Tears of joy as HMS Brocklesby returns to Portsmouth for first time in three years after mission in Gulf
EMOTIONS ran high as sailors on board a minehunter that had been away for three years returned to Portsmouth.
There were tears of happiness as crew from HMS Brocklesby stepped off the ship at the naval base after a successful mission in the Gulf.
To add to the poignancy, it was the first time in 22 months that families had been allowed at the harbour wall to welcome home sailors from a deployment.
Whilst there were regular changes of crew, Brocklesby was in the Gulf for three years having left Portsmouth in 2018 before returning to her home port on Friday morning amid cheers from a packed crowd and a thumping welcoming from the Royal Marines Band.
The hunter had been crewed by Mine Counter Measures Squadron 2 Crew 6 who have spent 11 of the last 15 months deployed on operations.
The Hunt class mine countermeasures vessel came home from the Gulf via Gibraltar, Sardinia, Crete, Muscat, Djibouti and Oman. She also stopped at the last known position of HMS Eagle in the western Mediterranean to pay respects to the 131 who died when she was sunk in 1942.
Lieutenant Commander Dan Lee, Commanding Officer, said: ‘It is a pleasure to be back. Coming back 7,000 miles from the Gulf in such a small ship has been a real challenge.
‘It is a real joy to be here. It is the first time we have been able to do this (be welcomed by family) since 2019.
‘To give something back and to celebrate with our families when they have supported us is great.’
Speaking of the mission, he said: ‘It has been brilliant. Our aim was to get home safely and we have achieved that. I am proud of everyone on the ship after everything we have gone through.
‘It is through the love and support of our families that we were able to maintain routine six-monthly operational deployments to the Gulf so it was heartening to see them back on the jetty to welcome us back after such a long time since families have been able to do this.’
Petty Officer Kevin Aston said: ‘We’ve been away for four months and have been limited to going to shore due to Covid.
‘It’s been a long four months. My little boy was a bit emotional and the wife always gets emotional. It is fantastic to see them.
‘My boy broke his arm and my wife had to deal with it all by herself. She has been looking after the children by herself over the summer so it will be good to give her a break now I’m back.
‘The mission went well with us doing some defensive engagements on the way home and worked with some other navies. It was a good trip.’
Kevin’s dad Mike travelled from East Sussex to welcome his son back. He said: ‘Kev has been away for several months. It’s a long time to be away, especially when you have a young family.
‘It was lovely to see him again today. It is strange when a family member goes away and is deployed to the Middle East.
‘To see him again after all these months was an amazing experience and it was great to give him a big cuddle again.
‘We look forward to having a family celebration.
‘It has been a brilliant welcoming and was amazing how many people were here. The band was amazing too.’
Rhianna Lofthouse, 31, was celebrating seeing her partner Steve Lundsten, a mine clearance diver, with their two-year-old Thea Lundsten.
She said: ‘We were here to meet Steve who has been away for five months. It was a special moment and very emotional to see him again after all this time.
‘It feels like the real deal with the band here and was very emotional. I was just trying to keep it all together.’
Steve’s mum Lynne Lundsten added: ‘I’ve been looking forward to seeing my son. He missed his daughter’s second birthday which was sad but they will make up for it. I am very proud of him.’
Danielle Jackson welcomed back her husband Peter, a mine clearance diver, with their two young children, two-year-old Lily and nine-month-old Bellafae.
‘Peter's been away for five months so it is quite emotional but it is very nice to have him back,’ she said. ‘We will probably go out for dinner somewhere nice.
‘It has been a very good turnout.’
Hayley Cranfield was handed roses by her partner Orren Stainton after making the trip south from Lincolnshire to meet her sailor boyfriend. ‘It’s very special and lovely to see him again after five months. It’s difficult when you can’t message because there is no signal,’ she said.
Gunning officer Ben Hyde said it was ‘nice to be back’ with the welcome making it ‘worthwhile’.
Speaking of the mission, he added: ‘It’s been hard work being away over the last couple of months. We had the chance to work with international partners before we sailed back.’
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Since leaving Portsmouth in 2018, Brocklesby has completed 150,000 nautical miles and completed six crew changes whilst taking part in 18 operations and exercises.
She has also played a key role in developing the navy’s latest autonomous systems.
The minehunter will now spend time in maintenance while HMS Middleton, which left the base earlier this year, takes over the deployment in the Gulf.