WEARING her new engagement ring, Bianca Bidart was in floods of tears as HMS Brocklesby left Portsmouth for a six-month minehunting mission.
The 27-year-old waved goodbye to her fiancé Lieutenant Andrew Penfold just two days after the mine clearance diver popped the question.
‘It’s very tough to go from being so happy to having to say goodbye for six months,’ said Bianca, who lives in Havant but is originally from Sydney, Australia.
She added: ‘It was a complete shock. We’d been for a meal at Osbourne View in Hill Head and we were walking on the beach watching the sunset when he asked me.
‘I couldn’t believe it. It was such a surprise. It still hasn’t quite sunk in.’
The happy couple met seven months ago in London.
Bianca was today flying back down under to share her joy with family and friends.
She knows it’ll be a tough six months ahead but aims to keep in touch with Andrew as much as she can.
She said: ‘We’ll talk when we can over the internet.
‘It’ll be hard but it’ll be OK. He’s going to fly out to Australia at the end of the deployment so obviously I’m looking forward to that.’
Andrew’s mother Margaret said: ‘I kind of knew it was coming but it was a complete surprise to Bianca. I knew when I first met her that she would be the one for him.
‘It’s going to be tough for both of them to be apart so soon after getting engaged but he’ll be back soon enough.
‘I hate it too but I’ve got used to it now.’
Lt Penfold was presented with an award from the Queen last year after winning the best cadet prize at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.
‘He’s been pretty remarkable all the way through,’ said Margaret, adding ‘We’re all very proud of him.’
For the next six months, Brocklesby – a 750-ton minehunter – will work alongside mine countermeasures vessels from Poland, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and Italy throughout western Europe and North Africa, where there are still many unexploded shells and sea mines from the Second World War. The ships are part of a permanent stand-by reaction force in the area and will also carry out live mine disposal operations.
Brocklesby’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander James Byron, said: ‘The Royal Navy’s enduring commitment to Nato tasking is a very important one and one that my crew are taking great pride in.
‘After a successful period of generation, we are now at a high standard and are well prepared for the challenges we may encounter whilst deployed.
‘This deployment is an excellent opportunity to work with our European Nato colleagues and an excellent chance to learn from shared experiences and allow us all to contribute to regional security.’