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It's HMS Prince of Owls as hooting star makes home on new carrier

2 February 2017
Making its home on girders in the roof of Britain’s biggest warship is the 101st member of her crew: Lightning the owl.

The tawny owl is making its home amid the clanking and clanging of workers toiling to finish HMS Prince of Wales ahead of her formal naming ceremony – roughly the equivalent of a launch, but without the dynamic sight of the ship dashing down a slipway – later this year in Rosyth.

The bird, dubbed Lightning by sailors and workmen after the jets that will fly off the future flagship, is seen arriving in the rafters of the hangar – so wide you could fit the hulls of two Type 23 frigates side by side – nestles down in a quiet spot and observes the day’s work.

At dusk, he swoops over the dockyard workers who are filing off the ship and flies through the openings left by the two enormous lifts which will ferry F-35 jets and Merlin helicopters between the hangar and flight decks.

“The hangar likely resembles a large airy barn away from the Scottish elements, but quite a lot busier than owls are used to,” explained Lieutenant Penny Thackray, the carrier’s education officer. “The RSPB have been to see Lightning and are content he can come and go as he pleases.”

The RSPB have been to see Lightning and are content he can come and go as he pleases.

Lieutenant Penny Thackray

The owl ‘joined’ the carrier’s crew just hours after Prince of Wales welcomed sailor No.100, marine engineer PO Will Horsepool.

The senior rating from South Normanton in Derbyshire was a little surprised to be greeted by the carrier’s senior officer, Capt Ian Groom, in front of the impressive bow.

“I had no idea until I arrived that I was the 100th joiner,” the startled petty officer said. “I’m looking forward to getting started in my role on board.”

PO Horsepool will work as the ship's workshop manager carrying out fitting and tuning of bespoke parts when required for the ship systems.

That’s at sea. Ashore in Rosyth, it’s the marine engineer’s task to help with the testing and commissioning of key systems on board.

He arrived on the Forth straight from a three-year draft to assault ship HMS Bulwark where he worked as the steering gear and workshop maintainer – earning a commendation from the Fleet Commander, now First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones, for his hard work and dedication.

Will took park in the migrant rescue operations during the Mediterranean refugee crisis in 2015, represented his Navy and nation at two Great War centenary commemorations: Gallipoli and Jutland. And he was involved in three autumn amphibious exercises with the Plymouth-based warship in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

He joined Prince of Wales 364 days after the first 12 members of the ship’s company rocked up in Rosyth. He hopes to play an active role in the ship’s football and cycling team, as well as getting in some Scottish hill walking on days off.

When not in Scotland, he lives in South Normanton, Derbyshire with his wife, three children, dog and chickens.

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