THE happiness of the occasion appeared to keep the rain clouds at bay as the Royal Navy welcomed its latest addition to the fleet at Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday.
The new £1bn Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon gleamed behind her 190 sailors who lined Victory Jetty for an hour-long commissioning ceremony in front of hundreds of relatives and guests.
There was much pomp and circumstance as Dragon’s captain, Commander Darren Houston, read a Commissioning Warrant before giving the order to raise the White Ensign flag to mark his warship’s coming of age.
Dragon, the fourth of six Type 45s built for the navy, was delivered to Portsmouth last August. Back then, she sported two striking red dragons painted on her bows.
But the beasts have now been reluctantly removed for operational reasons as the warship prepares to take on front line duties next year.
Addressing his sailors, Cdr Houston said: ‘We may have lost our red dragons on the bows, but we have not lost our voice. Let the dragon roar!’
The 42-year-old, who lives in Portsmouth, told The News: ‘It’s a fantastic day for us. It marks the end of a long period of sea trials and training and now we are itching to get on with the job. This is a ceremony that goes back many, many years to when merchant ships were brought in to the King’s service before Henry VIII’s time. Nowadays, of course, we build ships for the Royal Navy and Dragon is the latest to join the fleet. It’s a hugely proud day.’
The ship’s sponsor Susie Boissier – the wife of Vice Admiral Paul Boissier – inspected the guard while the Royal Navy Volunteer Band belted out a few numbers.
And Welshmen from the Morriston Orpheus male choir were in fine voice to mark Dragon’s affiliated links with the city of Cardiff.
Also celebrating the affiliation was Welsh Secretary of State Cheryl Gillan who was invited along by the navy.
After all the prayers, hymns, readings and flag raising came the moment to cut the commissioning cake – an age- old Royal Navy tradition.
Eighteen-year-old Engineering Technician Mark Soldiew performed his duty as the ship’s youngest sailor as he sliced the cake with help from Cdr Houston’s wife Liesl.
Petty Officer Daniel Brumwell, 28, of North End, said: ‘Today is a massive deal for the ship’s company.
‘It’s been a busy seven months to get to this point. We’ve been doing lots of sea trials on the south coast and now we can’t wait to get through the final stages of our operational training and get started for real.’