THE captain of HMS Middleton rushed from his warship to cradle his newborn daughter for the first time when the ship returned home to Portsmouth yesterday.
Lieutenant Commander Steve Higham, 37, of Southsea, cuddled wife Cassandra, 34, and their first child Georgiana, who was born nine weeks ago.
He told The News: ‘It’s the first time I’ve seen her. She’s so beautiful, it’s quite overwhelming.’
Middleton was welcomed home by 200 relatives who cheered and waved Union flags at the naval base.
The small minehunter has been on patrols in the Gulf for the last three years, with her crews of 45 swapping over twice a year.
Speaking just after coming alongside, Lt Cdr Higham said: ‘It’s one of those days when there’s a whole series of emotions.
‘There’s joy at being back with our families, relief that we’ve got the ship back having travelled 7,500 miles, and we’ve got all our people back from operations successfully.
‘It’s an absolute joy to be here now and I can get on with the most important job of all – being a father and a husband.’
The sailors who brought Middleton home have been on the ship for the last eight months. During that time, she has patrolled with the US Navy in potentially dangerous waters near Iran, carried out mine clearance training exercices with the French and Omani navies and conducted counter-piracy patrols.
Just last month, she came to the aid of a drifting cargo ship in pirate-infested waters off Somalia.
The warship crept into the basin at the naval base with a backdrop of historic Sea Fury and a Chipmunk planes performing a flypast.
Relatives, with tears in their eyes, frantically waved and joined in with three cheers before the sailors tied up and got ashore.
Leading Seaman Michael Richardson, 29, was reunited with his fiance Wendy Hall, 30, and their two-year-old twin daughters Ambser and Daisy.
He said: ‘It’s been a really busy deployment, now I’m just glad to be back home with my family.’
Wendy added: ‘We’ve missed him so much, it’s brilliant to have him back. We’re getting married in three weeks’ time so it’s a good job that he’s home.’
Leading Engineer Technician David Thompson, 24, said: ‘I know the whole ship’s company have been looking forward to coming home. Eight months is a long time.
‘I only joined the ship as a relief a couple of weeks ago so I feel like a bit of a fraud, but even with that short space of time away from my family it’s great to be home.’
Middleton’s sister ship HMS Pembroke, which deployed with her to the Gulf in 2009, returned to her base in Faslane yesterday.