Several thousand families and friends braved the wet weather to give West Country sailors, airmen and Royal Marines a warm welcome on return to Plymouth today Monday (August 3).
The jetties of HM Naval Base Devonport, Plymouth, were packed with a Royal Marine Band and ecstatic crowds waving banners bearing greetings and shouting for joy as their loved ones returned in three warships, HMS Ocean, HMS Somerset and HMS Bulwark, from the Taurus 09 Task Group after a six-month deployment.
Commodore Paul Bennett commanded the amphibious task force from the group flagship HMS Bulwark. The task group, originally comprised ten ships and a nuclear-powered submarine, a helicopter group and Royal Marines from Taunton-based 40 Commando Royal Marines, some of which have already returned.
Cdre Bennett said: “Everyone involved can be very pleased with a great achievement. We have come home to a deserved wonderful welcome. This was a lengthy operational and training exercise with a large number of marines and sailors. We have visited a lot of places and worked with a lot of countries and shown what the navy does best – operating with a multinational force worldwide. We were also at high readiness throughout to act immediately if required to respond to threats and other events, whether for humanitarian or conflicts.
“This demonstrated the Royal Navy at its most flexible, providing amphibious speciality and commanding the task force to show we are able to work in all environments, including riverine and coastal and with the Royal Marines in jungles, while proving yet again we are very effective at it.”
Captain Wayne Keble, the commanding officer of HMS Bulwark, said: “We left in gloomy wet weather and we returned in wet weather, nothing changes, but we do have a rapturous warm welcome to make us feel at home again. It’s really emotional for us all. I am very proud of all the sailors and marines and airman embarked on board. This was a new experience for so many of us. This was the largest naval task group to go to the Far East in more than ten years.
“We gained valuable training and experience operating with other navies at high readiness for six months. But my ship’s company also visited some interesting places they’d never go to before, so on that level they gained a lot as well.”
The task group’s aim was to maintain the Royal Navy’s fighting capability as well as develop the UK ‘s capacity to operate with key partners and allies from NATO countries and other nations, enhancing working together with other navies and demonstrating the UK ‘s commitment to the stability and security of the Mediterranean , Middle East and South East Asia.
Chief Petty Officer Matthew Marsh, of Bridgewater, Somerset, is HMS Bulwark’s gunnery officer. He was greeted joyously by his family when they joined the happy throng crowding on to HMS Bulwark to be reunited with the crew. He said: “It’s fantastic to be welcomed back by such a big crowd. It’s great to see my family again, especially my grand-daughter. It was a very successful and varied deployment, but I so happy to be back home.”
Matthew’s wife Marie, a tourism officer with Sedgemoor District Council, said: “I missed him a lot. It has been a long time he’s been away and seems to have gone really slowly. But he can now enjoy family life and again and catch up with his daughters and grandchild.”
His daughter Zallah Hill joined HMS Bulwark in Gibraltar to sail back to Plymouth. Her daughter Phoebe, five, was also in Devonport to see her granddad home. Zallah said: “It’s great to have dad back again. He takes Phoebe to the park and they go for walks with the dogs and play in the garden.”
In exercising deploying globally, the task group conducted a wide range of activities, including maritime security operations, anti-piracy patrols and exercising amphibious and anti-submarine warfare, culminating in a multi-national amphibious and jungle training exercise in Brunei . Up to 3,300 personnel took part in the 20,400 mile round-trip deployment building relations with 17 nations. Exercise Commando Rajah, a multi-national amphibious exercise saw the Royal Marines from 40 Commando exercise in the Brunei rivers and jungles.
Units involved in Taurus 09: HMS Bulwark, HMS Ocean, HMS Argyll, HMS Somerset, US Navy Guided Missile Destroyer USS Mitscher, French Navy Georges Leygues-class Frigate FS Dupleix, RFA Mounts Bay, RFA Lyme Bay, RFA Wave Ruler, RFA Fort Austin, HMS Echo, 40 Cdo Royal Marines, 820 Naval Air Squadron 847 Naval Air Squadron, 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, Fleet Diving Unit, HMS Trafalgar and HMS Talent.