BLACK Friday for many is a chance to bag the perfect Christmas present for a bargain price.
But for scores of emotional Royal Navy families in Portsmouth, it was a chance to celebrate a gift that’s impossible to put a price on – the safe return of their loved ones.
Hundreds of people lined the jetty at Portsmouth Naval Base to welcome HMS Diamond home after her latest deployment to the Mediterranean.
The £1bn destroyer had been part of a Nato operation tasked with battling Islamic State terrorists in Syria.
Although the state-of-the-art warship may not have fired a round in anger during her brief stint at sea, she played a critical role in using her hi-tech array of sensors to keep the skies safe above the force.
And to mark her safe journey back home, Diamond’s captain, Commander Ben Keith fired a 17-gun salute from the Type 45 before she sailed into the city.
Petty Officer Craig Furber is a communications and information systems specialist on Diamond and was among the first off the ship.
He said his family had been rattled by the deployment, which was sprung on them with very little time to prepare – causing him to miss his mother, Dawn Gray’s wedding.
The 30-year-old – who was greeted by his wife Elizabeth, 31, two-year-old son Adam and the rest of his family – said: ‘It’s been emotional because of the short notice of it.
‘Normally for a deployment we have a lot of time to work up but this one we only had two weeks to tell families we’re going away. I missed my mum’s wedding. It has been tough.’
Dawn, who lives in Gosport, added: ‘It was devastating for him not to be there. His brother is in the navy too and was able to make the wedding.
‘But I had a picture of Craig on my bouquet so he was able to walk me down the aisle.’
As well as the counter-terrorism operations, Diamond also held port visits to Crete,
Cyprus, Malta and Gibraltar.
And she tackled demanding training with the RAF, who used fighter jets to simulate mock air assaults.
Cdr Keith said: ‘This has been a challenging, but extremely rewarding and successful deployment. I’m proud of all that my ship’s company has achieved while we’ve been away and I’m incredibly grateful to Diamond’s extended family for all their support.’
AB Joe Hobday, 24, is a Portsmouth lad born and bred and was thrilled to be returning to his home city on board the £1bn destroyer.
He said: ‘It’s absolutely amazing seeing all your friends and family on the jetty – and coming back to my home port of Portsmouth.
‘The deployment was hard, I’m not going to lie. But the crew came together and it showed really well in with all the training we have been doing the last couple of weeks.’
Natasha Hobson, 36, was with her two children John, seven, and Albie, five, as they waited patiently for her husband Lieutenant John Hobson, 35, to arrive.
She said: ‘I think it’s amazing what they do. They’re all really brave. It’s really hard for them going away. But it’s just as hard for the families – it never gets easier.
‘We’re all so excited to finally have John back.’
Little John, who was holding a ‘Welcome Home Daddy’ sign, said: ‘I’m really happy daddy is back. I’m really looking forward to watching Match of the Day with him.’
His younger brother Albie added: ‘I’m really looking forward to playing with daddy again.’
Hannah Clark was waiting for her husband Lieutenant Commander Ollie Clark, alongside their two children Cameron, five, and William, three.
‘The kids are really excited to see their dad again,’ said the 37-year-old of Middle Wallop. ‘We have been counting down the number of sleeps until he comes back.’
She added she was incredibly proud of her husband and Diamond’s crew.
‘It’s really selfless,’ she said. ‘They’re giving their time and energy and sacrificing so much to make our country and the world a safer place.’
Diamond is due to remain in port for maintenance work.
Her next mission will see her operating in UK waters, protecting Britain’s coast.