The Queen brought regal splendour to Britain’s biggest warship today as she formally welcomed HMS Ocean back into the Naval family.
As sponsor of the helicopter carrier, she was the guest of honour for the Mighty O’s rededication service in Devonport.
Pictures: LA(Phots) Alex Cave, Caroline Davies, Joel Rouse and Ben Shread
SUBLIME in cerise, the Queen brought regal splendour to Britain’s biggest warship today as she formally welcomed HMS Ocean back into the Naval family.
Sporting a brooch designed and donated by the wardroom, the 88-year-old monarch was guest of honour as the helicopter carrier was officially rededicated in her home base of Devonport.
The Queen launched the ship 20 years ago on the Clyde and paid her fourth visit to the 21,000-tonne to the assault ship since attending the commissioning, again in Plymouth, back in 1998.
Seventeen years later, the Mighty O has just completed a £65m revamp to allow her to serve until the final years of the decade as the nation’s on-call helicopter carrier.
Military and civilian staff – suitably equipped with mini Union Flags to add plenty of colour to proceedings on a magnificent spring day – lined the roads of the naval base to cheer the monarch, while at the jetty which Ocean herself towered over a 96-strong Royal Guard, the ship’s company of sailors and Royal Marines Commandos, families, friends, and VIPs were enterained by the band of HM Royal Marines Plymouth performing the appropriate nautical tunes.
Having inspected the Guard, the Queen moved on board where the carrier’s Commanding Officer Capt Tim Henry introduced her members of the ship’s company, who demonstrated some of the equipment they use, before the Royal guest dined with a select mix of the 380 sailors and commandos, then departed by Royal helicopter from Ocean’s expansive flight deck.
“This was a chance of a lifetime and I wasn’t going to miss it for anything,” said AB(CIS) Natasha Hill, who’s efforts in the Royal Guard were watched by her parents Debbie and Nick.
“Once we got the hang of the many rehearsals it was really enjoyable. But the actual event was rather nerve-racking. I was worried I’d get it wrong. But it went very well. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
It was equally nerve-racking for Lt Tom McPhail, Ocean’s gunnery officer, who’d co-ordinated the parade training: the sailors manning the Royal Guard and Queen’s Colour Party were drawn from across the ship’s company. “It brings together everyone in the crew in order to honour the Queen and the ship in which we serve. Training such a varied team to perform ceremonial duties, and to such a high standard, is a real, but rewarding challenge,” he said.
The carrier’s second -in-command Cdr Tony Rackham likened proceedings to “Cup Final Day – the culmination of years’ of preparation of the ship from refit to getting ready for sea and operations and then rehearsing for our Royal sponsor. It can’t get any better than this. It’s a real reward for all our hard work.”
As for the brooch, paid for by him and his fellow officers, it depicts Oceanus rising from the waves brandishing a trident.
After a well-earned Easter break, HMS Ocean will return to sea for the latest Joint Warrior exercise off north-west Scotland in late April and come June she will relieve HMS Bulwark as the nation’s flagship.