Sailors of HMS Albion raise a toast with veteran matelots as the sleeping lion awakens from her four-year slumber.
In extended readiness since 2011, the assault ship is being brought back to life so she can take over as the nation’s principal amphibious vessel from HMS Bulwark.
Albion already has around one seventh of her full complement of 350 sailors and Royal Marines and undergoing a massive refit in her native Devonport – everything from overhauling the engines and cleaning the hull, to installing system and weapon upgrades to keep pace with changes in naval technology during the ship’s slumber.
Bringing Albion back to life goes beyond the purely mechanical and the 50 crew are wakening bonds forged in the first decade of the ship’s active life, notably the good folk of Chester.
Cheshire’s county town is Albion’s affiliate and a group of the ship’s company headed up the M5 and M6 for the first time in several years to rekindle that flame.
The city’s Royal Navy Association hosted the visitors who were all too glad to listen to the veterans’ litany of rich war stories and dits of runs ashore around the globe, before all partook in a Splice the Main Brace and downed a tot of rum.
At the city hall, outgoing mayor Bob Rudd and his successor Hugo Deynem discussed sailors attending Chester’s annual Remembrance Sunday Parade as well as the assault ship’s rededication ceremony in two years’ time.
The visit to the North-West closed with a focus on youth. Accompanied by staff from the local Armed Forces Careers Office, the sailors dropped in on Upton High School where they discussed their roles on board and across the RN.
Children interested in joining the RN were given time at the end of the brief to obtain further information from the careers advisors and members of the ship’s company.
Finally to HMS Eaglet, 15 miles away in Liverpool; Albion’s affiliated RNR unit were more than happy to provide manpower for the ship when the time comes to regenerate her.
The ship’s company have also visited their twin Army regiment, the Mercians, in Lichfield in Staffordshire and reciprocated the soldiers’ hospitality by inviting them for a tour of Albion in her dock in Devon as well as a look around hunter-killer submarine HMS Courageous which is now a museum.