Last weekend I had the huge privilege of joining HMAS Perth as she arrived home from her Operation Manitou deployment. I have been invited to be there when ships come home a number of times before but this was extra special as HMAS Perth was coming home to Fleet Base WEST…. not to Sydney but to Rockingham in Western Australia.
Imagine my surprise when I received the email inviting me to come over and informing me that they were not only inviting me over to be there, but they were going to pay for my airfare, accommodation and a car (and you really need a car as Rockingham is a fair way south of Perth Airport.
It wasn’t until the day before I left for Perth that I read an article in the Navy Daily (you can read it here) and learned that the crew had raised the money to bring me over. I don’t know who I thought was paying my expenses but it had not occurred to me that the crew had chipped in to do so and I was very touched by their gesture.
I left for Perth with three extra quilts in my suitcase. Two were to be presented to crew members whose requests had not made it to me in time to be posted to them whilst they were deployed, and the third quilt is our miniature welcome home quilt, made by Lynn. I put everything in front of my door the night before so that there was no way I would leave without them in the morning!!!
Garden Island really is an island and it is joined to the mainland by a 4.2km long causeway.
In this photo the mainland is in the background and the island in the foreground. Because of weight limitations at times all traffic must wait until vehicles of a certain weight have passed over the bridge one by one. There were two such trucks ahead of us on the way into Garden Island and I was a little nervous that we would not make it to the ship on time.
Many people have asked how I got aboard the ship, was I taken out to it in a boat etc, so I will explain. The ship came alongside the Ammunitions Wharf in Garden Island so that the people required to carry out the customs and quarantine processes could come aboard. I was met at the gangway of the base, followed my escort to a carpark where we left my car, and then driven on to the wharf where the ship was tied up before being effectively handed over to the chaplain. A walk up the gangway and I was on board.
In spite of the delay, we managed to arrive just in time for me to board the ship almost on the dot of 1030. Chaplain Duncan was previously on deployment in Al Minhad Air Base and we have been friends ever since. He was on hand to introduce me to the Ship’s Warrant Officer (owner of Katie’s Star Wars LB and Lynn Scott’s Star Wars/Star Trek Quilt), the Executive Officer (owner of Donna’s Canadian Maple Leaf Quilt) and the Captain (owner of Su J’s HMAS Perth themed quilt). For here on in things moved very quickly.
I had a quick chance to say hello to the Fleet Command Warrant Officer who I have met a few times before and who was kind enough to send me one of his coins when my house was destroyed… helping to start off my collection again.
The two quilts I had taken with me to present in person were handed over very quickly. I had received a phone call from Duncan the night before and he had passed the phone to one of the recipients so he could have a brief word with me. He told me that he had received his laundry bag already and was so delighted to get it as he had not received much mail whilst he was away so receiving the parcel from us meant a lot. He also spoke about just how excited he was to be receiving his quilt the next day. He could not have been more thrilled with his Monopoly themed quilt made by Lynn and said it was absolutely awesome! The other fellow received a quilt that was a bit of a joint effort but which was completed by Gail and he was even more touching. Before he had even seen his quilt he gave me a big hug and said he thanked me, not only for the quilt, but also for the heart that went into it.
Then it was time to form up for the quilt photo. We were all looking up to a platform where the Navy photographer and a fellow from the local paper were standing ready to take the photos. You can’t see all the quilts but let me tell you there were some very proud owners there and after the presentations were taken care of a number of them came up to me to thank me personally and tell me how much they love and appreciate their quilts.
Straight after this photo the Captain presented me with a framed photo of HMAS Perth and their quilt airing photo… and then surprised me again.. not only did the crew raise the funds to bring me over, the Ship’s Warrant Officer also presented me with a fabulous donation of over $2600 to continue to work that Aussie Heroes is doing. That will buy a heap of batting, and that reminds me, it is time to order some more.
This photo was taken (and published) by the local paper (you can read the article here) and though it is an awful one of me (ugh!) it is a lovely one of the Ship’s WO and the presentations from the ship.
I can’t wait til I move back in to our re-built home, so that I can hang these beautiful framed photos all together and make a special feature of all of them so that anyone who visits can enjoy them too.
As soon as the presentations were completed people scattered to their respective stations to prepare to sail for the wharf. First things first though and the whole ship stopped for a very moving Remembrance Day Service. I was in the Wardroom for this time and it was very special listening to the messages and passages being piped throughout the ship whilst feeling the gentle movement on the water and seeing looking out of the porthole. We observed one minute’s silence and then it was time to head to the Bridge.
|The first glimpse of the families and friends waiting for the crew|
The XO was kind enough to give me his chair on the bridge and I could not help thinking how special it was to be sitting there watching the whole process of the ship leaving the wharf. It looks so simple when they do it but you know that they are working hard to make sure that everything goes smoothly. HMAS Perth had to sail around to a certain point and then turn around so that she was more or less backed in and maneuvered sideways into position by two tugs. Everything was completed with absolutely precision. There is always a little added pressure when the Fleet Commander is on board too but all went to plan.
|Eventually the ship would be tied up alongside on the opposite side of this wharf|
|I felt like such a tourist standing up there with all of the smartly dressed officers but they were all so welcoming and lovely. I just had to have a shot taken with the water in the background…..|
|And a selfie with Duncan|
|A final one with a very spiffy looking Duncan, pity his face is in shadow but it is him, honest|
For interest’s sake, the red and white pennant is the Fleet Commander’s pennant and each ship must fly it when he comes aboard. The four flags on this side of the ship are the callsign of the Fleet Commander, BGEE or bravo, golf, echo, echo. On the other side of the ship is the ship’s callsign in flags.
