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Families flock around the Brock as minehunter enjoys first traditional homecoming post-lockdown

8 October 2021
For the first time in 22 months families have been on the harbour wall in Portsmouth Naval Base to welcome home their sailors from deployment.

 For the first time in 22 months families cheered, clapped, waved, held up bright banners and shed the odd tear to give a Royal Navy warship a traditional homecoming to Portsmouth Naval Base.

Around 100 family members and friends were on hand in No.2 Basin to greet the 44 crew of minehunter HMS Brocklesby to a soundtrack from the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines.

Covid restrictions have prevented all such welcomes since March last year – families have not been able to wait on naval base jetties to embrace loved ones after being separated for months on end.

Brocklesby’s sailors last saw families at the end of May – when they flew out to Bahrain to take charge of the ship for a couple of months of operations in the Gulf, before beginning the epic mission of bringing the small ship home on a 6,000-mile journey in company with fellow minehunter HMS Shoreham (due back in Faslane next week).

HMS Brocklesby herself has been in the Gulf for three years, while her sailors – Mine Counter Measures Squadron 2 Crew 6, aka The Mavericks – have spent 11 of the last 15 months deployed on operations.

They have brought the Hunt-class mine countermeasures vessel back home on a warm but overcast autumn day via Gibraltar, Sardinia, Crete, Muscat, Djibouti, Oman and stopped at the last known position of HMS Eagle in the western Mediterranean to pay their respects to the 131 dead when she was sunk in 1942.

“Today has been a great opportunity to show off the ship to our families. This is the first time for a while we have come home with families here so it’s been really lovely – it’s a big thing when you don’t have that. You miss that welcome home,” said Lieutenant Commander Dan Lee, Brocklesby’s Commanding Officer, who was first down the gangway to be welcomed by his wife Louise and the couple’s two daughters.

“I am immensely proud of the crew. For a small ship’s company, the 7,000-mile trip home is a great opportunity. For most of this crew they would have flown back and forth to the Gulf but to travel across the Mediterranean and stop in some amazing places is a great experience for them.

Brocklesby has served us really well and together with our very determined engineers, she has got us home. She may be an aging ship but she’s a workhorse of the fleet.

Lieutenant Commander Dan Lee

“Brocklesby has served us really well and together with our very determined engineers, she has got us home. She may be an aging ship but she’s a workhorse of the fleet.”

His words were echoed by gunnery officer Sub Lieutenant Ben Hyde: “It’s been a good trip back – especially once we got in the Mediterranean – but what makes it is seeing the families able to get back into the dockyard. It’s great to share the moment with them – something the Navy has not been able to do for a while.” 

Warfare specialist Petty Officer Kev Aston added: “It’s a short deployment overall but it’s been a long four months, not being able to go ashore much because of Covid, and now looking forward to spending some time with my wife and kids.”

Since leaving her home port in 2018, Brocklesby has steamed 150,000 nautical miles and completed six crew changes, taking part in 18 operations and exercises under the RN’s Gulf/Middle East mission, Operation Kipion. She has also played a key role in the development of the latest autonomous systems which will likely replace the Royal Navy’s current generation of minehunters. 

Brocklesby will now spend time in maintenance while HMS Middleton, which left the base earlier in the year, takes up the minehunting reins in the Gulf alongside HMS Bangor, Chiddingfold and Penzance. After a period of leave, her crew will join sister ship HMS Cattistock to help bring her out of refit.

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