WITH tears in their eyes, family and friends waved goodbye to HMS Ledbury’s sailors as the ship passed the Round Tower yesterday.
The minehunter became the first Royal Navy warship to leave Portsmouth in 2012 when she slipped her moorings for a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean.
Samantha Connell, 31, of Gosport cradled her new-born baby Gracie as she waved farewell to her husband Lee just 11 weeks after giving birth to their fourth child.
She said: ‘It’s horrible saying goodbye. It’s really not nice. I’m not looking forward to the next six months. It’s going to be quite sad. He’s going to miss out on so much with her.’
Lee, who has been in the navy for 12 years, was away last year off the coast of Libya with Ledbury’s sister ship HMS Brocklesby.
Samantha said: ‘It was nice to have him home for Christmas but I can’t believe he’s going away again so soon. He only joined Ledbury just before Christmas.’
One week ago, the family of navy diver Tom Hilder had no idea the 23-year-old would be going to sea.
‘He only got six days’ notice to go,’ said his father Dave, 53, who explained: ‘He’s based at Horsea Island and he came back after Christmas break and was told he was going to replace someone who is injured.’
Tom’s mum Karen said: ‘I’m really excited for him. It’s his first time away and it’s what he wants to do. It’s what he signed up for.’
But Tom’s childhood sweetheart Laura Knight, 22, who he met at school eight years ago, isn’t so pleased.
She said: ‘It was a bit of a shock. It was very short notice. I’m a bit apprehensive and I’ll miss him lots.’
The family of weapons technician Geraint Timmis, 22, drove three hours from Wales to see him leave.
Nan Patricia, 72, of Crewe, said: ‘It’s amazing, I’m so excited and also sad to see him go. He’s my only grandson and I’m so proud of him.’
The family of Able Seaman Fraser Malek, 18, frantically waved Union Jacks from the Round Tower.
Mum Michelle said: ‘It’s the first time he’s gone away properly. I’m nervous but excited for him.’
Ledbury will maintain a permanent presence in the Mediterranean on a mission which will see her locate and destroy sea mines still left over from the Second World War.
Her six-month schedule also includes port visits to Italy, Spain, Greece and Morocco.