Sailors from HMS Lancaster spent four days in the north west on a special homecoming tour before heading to the Caribbean. Guardian reporter Gayle Rouncivell visited the crew when they docked in Liverpool.
A life on the ocean waves might not be everyone’s idea of heaven, but for the 185 members of HMS Lancaster’s ship’s company, the next nine months are the culmination of months of hard work.
The ship heads off to the Caribbean later this month for a deployment centred around maritime security.
Before that however, sailors from HMS Lancaster made a special trip to their ship’s home city as part of a four-day stopover.
Commanding Officer Peter Laughton sailed the Type 23 Duke Class vessel into Liverpool, where the crew spent time with local dignitaries as well as catching up with their families and friends before their next long haul trip.
The ship was primarily in the region for affiliation duties with the city of Lancaster, the highlight of which was a ceremony at Lancaster Town Hall.
Commander Laughton was joined by 85 members of the ship’s company on the trip to Lancaster, where they took part in a static parade outside the town hall, at which formal re-dedication of the Freedom of the City Scroll took place.
The ship’s company was inspected by Lancaster mayor Susie Charles, and the ceremony was accompanied by The Band of The King’s Division.
Commander Laughton, who assumed command of HMS Lancaster in November 2013, said: “I was absolutely thrilled to bring HMS Lancaster to the Port of Liverpool in order to re-affirm our strong links with the city of Lancaster.
“With the last ‘hometown’ visit conducted in 2007, this really was a fabulous and much anticipated opportunity to exercise the ‘Freedom of the City of Lancaster’.
During the stay, representatives from Lancaster charity Unique Kidz & Co made a trip to the ship, where they were presented with a cheque for £350.
As HMS Lancaster’s chosen charity for 2015, member’s of the ship’s company have been busy fundraising for Unique Kidz while on board.
HMS Lancaster was built on the Clyde as the fourth of the Type 23 frigates joining the fleet in 1992.
At 133 metres long, HMS Lancaster weighs 3,500 tons and is home to 185 members of the ship’s company, who are split into four main departments – operations, engineering, marine engineering and logistics.
It is carrying a new state-of-the-art Wildcat helicopter for its first deployment.
The versatile multi-role ship can typically be deployed drug-busting in the Caribbean or East of Suez on maritime security patrols.
And after two weeks of training in Portsmouth, the ship will head off to the North and South Atlantic for its nine month deployment.
Commander Laughton has led his crew – which includes just two women – over the last year on operations and in training around the UK, along with a five week inspection, in preparation for the Caribbean trip.
The commander, who has been in the Navy for 23 years, said: “We will be going to North and South Atlantic region for nine months; we are looking at 30,000 nautical miles in 18 different countries.
“This is a really fantastic example of the Royal Navy acting as maritime security and engaging with other navies.
“We will be on call if needed to provide humanitarian relief, but ultimately it is protecting our nation’s interests and security – we will be kept pretty busy.
“It’s what you join the Navy for, and the crew are all really looking forward to it.
“They will work hard but have a great deal of fun too.
“They are all ambassadors for their country and they behave accordingly.
“I have a hugely talented ship’s company; they are very professional and they make my job very easy for me.
“For me to lead them is the most wonderful privilege in the world, and there’s not a day goes by when I don’t learn something,” added Commander Laughton.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Leading hand Scott Williamson
Scott, 28, from Fleetwood, is a marine engineer who has been in the Navy for five years.
Previously on board HMS Arkroyal, Scott joined the HMS Lancaster crew in June 2011.
He said: “Since I was 16 I wanted to be in the Navy but at the time I was put off by the idea of being away so much.
“I had a few engineering jobs but then i decided I wanted a new challenge.
“Obviously you have your long stretches away but you get used to it and you get to look forward tro coming back and seeing your family.”
Scott’s main role on board revolves around helping keep the ship moving.
He added: “I am looking forward to the deployment in the Caribbean, especially the chance to get off the ship and see all the different places.”
Chef Josh Garbett
Josh, 19, from Fleetwood, is a chef on HMS Lancaster, having joined up when he was 18.
He said: “I always knew since I was 13 that I was going to join the Navy.
“My dad was in, but he was medically discharged, and from what he told me and the research that I did I decided that it would be good for me.
“I went into the careers office at 13 and asked if I could sign up and was told to come back in two years.
“So I went back two years later to apply and saw the same guy, who recognised me. I don’t think he expected to see me again!
“I was still at school when I applied. I was doing a cookery course and also played a lot of sport, and so when I was asked what I was interested in I said cooking, so it went from there.”
Josh undertook 10 weeks of basic traing and then a 26 week chefs course before joining the crew of HMS Lancaster as one of the youngest on board.
He now works as part of a three watch system, feeding the 185 crew members.
He said: “When I first joined, the ship was going through a busy stage and the step up was a big one, so it was hard but I am glad I stuck with it.
“I am looking forward to seeing new places and having a good life with the other lads.
“It’s been so busy and I don’t get homesick, and I am looking forward to the trip.”
Warfare specialist James Evans
James, 22, from Blackpool, has been in the Navy for 16 months.
He said: “I was at college when i signed up but there was a two year waiting list, so I was working in my local Primark until I got the call up.
“My dad was in the RAF and so I was always going to go into the military – travelling the world was a major reason for choosing the Navy.
As a warfare specialist, James works with the radar equipment and weapons systems.
He said: “I have only been on board for four months but I am really enjoying it. There are a lot of northern lads on board and we have a good time.
“It should be a good deployment and I am looking forward to it.
“Obviously it’s sad to be away from your family but it should be really good, and you get to travel the world.”