SHE used to be the proud flagship of the Royal Navy – a symbol of British maritime power.
But now the once-mighty HMS Illustrious has been reduced to little more than a jagged carcass of her former glory.
The reality is that when something special is taken away the sense the loss often brings those with memories back together againVice Adm Bob Cooling
It has taken workers at a Turkish scrapyard four months to chop the aircraft carrier down into a small hulk of metal – with much of her hull now being used to create cooking utensils.
But the bleak final chapter of the vessel’s 35-year history has had a positive effect in rallying scores of members of the ship’s former crew.
Since the warship – affectionately known as Lusty – left Portsmouth in December, hundreds of sailors have joined the HMS Illustrious Association.
Vice-Adm Bob Cooling, one of Lusty’s former commanding officers, was stunned by the response.
He said: ‘The recent growth of the Illustrious association’s membership speaks volumes for the spirit of unity, teamwork and achievement which was the ship’s hallmark over her 35 years’ service and which brings association members together.
‘It may seem ironic that the membership has grown so significantly since the ship herself has been scrapped but the reality is that when something special is taken away the sense of loss often brings those with memories back together again’
David Rogers, chairman of the association, said since Lusty left Portsmouth, 150 more of her former ship’s company has joined, with a about 250 signing up in a year.
‘HMS Illustrious instilled a spirit in all of those that she touched and this spirit lives on today by way of the HMS Illustrious Association and the fact that we have had hundreds of new joiners within the past 12 months and we continue to gain members on a daily basis is proof that this spirit lives on,’ he added.
Lusty was Britain’s last working aircraft carrier.
The Invincible-class vessel sailed from Portsmouth Naval Base in December after being sold for £2.1m to Turkish company Leyal Ship Recycling Ltd – which chopped up her sister ships HMS Invincible and Ark Royal.
When Lusty was decommissioned in 2012 there had been hopes she would be preserved as a maritime attraction.
However, this ambition fell through and the Ministry of Defence signed a deal to scrap her last summer.
The HMS Illustrious Association is determined to carry on the ship’s legacy, and will be staging its next reunion in Portsmouth from September 8 to 10 this year, with a black tie reception at Spinnaker Tower, on September 9.
For tickets, or to join the association, see hmsillustriousassociation.com.