Farewell HMAS Newcastle……

Written by AHQ

11 June 2017

What would get me out of bed on a cold, possibly wet morning on long weekend Sunday when I have to put on good clothes, medals and….. even make up!!! 

Not many things I assure you, but this morning I was up early to get ready to farewell the crew of HMAS Newcastle as they headed off on Operation Manitou for their 6th and final deployment to the Middle East.

When I pulled up to park my car the crowds of family and friends were slowly making their way through the gate, getting their names checked off.   Warrant Matthew Hurley,  Ship’s Warrant Officer for HMAS Kuttabul, was there to meet me and ushered me through to gate. 

The first people I saw were some of our navy chaplains……. some have worked with me in the past and some will be on some of the next ships to go…. there was some discussion as to the collective noun for a group of chaplains…. I am not sure we agreed on the appropriate term…..

As I mingled with the crowd I would approach one group and then another to ask if they had heard about Aussie Hero Quilts and to see if their loved one had submitted a request. This family were very appreciative of what we do. This mother delighted in telling me that when this young man was 8 she started making him a quilt… one of two that she has completed…. his father delighted in telling me that he got it for his 18th birthday.  “He got it before then” his mother said.  “Actually not much before” her son chimed in.    He assured me he will be putting in a request as soon as he can.

I spied the ship’s doctor and asked her if she has put in a request and I was greeted with an enthusiastic reply that she certainly has. At that point the gentleman with her chimed in and told me that he had received a laundry bag last time he deployed.  We had a good chat about the last time HMAS Newcastle deployed and about what was in store this time.

Another young lady who is looking forward to receiving her quilt and bag when the time comes. 

This young man was away on leave when the requests were collected but he intends to get his request in as soon as he can.

Another gentleman who is very keen to receive a quilt….

I asked this fellow what sort of quilt he wanted and he said probably a footy club. I asked him which club and the fellow in yellow quipped that he would be the only want wanting his team on his quilt. I asked which team and was told the Melbourne Demons. He was surprised to hear that I have to work on a laundry bag for a fan of that team this after noon.

I also spoke to this young mum whose son was not so keen for a photo, but I bet he will be more enthusiastic about Batman themed quilt his mum as requested.  She will be using it whilst she is away and if he plays his cards right he might be able to use it when she comes home.

Then is was time for the speeches and time for me to find my allocated seat.  
CAPT Brian Schlegel was the MC for the day. Brian was the CO of HMAS Melbourne in 2013 when we looked after her and he was the first ship’s captain to invite me a long to welcome his ship home. 

The next to speak was Commodore Luke Charles-Jones CSC, OAM. Among other things, he reminded the crew to be professional, to look after each other, and lastly, to write home to Mum coz she worries.  Ain’t that the truth.  The Commodore also introduced himself to me before the speeches to thank me for the contribution makes to the crews whilst they are away. 

The Prime Minister was represented by Mr Craig Lawndy, MP, Federal Member for Reid.  Mr Lawndy read a message from the Prime Minister and added a personal note. He said that the sacrifices our serving members make when going on these deployments were brought home to him when he watched serving members cradle very new babies that they would not see for the next 9 months. 

The last speaker was the Captain of HMAS Newcastle, Commander Mark Sirois, who spent 14 years in the Canadian Navy before transferring to the Australian Navy in 2002.   At the end of his speech the captain gave the command “XO, man the ship.”

 The last of the family and friends were ushered ashore and the captain made his way up the gangway to take command.  I mingled with the family and friends on the wharf to wave goodbye. I could not resist speaking to this family.    Don’t you love their hats. A great way for their loved one on board to pick them out in the crowd as they wave goodbye. The fellow on the right, received a quilt made by Maree W whilst he was deployed on HMAS Darwin.

If you look over the shoulder of this fellow you will see three fellows standing on the lower deck together. The taller of the three is waving (see the next photo) and this is his brother in the foreground.  I am sure, in the lead up to every ship’s deployment there is a message that goes around, probably more than once, reminding people to make sure they do not take anything with them that their loved ones need. Tidy up the loose ends, pay the bills and so on…. and if you drive the car to the wharf on the day, DO NOT PUT  THE CAR KEYS IN YOUR POCKET AND TAKE THEM WITH YOU…. lucky for our friend on HMAS Newcastle, he has a good throwing arm and his brother here, has a good catching arm and was able to safely tuck the car keys away in his pocket. I approached just after he pocketed the keys because I thought it was a good story to tell you, to my delight he is also a recipient from HMAS Darwin’s first deployment with us.

At last the crew were on board 

and as the band started to play the National Anthem the crew stood to attention and saluted and HMAS Newcastle pulled away from the wharf

for a 6 month deployment.  Time to start sewing everyone.

Someone who has seen me at a few of these farewells and welcomes quipped to me that I must be sick of these events. Nothing could be further than the truth. I consider it a privilege to be invited to stand among the family and friends of the ship’s company.  I sincerely appreciate the special consideration I am given with parking, access and seating to make it easy for me to attend so that I can farewell the crew and bring you these posts.

A number of people, on realizing who I was and what I was representing, came up with a big smile and a warm hand shake to introduce themselves, and to say thank you.  The warmth of the greeting is always indicative of how much what we do is appreciated. 

And then as I was leaving today I heard someone calling my name and it was this lovely young mum with her two gorgeous little boys.   She knew who I was and wanted to thank me for Aussie Heroes.  She said it means to so much to know that people care and that the crews really cherish their quilts and bags.   Her husband has not yet put in his request but I am hoping she will do as we discussed and get in touch with me and add his name to my list.  It sounds like he has well and truly earned one as they all have. 

Thank you for having me HMAS Newcastle, thank you to you and to your loved ones for your service and the sacrifice that service asks of you and your loved ones. 

Wishing you fair winds and following seas.

Till next time….. keep spreading the word and happy stitching!

Jan-Maree xx

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