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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 20:22 GMT
HMS Illustrious returns from Afghanistan
Illustrious returns to Portsmouth
Illustrious was greeted by thousands of well-wishers
The UK's flagship in the war on terror has returned home to a rousing welcome in Portsmouth.

HMS Illustrious played an important part in Britain's effort in the fighting in Afghanistan.

Some of the crew of about 1,250 were at sea or on exercise almost continuously for seven months.

Thousands lined the port to welcome home relatives and loved ones when Illustrious docked on Monday afternoon.
The crew salute the crowds on their return
Crew were unexpectedly called into action

The aircraft carrier left the UK on 3 September for Saif Sareea II, a major exercise in the Gulf of Oman.

It was redeployed to the war against terror after the 11 September attacks.

The crew had originally expected to be back home for Christmas.

But Illustrious, nicknamed "Lusty", remained in the region until 3 March.

'Cynical spin'

The 13-deck, 20,000-tonne (19,684-ton) vessel has been replaced by HMS Ocean.

The crew have had three breaks - Christmas in Mombasa, Dubai in February and four days in Majorca on their return journey.

Captain Alan Massey, commanding officer of the ship for three months, said he was "thrilled" at the role the ship had played.

The captain said: "Our ability to get a small number of high-quality forces on the ground at a really early stage paid a hugely significant part in the fall of Kabul."
Sailor Jodie Jones, 17, hugs her grandmother Brenda Glasspool
An emotional reunion

BBC correspondent Sarah Ransome said the trip represented the longest time at sea for many of the crew and the first time some had been in a war zone.

For 17-year-old communications rating Jodie Jones, from Hampshire, it was particularly emotional to see her grandmother again.

Jodie wrote to Brenda Glasspool, 60, while away, in a postcard which read: "Just to let you know, if you have seen the news, we are on red alert to help the Americans. We're fine, just more vulnerable.

"Let mum know I'm fine (very scared though). It is all a bit overwhelming really."

Mrs Glasspool said: "I'm thrilled and just glad they are all back. We were worried then because she was worried.
HMS Illustrious crew return to a hero's welcome
Crew members return home

"We couldn't do anything to help her there because she was so far away."

Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram, who witnessed the homecoming, said: "I am delighted and honoured to welcome Illustrious from her highly successful deployment and my congratulations go out to her commanding officer and ship's company for a job well done."

But Transport and General Workers Union national secretary Jack Dromey accused the government of "cynical spin" in planning to announce up to 1,000 naval job losses on the day of Illustrious' triumphal return.

"They are trying to bury bad news for naval workers with good news for the navy," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The BBC's Paul Adams reports from HMS Illustrious
"The men and women of the crew are all ashore and getting ready for a well earned rest"
See also:

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24 Mar 02 | UK Politics
UK extends lead of Afghan force
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18 Mar 02 | UK
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