On our way in we passed HMAS Arunta and I have to wonder what her crew were thinking as we passed her, given that they deployed just yesterday bound for Operation Manitou… their deployment however is extended for an extra couple of months. Some love the idea because they will have a leave people whilst over there and some dislike it…. tough call….
and here is the sight that so many of the crew just could not wait to see…. even the thought of it brought excited butterflies to the stomach….
All lined up in their crisp white uniforms, not a loose thread, a wrinkle or crease or even a crumb to be seen…..
We inched closer and closer to the wharf and family and friends were able to start to pick each other out….
I was looking for the three Aussie Hero Quilters who were waiting on the wharf among the crowd and thankfully because of Lynn’s quilt, I was able to pick them out…
That is Jacqui S holding the quilt up….
Here they all are…. the local paper had the benefit of good lens (rather than my phone camer) and he got a good shot of Christine, Jacqui and Ann…..
Luckily, Ann’s husband was on the wharf with her and so he was positioned to take some photos as HMAS Perth cruised in. Doesn’t she look resplendent with her sailors and officers standing around the deck. You can’t see me in this photo
but thankfully you CAN see me in this photo and I am so pleased to have a picture to actually prove I was there….
I was one of the last down the gangway and off the ship as I did not want to hold up anyone that was waiting to get to their families and the Ship’s Warrant Officer, who had taken over as my escort, had to be the last one off anyway. The Fleet Command Warrant Officer, and the Fleet Commander were stationed at the top of the gangway to shake hands with every crew member and thank them personally as they left and they did the same with me. The appreciation for what we do goes all the way to the top in the Navy, never doubt that for a minute, and they both expressed their deep appreciation for our efforts.
When ships come home I usually go around meeting as many of the crew as I can, taking their photos but it was a lot harder coming off the ship with them as they were ahead of me. I did manage to get a photo with the captain though. He LOVES his quilt Su and I am pleased to say he held it out to show me when I came on board. He is justifiably proud of it.
One of the special moments that I did not see, because I was on board, but which I knew about (coz I was on board! LOL) was this proposal… How lovely….
And thankfully, and no doubt much to his relief, she said YES!! Bet she was glad she had had her nails done!
I asked the ladies to send me some words describing their experience on the wharf and this is what they wrote….
We thoroughly enjoyed the day, Rockingham was as windy as usual! Better than a hot day though.
The naval personnel we spoke to certainly reassured us that the quilts and bags were always well received. The Chaplains made themselves known to us and the HMAS Arunta already has a list in process!
It was a privilege to be invited and be among the families welcoming their sailors home. Certainly will be keen to go again, maybe when Arunta comes home, hoping I have a recipient on board.
and from Ann
The chance to meet the HMAS Perth as she returned from her 6 month deployment is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
Whilst I was not there to greet anyone in particular, the first sighting of the HMAS Perth raised strong emotions and brought a tear to my eye as it was like watching our Quilts and Laundry Bags come home safely, along with all those aboard, knowing that we have made a contribution to many lives.
As we waited, I had the pleasure of speaking to Chaplains who said that our Quilts and Laundry Bags were highly regarded and crew members looked forward to receiving parcels from Aussie Hero Quilts. It certainly helped uplift spirits. The Chaplains casually mentioned that another AHQ List was being made up for the next deployment.
Helping Jacqui hold the Aussie Hero Quilt “Welcome Home” Quilt up high made me feel very proud to be part of the AHQ family.
It gave me great delight to see numerous family members approach Jacqui acknowledging the Aussie Hero Quilters and advising that their loved ones had been the recipient of one of our Quilts and/or Laundry Bags.
Whilst waiting for the Ship to Berth, a young lady alongside me proudly advised us that she was a past recipient and thanked us Aussie Hero Quilters. She went on to share how wonderful it felt receiving the gift and how much it is treasured.
It was at this time that I felt a sudden warm happy tingling feeling and thought … aahhh this is what Jan-Maree and ladies are talking about – “the acknowledgement”; it truly is a wonderful feeling.
During the Speeches the crowd were silent and very attentive but this all changed when Aussie Hero Quilters were mentioned and greeted with a rousing cheer and a round of applause. Yeah!.
The beautiful sunny day was fitting for the families and friends to welcome home their loved ones and the excitement of the children was highlighted when I read one sign that said … “MOVE IT – I have not hugged my Dad in 6 months”.
Well done HMAS Perth on your successful mission. Welcome Home.
And from me again….
I have been invited to do some very special things since starting Aussie Heroes and HMAS Perth’s invitation is one of the most special invitations I have received. I could not have been made to feel more welcome or appreciated and I only hope that my above account of the day will reinforce to all the quilters and laundry bag makers just how much what we do is appreciated.
I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the Captain and the crew of HMAS Perth to join with them for such a special experience. It is a memory that I will treasure for ever.
Till next time…… keep spreading the word and happy stitching!
Beautiful. Just beautiful. I will be sewing for Aussie Heroes for as long as my body and mind will allow me.