EMOTIONS rode high today as hundreds of armed forces families were reunited when HMS Duncan returned to Portsmouth after almost seven months on deployment.
The Type 45 destroyer left the city in March to provide air defence for the French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle in the Mediterranean Sea.
But her six-month voyage was extended in July as she was tasked to escort British vessels through the Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Iran.
It saw the ship’s 280-strong crew at the heart of a protection mission triggered by Iran’s contentious seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero.
The longer wait was a blow for Sadie Baxter, 28 from Gosport, whose leading hand husband, Elliot, has served on HMS Duncan three times.
But it made his homecoming sweeter – as she greeted him with their five-week-old son, Samuel – who he had only briefly seen at birth.
Elliot, also 28, said: ‘This is my first homecoming because I’ve always done duties beforehand or flown home.
‘It’s a new experience but it’s amazing – and to have a little guy with us as well is wonderful.’
Sadie added: ‘The atmosphere here has been lovely and it’s been really exciting.
‘It’s nice Elliot got the opportunity to do his job and to do something a bit more exciting.
‘We're looking at going away now we've got some time together.’
The Baxters were among an estimated 1,200 people who thronged to South Railway Jetty as HMS Duncan arrived at Portsmouth Naval Base.
Chief petty officer Jodie Jones, 35, was met by her grandparents, hailing from Havant, and her twin 10-year-old nephews, Albie and Ralfie.
‘To be in Portsmouth now is surreal because we didn't think we’d get to this stage - it just kept extending and extending,' she said.
‘But, do you know what, that’s what this ship does, she’s the best 45 for a reason – she reacts and she responds.’
As she returned home, HMS Duncan’s deployment was hailed by the Royal Navy as one of the most demanding for a warship in recent years.
Commander Tom Trent, the ship's commanding officer, said he ‘could not put his pride into words’ as he recalled his company’s achievements.
‘They have shown resilience, determination, enthusiasm and a good smile at the end,' he said.
‘The ship is just a big lump of steel with some fancy equipment inside – HMS Duncan is the ship’s company and the family behind them.’
The Type 45 destroyer passed through the Strait of Hormuz 29 times – protecting 1.28m tonnes of British merchant vessels.
Her sister HMS Defender, plus frigates HMS Montrose and Kent, remain in the Gulf accompanying British-flagged vessels through Hormuz.
You can watch our live stream of the return of HMS Duncan and its crew by clicking here.