HMS Portland returns home to a heroes’ welcome

The Royal Navy frigate HMS Portland was welcomed home Plymouth today (Friday) by hundreds of happy families after a highly successful nine-month deployment.

A cheering crowd of about than 650 familes and friends provided a joyous homecoming on the jetty as their loved ones returned to HM Naval Base Devonport.  

The happy relatives waved large banners with greetings and sang along to the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines. The ship also gave 42 lucky family members an insight into life at sea by embarking them as special guests on board from Portugal.

Since leaving Devonport last June the ship has travelled over 40,000 miles through the North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indian, Pacific and South Atlantic oceans.  

Her tasking has been varied, but concentrated on maritime security and international defence engagement, while always on constant readiness to respond to any tasks on behalf of the UK Government.

HMS Portland’s captain, Captain Paul Stroude, 43, said, “We return with a mixture of feelings, firstly with huge pride in our achievements and joy at seeing our families again after months away. Also, the ship’s company will now disperse to new jobs and others postings in the Navy as the ship enters a period in upkeep to renew her for her next phase of her service.  We have formed long-lasting close bonds, so it is a bit sad to leave our shipmates after an intense hardworking time.’’

Captain Stroude, who now goes onto another posting, added, “This has been a challenging and hugely varied deployment that has tested my ship and her company. Despite encountering temperatures ranging from sub-zero near the Antarctic to over 50 degrees in the Gulf, we have continued to deliver all that was asked of us.’’

Throughout the deployment the ship’s company have represented themselves, the Royal Navy and their country with distinction. None of this would have been possible however without the unstinting support of our families back home who, arguably, had a much tougher job than us

Captain Paul Stroude Royal Navy, Commanding Officer of HMS Portland

He praised the his crew and the families who provide support back home, “Throughout the deployment the ship’s company have represented themselves, the Royal Navy and their country with distinction. None of this would have been possible however without the unstinting support of our families back home who, arguably, had a much tougher job than us.  I wish to take this opportunity to thank them for their perseverance, understanding and selfless support.”

One of the babies born during the ship’s absence was Thomas, three months, son of Laura and Leading Chef Andrew Woodley.  Andrew hugged Laura on the jetty and kissed his new son and second son William, three years.

He said, “I’m so happy to see my family again, especially baby Thomas who I saw being born, because the Navy flew me home from Chile where we were at the time. He’s obviously grown so much. And William’s always changing so much. I’ve missed about two years of his life because of being away on ships and courses.’’

He added, “The deployment was fantastic and what was extra special was having my dad on board for the last leg from Lisbon.  He was also a chef, but at an RAF station. I’m so amazed at how well Laura has coped with having a new baby and another little one. It’s my turn now to be woken up in the night to feed and change nappies.’’

Laura said, “I’m super proud of Andrew. It’s been a long deployment and he’s done so well. But this nine months has been the longest of my life waiting for him while looking after a new baby and a toddler.’’

Leading Writer Juliet Long, 27, from Plymouth was joined on board by her mother Kim. Juliet said, “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this deployment and very proud to show my mum how we live and work on board.  The highlights were going to Muscat and South Africa.’’

Kim said, “I certainly had my eyes opened by life on board. The sleeping area was so cramped and the mess very small for so many girls.  It’s amazing how well they all get on and how bonded they are. I don’t think I could be as disciplined as they all are. They are all always so busy.’’

One of the first over the gangway onto the jetty when the ship arrived was the ship’s youngest sailor, Engineering Technician Matthew Jeacock, who was 18 while spending his first Christmas away from home.  He said, “I only joined the ship, my first, in December and since then I have flown in a helicopter, ridden in a sea boat, helped to fire the 4.5-inch gun and had a generally amazing time.  I think I have already ticked every box in the recruitment brochure!”.

HMS Portland’s sailors have worked tirelessly to maintain their ship’s defensive readiness and operational capability, both at sea and alongside, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and in some of the most high-threat waters in the world.

This has included three strategic chokepoints in the Middle East; the Suez Canal, the Bab El-Mandeb Strait and the Strait of Hormuz, through which over 40 percent of the world’s merchant traffic passes, and where the frigate helped to ensure the uninterrupted flow of global trade.  

The ship has also taken part in counter-narcotics patrols in the Indian Ocean and North Atlantic, and afforded reassurance to the UK’s overseas territories. Interacting with the governments, armed forces or law-enforcement agencies of 26 other nations, the Type 23 frigate has been tasked with a wide range of defence engagement activity, including a range of operations or exercises at sea and diplomatic or training events alongside.  

HMS Portland assisted in the rescue of 15 sailors from a sinking fishing dhow in the Indian Ocean, and evacuated a critically ill person from remote Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic.

The crew has also raised over £5,000 for charity and will now enjoy extended leave while HMS Portland enters an extensive upgrade period to receive new radars, engines and even the new cutting-edge Sea Ceptor missile system.