Published: 15:27, 14 December 2021
| Updated: 15:29, 14 December 2021
Sailors returning home for Christmas after serving on board the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier on her maiden deployment have revealed a glimpse of life on board the UK's flagship.
Officers from HMS Queen Elizabeth Lt Cdr Jamie Weller and Lt Christopher Windsor, who both live in Rochester, say they cannot wait for a festive season at home.
They have spent 224 days at sea in 2021 deployed on the far side of the world with the UK's Carrier Strike Group.
Despite berthing at several exotic locations around the world, Covid conditions have meant the crew have been confined to the ship and had to look on from the flight deck.
Jamie, 41, lived in Gravesend before moving to Medway and Chris, 29, grew up in the town attending Gravesend Grammar School and have very different roles on board the mammoth vessel.
Lt Cdr Weller is one of the ship's 65 battle-staff personnel who ensure the strike group of nine ships, 28 aircraft and 3,700 crew deliver the operational plans set down from the government.
He works with various embassies and foreign forces to ensure the strategic objectives are delivered.
He said “Deploying to the other side of the world would always be a fascinating experience, but doing so during a global pandemic has been a real challenge.
"Many port visits were cancelled or if the ship did proceed alongside, local Covid restrictions sometimes meant that no-one was allowed off of the ship.”
Meanwhile, Lt Windsor is one of 10 air traffic controllers based onboard the ship and is responsible for launching and recovering aircraft.
He said: "The job can certainly become a challenge, especially in prolonged periods of flying as we have seen on the deployment in a variety of airspace globally.
"We have worked with a number of partner ships from the Royal Navy and Allied nations, so the ability to control aircraft you wouldn’t usually encounter back in the UK has been a particular highlight.”
The ship set off from her home base of Portsmouth back in May to a farewell from the Queen and sailed on the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean, across the Indian Ocean, into the Pacific and back to base on December 9.
The missions included launching the first F-35 jet sorties from the ship in the Mediterranean to the Black Sea and sending planes east towards Iraq and Syria as part of six or seven-hour flights in support of different operations and responding to Russian incursions.
While in the Pacific, the ship passed several active volcanoes and a new one which had just appeared above the surface of the sea with the carrier travelling through floating lava rock.
She has sailed 48,000 nautical miles stopping in 40 different nations including South Korea, Japan, India, Oman and Singapore.
Jamie said: “HMS Queen Elizabeth offers so much. She supports not just defence and security, but diplomacy, trade and prosperity.
"The ship is only a few years old, but is already something of a global icon, attracting interest wherever she goes and to have been part of this historic deployment has been an amazing experience”.
But it wasn't all plain sailing for the warship which saw the loss of a £100 million F-35 in the Mediterranean when it fell from the flight deck and sunk.
The pilot managed to eject and was unharmed and recovered and the incident prompted a scheduled visit by Prince Charles a few days later to be cancelled.
Some 5,000 family and friends of sailors lined the shore on the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour for HMS Queen Elizabeth and her crew's homecoming – the largest seen in the city in more than a decade.
Chris says he's got one thing he's looking forward to most about his return to Kent for Christmas.
“Eating my mum’s lemon drizzle cake," he said. "No cake on the trip has come close to i. That and also not having to greet people with elbow bumps – it will be a very different UK to the one we left in late April."
Jamie added: "This year has been very intense. I was initially serving on HMS Prince of Wales, the Royal Navy’s other aircraft carrier, where I was responsible for developing all the training packages to ensure she was fully operational.
"I was then selected, at short notice, to join HMS Queen Elizabeth and I’ve travelled to the other side of the world and back again spending very little time on dry land this year.
"So the ability so spend time in my own home with friends and family will be a real novelty."
Speaking about plans for the holidays, Chris said he was looking forward to spending time with friends and family and loved ones "plus the opportunity to share Christmas with people this year too".
He added: "My cousin welcomed the newest member of the family whilst I have been deployed, so I am looking forward to meeting her."
Meanwhile for Jamie he spoke about his excitement of "being able to eat fresh salad and vegetables whenever I want".
"Things don’t stay that fresh for long at sea. Therefore home cooked food will be on the top of my agenda after a few hugs with my family which I wasn’t able to do before I left as a result of Covid.”
It has been announced HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales will be deployed alongside NATO allies next year.
Full details have not been confirmed by the Ministry of Defence.