CHARGING down the gangway and into the arms of their loved ones, these Royal Navy sailors were thrilled to be home for Christmas.
The ship’s company of HMS Dragon were met with tears and cheers as they sailed triumphantly back into Portsmouth.
The mighty Type 45 had been on a landmark mission guarding Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, during her three-month stint off the east coast of America.
It was the first time one of the navy’s £1bn destroyers had the honour of defending the 65,000 behemoth – who is expected to make her return to Portsmouth later this week.
Commander Giles Palin, Dragon’s captain – who was first off the ship – said the mission had been ‘historic’.
‘These state-of-the-art ships were designed to be a carrier escort and to protect the task group from aerial threats, so to be the first one doing that with Queen Elizabeth is a real honour for us,’ he said.
Dragon’s return is the first of several homecomings set to take place in the coming weeks, which will see hundreds of sailors return to Portsmouth before Christmas.
And it was an emotional one for families at Portsmouth Naval Base.
Brittany Macdonald was waiting to welcome home her wife, Leading Hand Chloe Macdonald.
The pair tied the knot in August, just weeks before Dragon set off for her deployment to the USA.
‘I’m so excited,’ said the 31-year-old, who was joined by son, Hayden, 11. ‘We’ve all been counting down the days until she returned.
‘It was really hard seeing her go away. We’re just looking forward to spending some quality time together as a family.’
Dragon sailed from Portsmouth in August to Halifax in Nova Scotia.
She worked with US allies as part of the USS Eisenhower carrier strike group before joining the UK carrier strike group in Florida – made up of tanker RFA Tideforce and frigate HMS Northumberland – to fly the first UK-owned F-35B stealth jets from her deck.
Her last trip was to New York before she ventured back across the Atlantic.
American-born Able Seaman Devon Philips was part of Dragon’s crew on the voyage.
His dad, Antony, greeted him accompanied Devon’s mum, Sarah Bright-Phillips, his little brothers Julian, 12, and Oliver, six, grandmother Gillian Wyatt and uncle Paul Phillips, of Hilsea.
Antony, 45, said: ‘Devon is a totally new man since joining the navy, we’re all so proud of him.
‘He’s had a great first deployment. New York was amazing. He called us while he was there and he was fishing on the flight deck of the ship with the city behind him – it doesn’t get much better than that.’
Among the other ships expected to sail back to Portsmouth in time for Christmas are frigates HMS Lancaster – returning from refit in Devonport – and HMS Kent, which comes back from recent missions in the Gulf and Baltic.
HMS Clyde will be return from the Falklands, having been relieved as the guardship for the British colony by HMS Forth.
While new offshore patrol ship, HMS Trent, will make her first maiden voyage to the city following her sea trials.