HUNDREDS of people gathered in Portsmouth today to witness the end of a warship’s distinguished 32-year career.
HMS Illustrious returns to the city today for her final homecoming before she is decommissioned from Royal Navy service.
As reported in The News, the helicopter carrier is being replaced in service by Plymouth-based HMS Ocean, which has just come out of a £65m refit.
Ex-sailors, families and friends of those on board gathered along the Hot Walls and at the Round Tower in Old Portsmouth at lunchtime as the ship sailed in.
It marks the end of a class of ships, as Illustrious’ sister ships Invincible and Ark Royal have both already left service and been scrapped.
Kathy and John Donaldson of Denmead, came to see her arrival ahead of her decommissioning.
Kathy said: ‘We couldn’t let that go by without seeing her.
‘We didn’t want to miss it. It’s her last one we had to see it.’
Mike Carr, 69, and his wife Lynne, 62, of Southsea, were marking the end of the era as Illustrious is the last of her type to be decommissioned.
Mike said: It’s the end of an era but we’ll definitely come when HMS Queen Elizabeth comes.’
HMS Illustrious’ future is uncertain, but the Ministry of Defence has invited tenders from private companies, charities and trusts to put forward ideas on how to preserve the ship.
The second of the navy’s three Invincible-class aircraft carriers, Illustrious was built by Swan Hunter shipbuilders on the Tyne and launched by Princess Margaret in December 1978.
Work to complete the 22,000-tonne ship was speeded up during 1982 after the outbreak of the Falklands War.
Although the conflict ended before work was finished, Illustrious rapidly deployed and played an important role in the aftermath.
She relieved sister ship HMS Invincible in providing a ‘floating airfield’ for aircraft unable to use the islands’ damaged RAF base.
So quickly was she deployed, her commissioning ceremony took place at sea en route to the Falklands on June 20, 1982.
During the 1990s, Illustrious helped maintain the no-fly zone over Bosnia and in 1998 operated in the Gulf carrying out similar roles over southern Iraq.
She was soon called into action again in 2000, leading a task group aimed at restoring peace and stability to Sierra Leone.
The following year she played an important part in the war on terror in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks in America, staying in the region for several months.
In 2006, along with Type 42 destroyer HMS Gloucester, Illustrious helped in the evacuation of British citizens from Beirut caught up in the Israel-Lebanon crisis.
She hit the television screens in 2008 as the star of Channel 5’s six-part documentary Warship which followed her deployment to the Mediterranean, Africa, the Middle East and south-east Asia for a series of exercises and diplomatic visits to 20 ports.
And she made headlines around the world last year when she was diverted to assist with disaster relief operations in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.