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Royal Navy engineers mark Year of Engineering

HMS Albion engineers
Royal Navy engineers from Torbay are taking part in a major deployment to the Far East in Plymouth-based HMS Albion.

HMS Albion, a 19,000-tonne amphibious assault ship, left Devonport Naval Base in February to exercise in the Mediterranean, before helping strengthen the United Kingdom’s partnerships in a strategically important part of the world.

The engineers, who grew up and live in Torbay, are in HMS Albion’s Marine Engineering Department. They are joining forces in highlighting their careers to support the Government’s ‘Year of Engineering’ campaign, encouraging more young people to consider careers in science, technology and engineering.

“We’ve each served on different Devonport-based ships over the years, so there’s a real camaraderie now that the seven of us are all together on HMS Albion”, said Chief Petty Officer Neil Hellier, who has lived in Torbay for the past 21 years.

“Stokers have traditionally been the unsung heroes of the Royal Navy but we’re really proud to be Marine Engineers and for people to understand what we do.’’

I consider myself very fortunate to be able to draw on such a close-knit and experienced team. They are great ambassadors for Naval Engineering and I know how proud they are to fly the flag on behalf of Torbay out here in the Far East

Captain Tim Neild RN, HMS Albion’s Commanding Officer

Chief Petty Officer Daniel Whitcher worked at Volksburg Motors in Torquay before joining the Royal Navy. With Petty Officer David Whitehead he runs HMS Albion’s propulsion plant.

Daniel said, “Since we left the UK, HMS Albion has travelled more than 17,000 miles, but if it weren’t for the team from Torbay she’d still be alongside in Devonport.

“The eight of us not only provide propulsion and steering, but we produce 15 megawatts of high voltage electrical power and 80 tonnes of freshwater every day, which powers the ship’s weapons systems and supports the 550 people living on board. We also maintain the equipment the Royal Marines use to launch and recover their landing craft. There’s not a system on board that we don’t support in some way.”

PO David Whitehead, a former pupil of Knowles Hill School, added, “Being a Marine Engineer is a more varied career than people think. Although I’m in the Navy, I’ve previously worked with the Royal Artillery supporting their self-defence weaponry and I later served in Umm Qasr, Iraq, teaching and maintaining outboard motors as part of our efforts to train the Iraqi Navy.”

Petty Officer Jason Priddle from Dawlish, said, “My grandfather served as a stoker on midget submarines during the Second World War so I was following in his footsteps by becoming a Marine Engineer. All of us enjoy fixing things and the Navy gives us the opportunity to work within a technology-focused role while getting to see the world.”

The men have given a combined 150 years of service to the Royal Navy, spending a combined 15,000 days at sea in 30 different ships, and yet this is the first time that seven of them have deployed to the Far East.

Petty Officer Mark Green, who went to Paignton Community College, said, “This is my first deployment to the Far East and the first time I’ve crossed the Equator. I feel quite fortunate to be on HMS Albion because we’re getting the opportunity to visit places where the Royal Navy hasn’t been for six or seven years.”

In April, HMS Albion exercised with a French Task Group in the Java Sea and became the first Royal Navy warship to visit Indonesia in seven years. Meanwhile, her Royal Marines undertook jungle training in Brunei.

Petty Officer Michael Monnington, from Knowles Hill School, was among a group of sailors and marines who were invited to share lunch at an orphanage in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

“The visit to the orphanage was really interesting because it took us away from the tourist areas and into the backstreets of Jakarta to see how local people lived. The orphanage didn’t have much but still wanted to provide us with a traditional Indonesian meal. We were quite overwhelmed by their generosity.”

Michael said the region has a link to his family, “My grandfather was a prisoner of war during the Korean War in the 1950s so it is quite poignant to be back in the region all these years later protecting the security and freedoms he was fighting for.’’

The ship has visited Japan and will work alongside the UK’s allies and partners to support maritime security in vital shipping lanes.

Petty Officer Stephen Shannon said, “A highlight for me was visiting the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park in Nagaski. Japan is the kind of place I probably wouldn’t get to visit were it not for the Navy”.

HMS Albion’s Marine Engineering Department is headed by Commander John McCombe a former pupil of Torquay Boys Grammar School and Dartmouth Community College said, “The Royal Navy has given me a great career as an engineer. I joined straight from school and have gained an engineering degree while serving. I have also thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity the Navy has provided to travel the world.

“The Royal Navy has always been a technological service and it’s a trend that will continue as our ships become more automated and data driven. That’s why it’s so important that we reach out and inspire the next generation of engineers and technicians to follow in our footsteps.”

HMS Albion’s Commanding Officer, Captain Tim Neild said, “HMS Albion is a hugely sophisticated ship, capable of a range of operations, be it delivering humanitarian aid and disaster relief, providing maritime security or projecting Royal Marines ashore. In all these tasks, I rely on my engineers to keep the ship powered, maintained and ready for action.

“I consider myself very fortunate to be able to draw on such a close-knit and experienced team. They are great ambassadors for Naval Engineering and I know how proud they are to fly the flag on behalf of Torbay out here in the Far East.”

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