Flags and flypasts as 'Ark Royal' sails home

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The Independent Online

Cheers rang out, flags flew and tears fell yesterday as the Royal Navy's flagship Ark Royal came home, having played a vital role in the war against Iraq. The 20,000-tonne warship, with a crew of 600, had been at sea for five months, leading Britain's largest maritime task force since the Falklands War.

Portsmouth harbour has witnessed many emotional homecomings, to which could now be added the return of a ship which experienced the anguish of war when six of its aircrew and an American colleague died in an accident in the early days of the conflict. Rear Admiral David Snelson, commander of UK maritime forces, said that "although this is a tremendous occasion for Ark Royal, it is important to remember those who are not here and recall the losses the task force suffered."

The Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, visited before Ark Royal and her escort, Type 42 destroyer HMS York, came alongside to a flypast and military band.

It was the simple pleasures that the men were looking forward to most. As Lieutenant Nick Bewley, 27, put it: "I've really missed my family and friends. I think I'm going to go and have a kebab."