GUNSHOTS boomed across Portsmouth Harbour in a final salute to one of the navy’s last Type 42 destroyers.
Flanked by tugs spraying water cannons, HMS York fired a 17-gun salute as she approached Southsea for the last time yesterday.
Hundreds of people cheered the sailors home from the waterfront at Old Portsmouth.
And sailors from other ships lined their decks as HMS York passed them on the way to her jetty.
The ship’s commanding officer, Commander Rex Cox, told The News: ‘It’s an emotional day, bringing her home for the last time.
‘The welcome from the other ships and the general public was amazing.
‘The hairs on the back of my neck were going up and I suspect there were a few moist eyes among the ship’s company.
‘I will always have fond memories of York and her crew.
‘You have just go to look at what she has achieved in the last 27 years.’
Flags flying from the top of Semaphore Tower, at Portsmouth Naval Base, greeted the ship with the message ‘welcome home.’
The saluting gun at Gosport’s Fort Blockhouse fired its own gun salute in return to the ship.
Matthew Kiff, 14, and Annabelle Kiff, 12, were on board the warship with their father for the final few days before its homecoming.
Lieutenant Commander Ian Kiff, from Stubbington, invited them to join him on board when the ship was in Hull.
It was part of the Royal Navy’s Parents and Children at Sea programme.
Over the last two days they helped out in the ship’s galley, cleaned weapons and kept a watch on the bridge.
Lt Cdr Kiff, the ship’s weapon engineering officer, said: ‘The whole thing has been really good for them and they have had a really good time.
‘Annabelle was in the galley and Matthew was learning to strip down some weapons.
‘They have loved it and they didn’t want to come off the ship.
‘They were a credit to themselves.’
Mum Sarah Kiff, 43, was waiting for her family at the naval base.
She said: ‘I think it was a really nice thing for them to have been able to go on board.
‘I’m very excited for them but also a bit sad that this is it for HMS York.’
Matthew said: ‘My favourite part was going on the ship’s bridge.
‘It was exceptional and the food was better than I thought it would be.’
Annabelle added: ‘Being in the galley was fun.
‘The whole thing was pretty cool.’
The end of HMS York’s service leaves the navy with one Type 42 destroyer remaining – HMS Edinburgh. She leaves Portsmouth on her final planned deployment on Monday.
HMS York will be officially decommissioned in a ceremony at the naval base on Thursday.
Keeping with naval tradition, the ship flew a decommissioning pennant for her final return to her Portsmouth base yesterday.
At the weekend, the ship’s company of 240 exercised their freedom of the city of York for the last time.
COLOURFUL LIFE AT SEA
HMS YORK has enjoyed a colourful life at sea.
She has sailed more than 750,000 miles around the world, protecting the nation’s interests from the South Atlantic to Iraq and Lebanon.
HMS York is the youngest of the navy’s Type 42 destroyers, built by Swan Hunter at Wallsend and launched on June 20, 1982.
She was then commissioned into the Royal Navy’s fleet in 1985.
HMS York’s first deployment was to the far east in 1986 to 1987.
She was sent on operations in the Gulf four times in the 1990s and saw front-line action in 2003 when she provided air cover to aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal during the invasion of Iraq.
In 2006, the destroyer joined sister ship HMS Gloucester to evacuate British nationals from Beirut during the Israel-Lebanon conflict, ferrying evacuees to Cyprus.
Last year was a busy year for HMS York. After preparing for a deployment to the South Atlantic, she was diverted to the Mediterranean to provide a British presence off Libya during the uprising there.
She was later sent to Malta to help in the rescue of British evacuees.
As the Fleet Ready Escort, which responds to events at short notice, HMS York was also alerted to the presence of the Russian Kuznetsov task group near the Orkney Islands in December.
After spending a week shadowing the Russians, the destroyer came home to Portsmouth.