Royal Navy carrier HMS Prince of Wales makes silent return to Portsmouth as hardly anyone turns out for homecoming

THE return of a Royal Navy vessel to Portsmouth is always something the city looks forward to.

Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 3:34 pm
Updated Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 5:23 pm

The Union flags come out in force and residents head to Old Portsmouth to welcome home our brave service personnel – some who will have been away for months, or some, like today’s ship’s company, who have only been out for a couple of weeks.

But today, as HMS Prince of Wales came back to Portsmouth Naval Base, there was hardly a soul in sight.

Following the government lockdown measures in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, people are only allowed outside to go to the shops, or for exercise.

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HMS Prince of Wales returns to Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman

The Round Tower, so often packed with well-wishers and family members of loved ones, was instead practically deserted, with just a couple of photographers, two police officers and one resident.

Because of this, what is usually a celebration in the city became a rather sombre affair, a sad sight given the city’s track record with homecomings.

The 700 crew members could be spotted on the side of the ship, and waved to the few onlookers who had come out.

Ahead of her homecoming, the 65,000-tonne carrier had been in Liverpool, where open days had been held for people to take a look around the ship.

View from the Round Tower of HMS Prince of Wales. Picture: Habibur Rahman

As the carrier came into the harbour, you could have heard a pin drop – it was a truly surreal affair.

Aside from the photographers and police officers, all hoping to get a good picture of the carrier, the only person watching the homecoming was 78-year-old Jane Benney.

Keeping her distance during a chat, she said: ‘Whenever I can, I like to come and watch the navy ships come in. I was on my daily walk and saw her on the horizon, so stopped to watch her come by.

‘I’m a bit sad because there’s nobody else here to come and wave the people on board back to Portsmouth; the ship’s company deserve a welcome.

‘It’s still lovely to see the ship come in and great to have the two carriers back in the city as well – I just hope seeing a few people out made those on board feel a bit better.’