HMS Lancaster returns home for Christmas after 35,000-mile voyage


Families and loved ones have welcomed the crew of a Royal Navy frigate as it returned home to port after completing a 35,000-mile voyage.

HMS Lancaster returned to Portsmouth Naval Base, Hampshire, following its deployment to the North and South Atlantic, during which it visited 23 ports in 18 countries.

The warship, which left the UK in March, was the first Royal Navy vessel to deploy with the new Wildcat maritime attack helicopter. And it was also the first ship to sail on operations with the crew wearing the Navy's new working uniform.

Commander Peter Laughton, Lancaster's commanding officer, said: "This demanding and ambitious deployment has clearly demonstrated the Royal Navy's ability to project UK global influence.

"My superbly professional and upbeat ship's company has consistently delivered throughout a challenging but ultimately fun and hugely rewarding period on operations and I could not be more proud of their achievements."

Lieutenant Commander Nick London, 35, from Alverstoke, Hampshire, was met by his daughter Rosalie, two, and wife Heidi, 33.

He said: "It's brilliant, it's been a long time and it's a lovely Christmas present."

Petty Officer Dan Wilson, 35, from Gosport, was welcomed back by his son Archie, two, and wife Kayley, 28.

He said: "It's always nice coming home and it's nice to know he hasn't forgotten me."

Leading Airman (Engineering Technician) Sam Ashman, 29, from Yeovil, Somerset, was greeted by daughter Lexi, his son Jake, and wife Kerry, 26.

He said: "It's really good, it's been a long time away from these guys, I'm happy to be back."

Leading Seaman Matt "Spend-a" Penny, 32, from Lee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire, was welcomed by son Alfie, three, daughter Sienna and wife Lyndsey.

He said: "It's brilliant, it's been emotional."

Gemma Shields, 31, from Gosport, who welcomed home Petty Officer Phil Shields, 34, with daughters Emilia, three, and Isabel, five, said: "It's amazing to have daddy home for Christmas."

During the deployment, HMS Lancaster carried out a series of exercises with foreign navies as well as helping train 435 foreign military personnel in West Africa.

The ship's new Wildcat - from 825 Squadron based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset - clocked up 200 hours supporting the ship's activities.

Engineering Technician Will George, 20, from Manchester, had his first deployment on board since joining the Navy.

He said: "It has been a whirlwind nine months. There have been some steep learning curves but I have gained lifetime memories from eye-opening and great experiences.

"This deployment has taken me to four continents, countries that I never thought I would see and given me fantastic life skills - I have enjoyed every step of the way."

Aside from operations, HMS Lancaster's 200 crew have raised over £10,000 for charitable causes including the ship's charity Unique Kidz and Co, which provides specialist services for disabled children and their families.