BOUNDING down the gangway and into the arms of their loved ones, these Royal Navy sailors were thrilled to be home in time for Christmas.
The ship’s company of HMS Defender were met with cheers and tears yesterday as the Type 45 destroyer arrived back in Portsmouth after six months away.
Hundreds of family members packed the chilly jetty at Portsmouth Naval Base to welcome the men and women of Defender home.
One of the first off the ship was Able Seaman Curt Smith, 27, of Gosport.
He was reunited with son Jack, three, pictured right in his sailor outfit, daughters Sophie, 13, and Danielle, nine, plus wife Lucy 31.
AB Smith said: ‘I’m so excited to be back home.
‘It feels so good to come back to a welcome like this.’
As revealed by The News earlier this year, HMS Defender spent part of her deployment supporting a US-led carrier task group which was conducting air strikes in the fight against Isil in Iraq.
Defender has clocked up more than 35,000 nautical miles since leaving the UK in June.
Yesterday’s homecoming was particularly poignant for many of those on board, as the ship’s company missed Christmas with their families last year after being called up to track a Russian naval task group which passed near the coast of the UK.
They left Portsmouth on December 19 and did not return until January 9.
Leading Writer Rhian Killpatrick said: ‘Having spent last Christmas at sea and over six months deployed in the Gulf we are all hugely looking forward to returning home to our loved ones.
‘The ship has achieved an incredible amount during the last 12 months and playing a part in this maiden deployment has been an exciting time.’
Defender will now take some well-earned leave, before a maintenance period in the New Year.
Engineering Technician (Weapons Engineering) Aaron Matthews, 29, from Fareham, was welcomed home by his wife Anna, 28, 18-month-old daughter Elizabeth, and his eight week-old son Alexander.
Anna said: ‘I am truly chuffed it’s all over, it’s so good to have him back home to share the sleepless nights with. We really missed him and it’s great to have him back with us.’
Aaron was flown home briefly to meet his new son earlier this year.
He said: ‘I am very pleased to be back home. It takes its toll, some days are good and some days you’re down. I missed the family a lot, and I am looking forward to spending some time with them.’
One sailor on the ship was so eager to be reunited with his fiancée that he spent £170 in order to be the first one off.
Leading Seaman Craig Jacobs, 26, won the opportunity to lead the crew off the ship by bidding for it in a raffle held to raise money for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity.
He said: ‘It’s going to a good cause which does a lot of good work.’