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'The Bish' - Revd. Mike Hills RN, Chaplain to HMS Bulwark

'The Bish' - Revd. Mike Hills RN, Chaplain to HMS Bulwark
'The Bish' - Revd. Mike Hills RN, Chaplain to HMS Bulwark

For most people the difference between ‘perceived’ and ‘real’ time has made these final days of preparation particularly emotional. Some have already said their goodbyes, and others are psyching themselves up for it….there are those who are looking at a five-month stint before seeing their loved ones, and others have arranged to fly out their nearest and dearest at various stages. For now though, most are simply trying to survive this very raw emotional moment by sorting themselves out, focusing hard on the job in hand, and starting the countdown for our return to loved ones.

Last minute fast-balls abound across the ship, so the sooner we ‘leave the wall’ the better it will be on both professional and personal levels for all concerned. If for some reason our sailing is delayed, I have said to my family that I shall stay onboard, because the ‘goodbye’ scenario is never any easier the second time!

18/02/09 (Deployment day)

‘Procedure Alpha’ kicked off on time (which is a good omen) and was fairly cathartic. A ‘first’ for me, all lined up on the deck in best rig saluting the other warships as we passed them, then trying to read the home-made shore-side banners, final messages on bed sheets and comedy flags peppering the coastline whilst God gave us a free shower.
So even the weather matched our initial mood! The ‘big man’ (God that is, not the ChopsM or PWO) was clearly on answer-phone as we were treated to light drizzle, rain, and then a brief reprieve.

I was surprised at the intensity of the occasion, with all kinds of conflicting emotions welling up, such as expectation, anxiety, excitement, and if I wasn’t in full public view there would probably have been a few tears.

 All these scenes triggered parting moments in the North East with my own wife and wee girls, particularly emphasised each time someone shouted from the shore. This involuntary replaying surprised an old hand like me, who should apparently be a bit more in control by now! Must have been difficult for the local members of Ship’s Company to remain professional as they recognised, and then passed, their kinfolk. Tantalisingly close, yet far enough away to reinforce the distance. Yet for all onboard, the evolution served as tangible recognition of our deployment. This was definitely ‘it’.

In one sense, it all smacks of a Monty Python sketch; because there is indeed a degree of absurdity about standing stoically in the rain, with medals, self-consciously waving to those who have dutifully turned out to send us off with shouts and banners of good wishes. And yet, we were curiously protected by our role; one ship, one company, united, (albeit briefly) by an almost overwhelming desire to wish five months away in the time it takes to inhale and exhale. Illogical, but deeply human.

The process has finally begun and Taurus 09 is a reality, it will be exciting to see how the following months unfold.