and personnel were tested in warfighting and emergency scenarios.

Having passed this important hurdle, HMS Kent then deployed with the UK CSG on Op Achillean, a short activity which focused on interoperability and supporting HMS Queen Elizabeth in the North and Norwegian Seas.

The operational tempo has not slowed in 2023 and HMS Kent conducted another period of operational training in the South West training areas, followed by deployment on Op Scything, a small task group mission to the High North and Arctic regions which saw Kent command five ships from the UK and Norway.

This activity in a challenging region (both climatically and politically) was followed by participation in Exercise Formidable Shield, the premier NATO ballistic missile defence exercise that included more than 20 ships and 35 aircraft from 13 NATO allies and partners.

HMS Kent is scheduled to return to Devonport in 2024 for a refit and deep maintenance period, but not before deploying again in autumn 2023 on another UK CSG tasking and whilst continuing to maintain her Very High Readiness status to support contingent operations

Further information

Find out more about the Armed Services Covenant here: