They missed the opportunity to spend Christmas with their families to help those in the world who needed their aid.
Now, the crew of HMS Illustrious are back home with their loved ones after their ship returned to Portsmouth yesterday to a heroic welcome.
People lined the jetty in their thousands at Portsmouth Naval Base to welcome home sons, brothers, mums, dads, and daughters.
The hundreds of sailors on board could hardly contain their excitement as the helicopter carrier arrived back in the city following an extended deployment.
HMS Illustrious sailed in August on the Royal Navy’s annual deployment, codenamed Cougar, and was supposed to be home before Christmas.
But after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, causing devastation to villages on remote islands, the carrier was immediately sent to help.
After the ship’s job well done, top naval officers, government ministers, and families have now lined up to pile on the praise.
The first person to disembark at Portsmouth was the commanding officer, Captain Mike Utley, who was met by his wife Charlotte, and his five daughters, Harriet, 14, Isabelle, 12, Emily, eight, Beatrice, seven, and Imogen, four.
Capt Utley said: ‘Everybody on board has the sense of a job well done, and I am proud of the ship’s company and what we have achieved.
‘Changing task and sailing 5,000 miles at short notice was a challenge but one that we rose to.
‘It was a shocking disaster but we knew would could bring the type of support they needed.
‘So many of my team were saying they felt it was more important to help these people, and although they missed Christmas, Christmas is only one day.’
The armed forces minister Mark Francois was on board HMS Illustrious yesterday morning to welcome the ship back to Portsmouth.
He told The News: ‘The people on board this ship are carrying out the best traditions of the Royal Navy.
‘I think people all over the country should be proud of what they have achieved but particularly in Portsmouth.
‘HMS Illustrious played a vital role in getting critical aid supplies and medics to the worst hit areas of the Philippines, including some of the most hard to reach islands.
‘Her crew, their families and friends have dealt admirably with unplanned separation over Christmas and the New Year to make that happen.’
The Second Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral Sir David Steel, also joined the ship yesterday morning to meet the crew on their homecoming day.
Prime Minister David Cameron posted a message on Twitter, saying: ‘Welcome home HMS Illustrious.
‘Thanks for giving up Christmas at home to help more than 40,000 people recover from Typhoon Haiyan.’
Lusty has been away for 152 days, including 128 days at sea.
The ship has steamed 36,000 miles and visited 10 countries.
As reported in The News, HMS Illustrious spent three weeks delivering emergency aid supplies and repairing broken infrastructure in the Philippines.
They helped deliver medical assistance, fresh water, and shelter those left devastated by the typhoon.
Estimates suggest the ship was able to help 40,000 people recover from the disaster.
Commodore Martin Cochrane, the Commodore Portsmouth Flotilla, said: ‘We’re immensely proud of what HMS Illustrious has achieved.
‘It’s been an amazing deployment because she’s done work in the Mediterranean, work in the Middle East, and the Far East for the Philippines for the disaster.
‘We’re very proud of our families, we can’t do anything without the support of our families.
‘The families really are part of the ship.
‘I always think that the ships are like the tip of the spear and there’s a huge machine behind on the handle, and the families are part of that, the naval base is part of that, broader Pompey is part of that.’
Yesterday’s homecoming will not be the helicopter carrier’s last before she is decommissioned later this year.
The warship is expected to undergo a period of maintenance in Portsmouth before one final deployment.
Additional reporting by Ben Fishwick