HMS Ocean home to a festive welcome

It wasn’t quite the homecoming planned, so after arriving 18 hours early to escape fog descending on the South West, Britain’s biggest active warship threw a Christmas party for families.

The helicopter carrier returned from her final operational deployment – a four-month stint in the Caribbean and Mediterranean – on Tuesday night, rather than Wednesday afternoon.

Dense fog was forecast in the South West for today (it came, and disrupted the plans of Manchester United among others…); rather than risk being stuck out at sea, the flagship put her foot down to arrive in Devonport around 6.30pm.

The unexpected arrival meant there was none of the usual razzamatazz of a naval homecoming, nor the 1,000 family members and friends waving banners, flags and the like.

So with many families already in the Plymouth area for the occasion, the ship hurriedly created a grotto aboard and organised a families day aboard to leave young ones in particular with an occasion to remember.

And naturally, Ocean hosted Father Christmas, who gave gifts to children of crew members.

It’s very good to be back in time for Christmas - it's been a long four months away from my family

Chief Petty Officer Robert Fuca from Cornwall

Chief Petty Officer Robert Fuca, of Cornwall, showed his children Archie, five, and Arabella, three, where he worked and introduced them to the festive visitor.

“It’s very good to be back in time for Christmas,” he said. “It’s been a long four months away from my family.’’

His partner Victoria Bridges added: “Archie missed his daddy and they are both very happy to have him home again. We have moved into a new house, so that’s exciting.’’

Collette Laycock greeted her husband Petty Officer Carl, one of the helicopter carrier’s caterers, with their two children Sophia, aged five, and Summer, aged nine, who were given presents by Santa.

Collette said: “It’s really good to be back together as a family in time for Christmas - last year we missed Christmas because the ship was deployed until March. I really worried it would happen again. Not only is Carl back, but the ship came back a day early. It’s going to be an extra-special Christmas.’’

Logistics officer Lieutenant Commander Gareth Coleman from Newport in South Wales, was welcomed by his mum, his wife Raz and four children, including his six-month-old son.

Raz said: “The children are all really pleased to see their dad and have been excited waiting for him. We are having a special Christmas with Gareth’s extended family.’’

Their daughter Darnia, 13, said: “I’ve missed dad, but it’s great he’s back early for Christmas. I’ve asked Santa for a ring and a coat."

In that order… although a coat’s probably better at this time of year…