HMS Vigilant became the final Royal Navy vessel home in time for Christmas 2016 when she returned to Faslane following a three-month deterrence patrol.
Around 40 families gathered on the Clyde to greet the 140-strong crew – the first time a traditional-style RN homecoming had been arranged for a nuclear missile-carrying boat.
THERE was a very rare traditional-style Naval homecoming for the sailors who perform the nation’s ultimate duty.
Families were invited in to Faslane Naval Base to greet the 140-strong crew of HMS Vigilant back as the bomber returned from a three-month deterrence patrol – the very last RN vessel home in time for Christmas 2016.
Normally, loved ones head to public land overlooking Gareloch to catch a glimpse of one of the ballistic submarines glide past.
But for the first time, they were granted access to the Naval Base to witness the return.
Some 40 families took advantage of the opportunity, hosted in the comfort of the Warrant Officers’ and Senior Rates’ Mess.
“Usually we’re at Rhu to watch the vessel come home,” said Victoria Barnwell, who was there to welcome her husband Iain home.
Victoria had travelled from the east coast of Scotland with their three young children – all under six years old – for the occasion.
“Last year Iain was away for Christmas,” she said. “The kids are very glad that this year daddy will be home before Santa.”
She continued: “The support we’ve received during this patrol has been really good. If I had any questions or concerns I would ask the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Welfare team and they’d usually get back to me within half-an-hour.”
The homecoming event took around two-weeks to arrange and featured a bouncy castle for the children, games, face-painting, a buffet and even a visit from Santa Claus, all organised by the Silent Service’s Command Warrant Officer Andy Knox, Vigilant’s starboard coxswain PO Sheeky and Sophie McArdle from RN-RM Welfare.
“The homecoming is the culmination of a package of support provided to families and loved-ones during Vigilant’s deployment,” Sophie explained.
Visits to a safari park, stays in hotels, a spa day, pizza nights, cinema trips and coffee mornings were all organised to provide support – and light relief – to Vigilant’s families while the boat was on patrol.
“Naturally your mind turns to your family when you are on patrol at Christmas, but you make the most of it,” said WO1 Knox. “During one extended patrol we once spent 15 weeks at sea and got back just two-days before Christmas.
“The excitement and relief you feel as you sail back into base is huge. One of the good things though is that all the Christmas shopping has been done while you’re away.”
Some of the loved-ones attending the homecoming had travelled from as far afield as South Wales, Lancashire and Liverpool to be there.”
MEM Chris Southee’s family and partner had made the journey from Lincolnshire to Faslane to welcome him home. Dad Rick, mum Sue and his girlfriend Alex were delighted to see him home for the festive period.
Rick, who used to serve in the RAF, said: “When you are deployed at Christmas time the military always try to make it okay, but in some ways you wish it was treated as just another day.
“There is no substitute for being home at Christmas with your family and loved-ones and so we’re really looking forward to having our boy back.”
While Vigilant is done for now, one of her three sisters is on a deterrence patrol over Christmas, performing a duty carried out continuously by Royal Navy submarines since 1969