Monday, 17 March 2014

Welcome Home HMAS Melbourne

Back in November the Captain of HMAS Melbourne invited me to be there as his guest when HMAS Melbourne came home.  This is something I have wanted to do each time one of our ships has come home but it something I would not do in the past for two reasons. Firstly I feel it is family time and I didn't want to intrude and secondly, as some of you know, I have chronic arthritis in both knees and that makes getting around really difficult.  The logistics of where to park etc and how far to walk and standing waiting would have been too much for me.   So, when the Captain offered to send a car to get me, plus my husband or a guest of my choice, and promised to take care of the arrangements for seating etc, I was thrilled to say the least.  (ok well that might be a bit of an understatement).

In Aussie Heroes I am in a unique position in that I see all the requests and read most of the thank you messages in their entirety, whereas I have to edit out the personal info before I put it on the blog.  Often that means, in the case of the ships' crews, that I "get to know" some of the crew just a little bit.  I have always thought it would lovely to be there when the ship comes in to see the reunions and perhaps meet some of the characters.  So, yes, I was delighted but the problem then was "Who to take with me".  

Whilst my husband, David, would have been an easy choice, he also travels extensively for work and his schedule is very demanding and unpredictable.  It would have been wonderful for him to be there to see the fruits of my labour (i.e. why I am locked in my office so much of the time and why there are quilts, fabric, batting and Bx2 boxes all over our house!)  We could have accepted the invitation on his behalf only to find that at the last minute he would not be here afterall.  As it turned out he was in America on the day and had to delay his return him by 24 hours at the last minute.   

So, if not my husband, who should I invited in his place.  Thankfully my ever wise husband said "take the one who has done the work".  Well that was simple then.  It had to be Debbie as it was Debbie who had taken the blocks sent in from all over Australia and put them together for the quilt the captain requested for his daughter.  Debbie had also put together the blocks for the second little girl whose mother requested a quilt for her instead of herself.  In then end Debbie was responsible for making 6 quilts completely herself and quilting another four quilts, all to go to HMAS Melbourne so she more than earned her invitation.

The three month wait seemed so long for us but I can only imagine how hard it was for the families and the crew but at last the day came.  

Now allow me to introduce you to Chaplain Murray.  He had sailed with Melbourne last year but had only been filling in till another chaplain could take his place in December.   I had met Chaplain Murray, as I try to meet all the chaplains before they deploy on the ships to the Middle East, and in fact I had made his quilt myself.  It was lovely to catch up with him again when he came to collect Debbie and I at 845am on Saturday morning.


Murray was able to drive on to the wharf at Garden Island and park with the other service vehicles and it was just a short walk to where the proceedings were to take place.  We were seated with the Captain's wife (and two gorgeous little pink dressed girls) and just behind the Prime Minister and his wife.  


There were a couple of brief speeches praising the efforts of the crew and the support, sacrifice and resilience of the families and loved ones who had stayed behind.  
The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Griggs, spoke...


followed by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.


Mr Abbott appeared very friendly and obliging.  He was introduced to the Captain's wife and posed for photos with the family and also with others who approached him.  There was one gorgeous little girl in a super cute sailor dress, you may have seen her on the news as he posed with her family for a picture too.  I tried to get a picture but it was too hard.


After the speeches Chaplain Murray introduced us to Vice Admiral Griggs.  I asked if he would mind if we had a photo and he handed his phone to his staff officer (I assume that is who he was) and he instructed him to take one photo on his and one on ours. 


When I asked if he would mind if I published the picture on the blog his reply was "you might as well as you will be on Twitter in ten minutes!"  and apparently we were.  Sadly I had to get someone else to show me a screenshot as I don't do Twitter, but I think I might have to start! LOL  What a great way to get the word out about Aussie Heroes!  Thanks Sir!


Debbie and I were also introduced to the Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral Tim Barrett, who was also obliging with a photo and asked lots of questions.  It was obvious he had heard of Aussie Heroes.   :-D


And then Melbourne slowly cruised up the wharf. 


