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Double delight for naval families as Portland and her Lynx flight return from nine-month odyssey
10 March 2017

After 263 days away both HMS Portland and her Lynx flight – No.208 – completed their mammoth tour of duty to the Indian and Atlantic Oceans by returning to Plymouth and Yeovilton respectively today.

It was the last operational act in the Lynx’s 41-year-career supporting ships on deployment around the world; the trusty little helicopter retires from service at the end of the month.

Pictures: LPhots Caroline Davies, Ken Gaunt and Dan Rosenbaum

WOW. That’s some crowd. Mothers. Fathers. Sons. Daughters. Brothers. Sisters. Friends. Family. Journalists. Photographers.

A sea of bodies swarms on the jetty at Devonport Naval Base for the first sight of HMS Portland in nine months and a demanding hot-cold, hot-cold deployment.

As lines were cast by the frigate’s seamen specialists to waiting naval base employees, 80 mile to the northeast Lynx ZF557 was setting down on the Yeovilton tarmac – closing a long, proud chapter in Fleet Air Arm history.

For the past nine months, the helicopter and its ten air and ground crew have done everything Portland has done and gone wherever the frigate has sailed.

They were the last Lynx flight to deploy with a Royal Navy warship, the end of a long line of the helicopter going back through numerous iterations and models to the late 1970s; the veteran aircraft retires at the end of the month in favour of the new Wildcat.

The Lynx of 208 Flight brought just three souls back to its parent unit 815 Naval Air Squadron at Yeovilton – flight commander Lt Laura Cambrook, her pilot Lt Jack Leonard and senior maintenance rating CPO Damian Marks.

Flight Commander Lt Laura Cambrook walks across the flight line as SMR CPO Damian Marks is welcomed home by his 11-year-old son Kai

“It’s really great to be back after a very demanding but exhilarating deployment,” said Lt Cambrook, who was embraced by her husband Tom Lindsey on the standings.

“It’s been a very successful deployment and poignant too and I will miss the Lynx. She rattles a lot, is small and agile – it’s just a great little helicopter that so many of us love to fly.”

The Yeovilton homecoming allowed a personal, intimate reunion for loved ones after 263 days’ separation.

Pilot Jack Leonard embraces has family

Plymouth provided Portland with pomp, ceremony and spectacle: the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Plymouth, face painters, a myriad small Union Flags, and a good smattering of home-made banners as 650 expectant men, women and children waited for the frigate to arrive home from a 40,000-mile odyssey.

Her tour of duty began in the heat of the Gulf and Indian Ocean, shifted to South Africa, then moved again to the Falklands and South Georgia, before heading north via the Azores and West Africa, stopping briefly in Lisbon for the final leg to embark 50 friends and family of the ship’s company.

Thomas Oakley with mum Clare wait expectantly for PO(Logs) James Oakley

LCH Andrew Woodley was joined by his dad – a former cook in the RAF – for those few days.

“The deployment was fantastic and what was extra special was having my dad on board for the last leg,” he said.

The leading hand was greeted by his three-month-old son Thomas, three-year-old William and their mum Laura. Dad was flown home from Chile in time for the new arrival.

Lillie (four) and Noah (two) await the arrival of dad LLogs Richard Pettigrove-Paterson

“I’m so happy to see my family again and 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,” Andrew continued.

“Thomas has 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.”

Laura added: “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.’’

Weapon engineer officer Lt Cdr Adam Robertson is reunited with his son Benjamin

LWtr Juliet Long, 27, from Plymouth was joined on board by her mother Kim for the trip home.

“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.’’

LET(WE(CIS)) Becky Maddison lifts her five-year-old cousin Zac

Indeed they are. And after nine months together in such a small space, they’ve become a family – one which now breaks up as Portland enters a refit and sailors, led by CO Capt Paul Stroude, move on to new pastures.

“We return with a mixture of feelings: huge pride in our achievements and joy at seeing our families again after months away, but we have also formed long-lasting close bonds, so it is a bit sad to leave our shipmates after an intense hard-working time,” Capt Stroude said.

“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.’’ 

AB(WS) Sam Shields hugs her husband Luke; the couple married just three months before Portland deployed

One of the first of the 200 sailors and Royal Marines over the gangway once it was safely fixed up was the youngest sailor aboard, ET Matthew Jeacock, who turned 18 while away with Portland.

“I only joined the ship 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!”

The boys are back in town...

The crew has also raised over £5,000 for charity, led by the ship’s own Batman and Robin, technicians Sam Barron and Sean Woods, both 25. The duo completed 20 ten-kilometre runs while away.

“We have run ten kilometres at each stop; Bahrain was probably the worst with a temperature of nearly 50 degrees and ridiculously high humidity,” said Sean. “It’s crazy to go from that to worrying about slipping over on ice in South Georgia! The whole ship’s company have been really supportive and we have raised £4,000 for our charities; the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity and Parkinson’s UK.”