There were emotional scenes on the jetty when more than 600 of families and friends greeted their loved ones on Devonport-based Royal Navy warship HMS Campbeltown - home today (Friday 23 May) after a seven-month deployment.
Joyous crowds cheered, cried with joy and waved banners complete with loving messages and pictures of their missed family and friends as the frigate tied up in Devonport accompanied by a Royal Marine Band.
HMS Campbeltown has been part of the Royal Navy’s presence East of Suez and during the deployment the ship has been conducting Operation Calash and Operation Telic duties in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Northern Arabian Gulf. The crew are now set to enjoy four weeks of well-earned leave.
Thomas Gill, 22, of Partington, Manchester, was greeted by a party including his aunt Julie and sister Charmain, his girlfriend Lianne, cousin Terelle, nephew Harrison, age four, dad Tommy and mother Julie and nan Joan. This was his first deployment on a ship after training at HMS Raleigh. As a warfare specialist Thomas worked in the operations room giving a picture of the
Many boats that crowd the Gulf and who had to be checked in case they posed a threat to the oil production platforms or the naval task forces protecting the oil field and sea lanes.
Thomas said: “It was my first deployment and just as exciting as I expected. I really enjoyed it and making loads of good mates. But it was tough being away from my family.”
Thomas, who worked for a building society, before joining the Royal Navy to ‘do something for his country’, will now enjoy a giant party organised by his family.
Lianne said: “It’s great to have him back.”
One of the most emotional sailors on board was Chef Dave Trotter, 53, who is not only leaving his last warship of his career, but also leaving the Navy (after his leave) after 30 years’ eventful service during which his ship HMS Ardent was sunk during the Falklands Conflict. He has three children, all in the Royal Navy, Susan Shipley, of 40 Commando, Stephen, a steward in HMS Cattistock, and Mike, a leading photographer.
Warrant Officer David Riis-White, was met by his wife Inger and daughter Ellen, 13, of Plymouth. He said: “We were doing a very worthwhile job out there in the Gulf and we did it very well. It was very intense with a heavy workload. But it is fantastic to be back with my family. I am looking forward to supporting Ellen again with her sports.”
Ellen said: “I am so happy dad is back again. I do biathlons, swimming and running and have an event his weekend for him to be there with me.”
Sarah Williams greeted her husband the Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Colin Williams with their daughters Isabelle, 9, and Hermione, 7, who waved their home made banner greeting their father.
Sarah said: “It has been a long time without Colin and very hard, but this is a very happy day.” Isabelle said: “I have missed daddy and want to see him again.”
Adam South, 24, of Devonport, Plymouth, is a communicator on board HMS Campbeltown who communicates with other ships to check their security status. He said: “This was my first ship after training at HMS Raleigh. It was a great experience - just as I was hoping and more.”
Adam, an amateur DJ and Manchester United fan, was met by a large crowd of family and friends including his sister Katie who said: “I have really missed Adam, from Peverell. He really loved it out there and kept telling us that when he was phoning home.” Adam’s best friend Lara said: “It I so great to have him back again. Life hasn’t been the same without him.”
Lieutenant Commander James McLellan, the ship’s weapons engineering officer, was reacquainted on the jetty with his first child again, his son Thomas, who was born 12 weeks ago during the ship’s deployment. James said: “I was allowed to see Thomas for a week after he was born but had to go back to my ship, so it is extra special to come back and be met by my new little family. The deployment was a great success and I was proud to be part of it. Now I have to learn new skills, like nappy changing and bottle feeding, a contrast to weapons!”
His wife Emma, a florist with Mesher and McLellan, of Hartley, Plymouth, said: “It’s good to have us altogether as a new family again.”
HMS Campbeltown has worked extremely hard since leaving Devonport in October last year. The first few months of the deployment, up until the turn of the year, were spent conducting Operation Calash which involves patrolling the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden areas in the drive towards countering international terrorism.
HMS Campbeltown’s commanding officer, Commander Gordon Abernethy said: “This has been a really challenging deployment. The ship and the ship’s company are a real asset and have made a significant impact in countering global terrorism and working towards getting Iraq stabilised again. We have all missed our families tremendously, they have given us all a great deal of support, but know that we have an important job to do and the ship’s company should feel proud of what we have achieved.”
He said the Iraqi navy was now being rebuilt and retrained with the help of the Royal Navy after the shattering blow of the Iraq war.
Since the turn of the year Campbeltown has been part of Operation Telic, as part of a
multi-national coalition task force that protects the Iraqi oil platforms, which generate 95% of the nations income. The main role provides 24-hour-a-day security for 365 days a year in congested water where traffic ranges from small fishing dhows up to vast oil tankers. The task force is also working hard to assist and train the Iraqi Navy to eventually assume the same role.
The ship’s company did get the chance to take some rest and recuperation during the deployment, notably a 12-day stand off in Dubai where the ship conducted a maintenance period while many of the crew also flew family and friends out to meet them. A popular feature was an indoor ski centre with many of the ship’s company taking the unexpected chance to learn to ski in the Middle East.
Most of the time deployed has been at sea but HMS Campbeltown ship has also taken part in football, rugby and hockey during port visits against local teams.
The sailors raised funds for the various charities through events such as 'Row the Suez' and a 24-hour ‘liftathon’. ‘Row the Suez Canal’ involves rowing on a rowing machine continuously for a ‘distance’ of 162 km, equivalent to the length of the canal, to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Eight members of the warrant officers’ and chief petty officers’ mess also staged a 24-hour ‘Liftathon’, a weight-lifting endurance event, lifting about 1,075 tonnes with each lifter completing 60,000 lifts. The events raised £1,898 for Granby Island Community Centre, who support under-privileged local children and youngsters in Devonport, Plymouth.
After 29,100 miles and 221 days away HMS Campbeltown and her ship’s company are be pleased to return home to Devonport. The crew will enjoy their leave before the ship undertakes a maintenance period to prepare her for a busy operating programme between now and entering refit in November.