WAVING and cheering at the jetty, families eagerly awaiting their loved ones were delighted when the crew of HMS Illustrious rushed down the gangways on to dry land.
LET (WE) Darren Ward, of Bayntun Drive, Lee-on-the-Solent, was reunited with his wife Joanne, 27, and daughter Heidi, two, yesterday.
And soon after docking, Darren was on his way to surprise his other three children, Spencer, nine, Bailey, eight, and Amalie, five on the school pick-up, with the youngsters unaware their dad was home.
Joanne said: ‘We’ve got four all together. We’re going to surprise them on the school run. So we’re going to pick them up with him.
‘But Heidi understood. She was screaming “daddy” at the ship, really excited.
‘As soon as I saw the boat coming I was trying to find his little face.
‘It was hard at Christmas, you’re there on your own and you see the kids’ face light up and you know he’s missing it.’
Joanne has left the Christmas tree up at home so Darren can enjoy belated festivities.
Darren said: ‘It’s going to be interesting being the only house in the street with the Christmas tree up.
‘Actually opening some presents with the kids will be the nicest thing.
‘The biggest thing I’ve been looking forward to is spending time with the family.’
Elsewhere on the jetty, LET (ME) Callum Gonn was back together with his wife Tina, 41, and daughters Sofia, nine, and Elissa, four.
He said: ‘It’s a great relief to be back. We were supposed to be away for four months, it got extended to five.
‘We were away for a good cause helping the Philippines because of the disaster relief.’
Tina added: ‘It’s been hard work doing everything on your own. There was a hole there without him.’