Final Ark Royal returns from the first 21st century war

A lone piper plays in HMS Ark Royal as she is welcomed  back to Portsmouth Harbour by huge crowds along the water front..
PICTURE: IAN HARGREAVES.  (032434-3)
A lone piper plays in HMS Ark Royal as she is welcomed back to Portsmouth Harbour by huge crowds along the water front.. PICTURE: IAN HARGREAVES. (032434-3)

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Can it really be 13 years since thousands of people turned out to welcome HMS Ark Royal back to Portsmouth at the end of the second Gulf War?

That was in May 2003 and, of course, she was to make her final, poignant entrance into Portsmouth Harbour seven years later in December 2010 when her service controversially ended.

An HMS Ark Royal officer and a sailor wave to family on the quayside  PICTURE:JONATHAN BRADY

An HMS Ark Royal officer and a sailor wave to family on the quayside PICTURE:JONATHAN BRADY

More than 850 servicemen and women, the combined ships’ companies of Ark Royal and her escort the Type 42 destroyer HMS York, returned home on that wet and windy day – the first surface warships to return to the UK from Iraq.

Ark Royal’s commanding officer, Captain Alan Massey, said: ‘It was a tough job and I am immensely proud that my crew pulled it off. I do not think the public understand what the navy has achieved.’

Ark Royal sailed from Portsmouth on January 11, 2003, leading Britain’s largest maritime task force since the 1982 Falklands War.

Sailors aboard HMS Ark Royal wave to a civilian vessel full of wellwishers welcoming home  the aircraft carrier

Sailors aboard HMS Ark Royal wave to a civilian vessel full of wellwishers welcoming home the aircraft carrier

HMS Ark Royal returns to Portsmouth Naval Base after service in the war against Iraq.

Waiting friends and family of sailors wave as the Ark comes along side. HMS Invincible is in the background.

PICTURE: MATT SCOTT-JOYNT (032428-19)

HMS Ark Royal returns to Portsmouth Naval Base after service in the war against Iraq. Waiting friends and family of sailors wave as the Ark comes along side. HMS Invincible is in the background. PICTURE: MATT SCOTT-JOYNT (032428-19)