With a ring box tucked firmly inside his pocket, sailor Jack Lowe waited nervously at the top of HMS Illustrious’ gangway as the ship came alongside.
It was the moment he had been waiting for as the Portsmouth-based helicopter carrier had a delayed return to the city after helping with a disaster relief effort in the Philippines.
The 20-year-old planned to propose to his girlfriend Amy Clarke, from Havant, when the couple went on holiday to Paris last month.
But the romantic trip was cancelled when HMS Illustrious was kept away at sea over the holidays.
Yesterday, as the ship came alongside in Portsmouth, Jack had his chance.
The leading engineering technician got down on one knee on the jetty at Portsmouth Naval Base and popped the question to Amy, who said yes with tears in her eyes.
Jack said: ‘I was really nervous but I had been planning it for a while.
‘I was gutted when I wasn’t able to ask her in Paris like I had planned.
‘But doing it today was fantastic and I’m really happy.’
Jack was one of hundreds of sailors who returned home to Portsmouth yesterday after a deployment which saw them provide disaster relief in the Philippines.
Amy said: ‘I’m really overwhelmed.
‘It was tough being away from Jack over the Christmas and the holidays.
‘I missed him and obviously it was a bit scary as well knowing he was going out into these places but I’m very proud of him.
‘I had no idea this was going to happen and I’m really happy.’
The Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier sailed into the city yesterday after those on board missed Christmas and the new year with their families to help in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
The ship’s company were operating in the Gulf when they were diverted to the Philippines to relieve Portsmouth-based Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring which was one of the first on the scene to offer aid.
Illustrious and her 650 crew then spent three weeks delivering emergency aid supplies and repairing broken infrastructure.
Jack added: ‘It was nice to feel like we were doing something that was really making a difference to people’s lives.
‘They needed aid more than we needed Christmas.’
Christmas comes back as dad returns home
A WEDDING anniversary, Christmas, and a birthday.
Lieutenant Dale Howard has had to celebrate all of these without his wife Aisia and little son Leo while he was away on HMS Illustrious.
But now the trio, of Farlington, Portsmouth, have had the perfect reunion when he returned yesterday – even the Christmas decorations are up.
‘We missed it all,’ said Lt Howard.
Aisia added: ‘We decided we’d save all the presents.
‘Over this week we’ve put up all the rest of our Christmas decorations, so the house is fully Christmas now.
‘We are going home, we’ll open some of the presents from under the tree, we’re going to have a nice dinner.
‘Santa is going to come and visit us – it’s going to be a weekend of Christmas, Christmas, Christmas.’
Back in his dad’s arms, little Leo added: ‘I wanted to see him. I’ve been excited.’
And Lt Howard, who enjoyed runs ashore in Goa and Singapore, is making up for missing the anniversary – he won’t be going to play darts.
‘On the way back it just seemed forever to get home though,’ he said.
‘It’s amazing, I was nervous about coming home.’
‘When we come back we can’t just steamroller in and come back. I’ve got to be careful.
‘I’m not going to go to darts. I think I’ll get in trouble for that – I’ll go next week.
‘It’s been busy, initially it was just a training operation.’
Additional reporting by Ben Fishwick