The crew of the Royal Naval frigate HMS Argyll was given a rousing hero’s welcome by hundreds of cheering relatives and friends when the ship returned from a successful maritime policing patrol.
About 500 banner-waving family members and friends welcomed the ship back home to Plymouth after a deployment including operations in the seas around Africa, the Falklands, the Eastern Pacific and the Caribbean.
The celebratory atmosphere included tugboats firing jets of water into the air, the ship’s helicopter conducting a flypast, Her Majesty’s Band of the Royal Marines playing to the crowds and Plymouth Pipe Band entertaining the ship’s company as they sailed into Devonport Dockyard.
Key to boosting morale on board and keeping up official and personal fitness levels was leading Physical Trainer Barry Chambers who was met by his fiancée admin assistant Leanne Jackson and their son Alfie, 4. Barry, of Stoke in Plymouth, said: “It’s amazing to be back. Alfie has grown a lot. He looks so grown up now.
The deployment was really good, personally speaking, highlights were Bermuda and Key West. It’s good to be back though. I kept the ship’s company in date with their fitness tests and staged adventure training for them – kayaking, climbing Table Top Mountain in South Africa, diving with sharks and cliff jumping, to name a few. It all helps keep up morale and makes the most of any visits.’’
Leanne said: “It’s been hard not having Barry home. Alfie’s been looking forward to him coming home for so long. Now they can play boys’ games, which I’m not good at.’’
This scope of operations, from disrupting the illegal supply of $116m of narcotics, to saving a life, working with partner nations in Africa, to reassurance in the Falkland Islands has displayed the huge variety of tasks a Royal Navy warship can undertake.
Able Seaman Luke Acton, 29, was given a joyous welcome by his Plymouth family, mother Mandy, sister Rosie and nieces Poppy, 16 months, and Amelia, 3. Rosie said: “We’re all very happy he is back and look forward to spending proper family time together with him. He’s missed a lot of Poppy’s short life so far, so he’ll be catching up on that. We’ve heard a lot from him by various emails and phone calls – he’s really enjoyed it. They’ve done a great job out there.’’
HMS Argyll’s Commanding Officer, Commander Tim Neild, of Portsmouth, was nearly knocked over by his children Lucy, 6, and Josh, 4, as they ran to hug him off the ship.
He praised his wife Claire (a teaching assistant): “She has done a fantastic job keeping the home fires burning while I’ve been away. Naval wives tend to have that in common, the multi-tasking like working and keeping the family together while the men are away. They do things that we men would not even dream of doing when we are at home. But it is pay back time and now our turn to take a turn at home.’’
Cdr Neild leaves the ship in two weeks to study for an MBA before taking up a job in the MOD in London. He said: “This is my swansong as far as the ship goes. And it has been an amazing deployment to go out on.
HMS Argyll’s deployment stands as an exemplar in the defence community as to the flexibility and agility represented by a UK frigate on operations. We have conducted a vast range of tasking across half the globe. The capacity we built in Africa, the re-assurance and training in the South Atlantic and the 116 million US Dollars worth of drugs we helped stop in Central America all show the value for money that a most capable warship, such as HMS Argyll, provides. I am immensely proud of my ‘Band of Brothers’ for their commitment and professionalism throughout.”
The Type 23 frigate has travelled 35,000 nautical miles during her deployment visiting 16 countries across eight time zones. She has spent 206 days away in weather ranging from equatorial Africa and the Caribbean to the iceberg-filled South Atlantic.
Following departure in February the ship’s initial programme took in a successful period of regional engagement from Lisbon to Cape Verde, throughout West Africa, culminating in Simon’s Town, South Africa, in May. This period included counter narcotics operations with Cape Verde Coast Guard and civil police embarked. Throughout West Africa, the ship delivered maritime security training programme to 300
personnel in Atlantic nations. The ship was also the centrepiece to two maritime security conferences hosted to raise awareness and dialogue for key players in the region. The ship also saved the life of a Japanese fisherman who had been gravely injured in an accident at sea.
Following adventurous training in Simon’s Town, South Africa, HMS Argyll crossed the South Atlantic to South Georgia and the Falklands where leadership training was undertaken with lectures, briefings and challenges including the planning and execution of a trek across South Georgia following in the footsteps of Sir Earnest Shackleton.
HMS Argyll delivered an impressive capability across the region earning the praise of the Commander of British Forces, Air Commodore La Forte. Highlights included; supporting the Liberation Day Commemorations in Port Stanley, visiting remote settlements across the Falkland Islands and offering assistance to islanders. The ship conducted amphibious operations as part of a land exercise, providing support to a company from 3 Parachute Regiment on board.
Following a stormy passage around Cape Horn, HMS Argyll shifted focus in the Pacific back to counter narcotics operations with a United States Coast Guard detachment embarked. The ship’s notable success was the disruption of six tonnes of cocaine and conducted a search and rescue using the ship’s helicopter for a lost sailing yacht. The period concluded with the ship successfully interdicting and detaining a drug smuggling fast boat and its crew as the ship left the Panama Canal for the Caribbean. The United States Director of the Joint Inter Agency Task Force Admiral Mehling, was effusive in his praise for Argyll during her secondment, heralding her participation as a resounding success and presenting the ship with a ‘Snowflake Burgee’ to mark their achievements.
Following engagement activity in Key West and Bermuda, HMS Argyll invited families on board to enjoy a day at sea to experience life at sea and a chance for the ship to thank families for their support while deployed. Families joined the crew in belatedly toasting the birth of Prince George.
Argyll will commence a period of leave, maintenance and training on her return to Devonport prior to deploying again next year.