CHEEKY Max Grayston pinched his dad Ashley’s tally cap just minutes after they were reunited at Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday.
The playful scene summed up the atmosphere as men and women returning from the Libya war rushed off their ship to hold their children.
Relieved families embraced on the jetty after HMS Liverpool made an emotional return following seven months of fighting in the warzone.
The ship was tasked to go to the Mediterranean for 14 weeks in April but two extensions to the programme meant at times the sailors were not sure when they’d ever come home.
‘It’s amazing to be back,’ said Ashley, 27, of Portsmouth, as he cuddled his two-year-old son.
He added: ‘After all the delays and getting our hopes up it’s a relief to finally be home.
‘Max is getting to the age when he knows I’m not there and asks after me, so seeing his smile when I saw him was wonderful.
‘It’s great to be able to pick him up and hold him in my arms again.’
For 26-year-old Phil Buchan, the homecoming meant seeing his first-born son Lucas for the first time since he was just 12 days old.
‘He’s so big,’ said the Southsea-based Petty Officer, who was allowed to fly home for the birth three months ago but had to go back 12 days later.
He said: ‘It was pretty heart-wrenching leaving home again. But being back now and holding him is just amazing.’
Mum Grace, 29, was glad to have her man back.
She said: ‘It’s brilliant. They’ve been doing such a good job out there and it feels like they’ve been away so long. It’s great to have him back safe and sound.
‘It was tough being apart but obviously I knew they are well trained and I knew they would be all right.
‘It was hard knowing Lucas would not see his daddy again for a few months but now he’s back so it’s my turn to have a lay in and get some rest while he gets on with the nappy changing and getting up early with him in the mornings.’
A huge cheer went up when Liverpool approached the jetty where more than 1,000 relatives and friends had gathered with banners for their loved ones.
Other warships also turned out to see her return, including fellow Libya veteran HMS Brocklesby which led three cheers.
After tying up alongside, sailors were given the order they had waited months for – ship dismissed.
Marine Engineer Matthew Williams, 20, of Middlesbrough, ran to cradle his three-month-old son Jack and kissed his fiancee Sophie.
He said: ‘I came home for two weeks for the birth but I haven’t seen them since. It was hard being away from my family and it’s really emotional to be back.’
Sophie said: ‘It’s been a lot of hard work. It’s brilliant he’s back.’