SHE hasn’t been home for more than three years.
But yesterday minehunter HMS Chiddingfold and her 47-strong crew were given a hero’s welcome as she sailed back into Portsmouth.
Family and friends of the ship’s company lined the naval base to see their loved ones, who have been at sea for eight months.
The warship was returning from the Arabian Gulf where she had been conducting security patrols since 2014.
Operating out of Bahrain, in blistering heat, the vessel is part of the UK’s permanent commitment to maintaining a mine countermeasures presence in the region.
As well as tackling security operations, Chiddingfold also carried out regular training exercises with other nations.
Her crew of 47 changed about every six months, with the last team taking over just after Christmas last year.
And for the families waiting on the jetty, it was a moment of pure delight.
Hannah Green, 25, of Gosport, hadn’t seen her partner AB Fraser Hannibal, 25, since April.
‘He has actually been away for 10 months at sea this year, which has been so tough,’ she said. ‘Before this deployment he went to the Mediterranean to help the migrants. He came home for Christmas then went back out. I’m hoping that he is going to be staying her for a bit – I’m going to have to lock him up in a cupboard.’
Fraser’s mum Veva, 51, said: ‘I feel so, so proud of him for everything that he has achieved. It makes you feel proud to be British.’
Rikki Scott, 25, of Portsmouth, hugged her partner Lieutenant David Griffiths, 27, as he left the ship. She said: ‘I’ve finally got my boy back.’
Lt Griffiths added: ‘It’s an amazing feeling to be home. I don’t know how to describe it.’
Affectionately known as Cheery Chid, the ship’s 6,500-mile journey home – with HMS Penzance, which sailed to Faslane – has taken them through the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.
Lottie Jarvis, 22, was waiting for her fiancé AB (ME)Joshua Britcliffe, 23, with their four-month old son, Alfie.
Lottie, who was also with Joshua’s parents, grandparents and sister-in-law, said: ‘He has only seen his son once, when he was two days old – he flew home for this. So we’re happy to have him home.’
AB Conor Brown’s family travelled across from Northern Ireland to welcome their son home.
Mum Patricia, 53, said: ‘We haven’t seen him since Christmas. It feels great to know he is back.’
Conor’s brother Mark is a Lance Corporal in the Irish Guards and is an Afghanistan veteran. The 25-year-old soldier, who came to the homecoming in his uniform, joked: ‘The navy seems a damn sight more relaxing than the army.’
The ship was welcomed home with rousing tunes from the Band of The Brigade of Gurkhas and cheers of their family and friends.
After families were reunited, they were given a tour of the minehunter. Chiddingfold’s role has now been taken over by fellow Portsmouth ship, HMS Ledbury.
The navy has four minehunters operating in the Gulf at anyone time. As well as providing reassurance to the region, they also conduct route surveys, sea-bed clearance and mine clearance.