Watching a ship come in after a long deployment with the crew dressed in their perfectly pressed uniforms and all lined up is just the most special experience. 
This is actually called Procedure Alpha.


All the junior sailors are lined up on the forecastle and the flight deck. 


In this photo you can see a scrambling net - this is a type of rope ladder that is lowered down should the ship need to recover a group of people from the water.  There are other options available to recover people from the water but I thought you might like to know what the ladder is for.   For example, if the ship is having a short period of recreation and is in an area where it is safe to swim then this is one way that people can return to the ship after a quick dip!


And all the officers and senior sailors are lined up on the upper deck


The captain stands on the Bridge wing behind the ship's crest, conning the ship, and that is the ship's navigator beside him.  


The Executive Officer also had a role to play in bringing the ship safely alongside.


I am sure that you can imagine that bringing a warship like HMAS Melbourne to the wharf is a little more complex than parking a car and can you imagine doing it with the Chief of Navy,  the Fleet Commander, the Prime Minister, all the families and friends, oh and the press! 
No pressure!




This handsome looking fellow is the Chaplain who took over from Chaplain Murray.   He was great to work with, always good natured and happy to help me out.


The Captain, Commander Brian Schlegel, was the first to walk down the gangway and after he was greeted by his wife and children, and the then rest of the dignitaries, Debbie and I had a few moments to greet him.  Here we are with his oldest daughter Madison, who was the recipient of the quilt he requested.  

Brian took command of HMAS Melbourne only a few days prior to them sailing for the Middle East.  Stop and think for a moment about what is involved in getting yourself ready to deploy for several months.  Could you do that in three days and what is more....could you prepare your small children for the fact that they won't see Daddy for several months in just a few days?  It is a big ask, but it happens at all rank levels, and across all three services from time to time, and it is something that noone makes any fuss about. Our men and women in uniform just get on the with the job and make the best of it but still, it is another reason we should be saying thank you to them.

Now this is where I am going to struggle to try and convey some of what I experienced on Saturday, especially to those who sew for us and those who support us in other ways.  How can I adequately describe the appreciation and gratitude that was expressed to Debbie and I on Saturday?  I always say that you have to hear it in their voices, see it in their eyes and feel it in the warmth of their embraces or handshakes before you truly understand just how much what we do is appreciated, not only by the men and women we are sending our quilts and laundry bags to but also by their families and friends.  

The first thing Brian said to me was "Thank you so much".  He has always made it very clear to me how much he personally appreciates what we do and what we did, not only for himself, but especially for his crew.   We only had a couple of minutes to talk, and I hope we will catch up for a longer chat after he has been home for a bit, but twice he said to me "Please do not ever underestimate the difference you are making."  There really wasn't much time as he had to head off for a press interview almost straight away but there was just enough time to pose for this photo and for me to thank him for inviting us to come in.


If you have ever wondered what those whistle stop interviews look like that you see on the news and hear on the radio, here you go.


You would have snippets of this interview on the news and heard some of it on the radio later that day.


After we said goodbye to Brian, the Executive Officer (I guess you could say, for those that don't know what an XO is, that he is the second in charge) made a point of coming up to say thank you with his wife.  In an email to me after he received his quilt he wrote that he had been on 5 deployments to the Middle East over a long period.  He said "the Aussie Hero Quilts have done so much more for morale on board than I have seen before on previous trips. You should be very proud of the positive effect that your work has for our deployed people!"  It was lovely of him and his wife to take the time to say thank you personally.  

And now to the rest of the crew.  Not having been to a homecoming before I really did not know what to expect or where to go but Debbie and I did our best.  Once the crew started to disembark there was a crush of people.  Debbie and I made our way towards all the action and along the way I was spotting name tags, looking for ones that I recognised.  It was not easy, given how many people received quilts and laundry bags on the Melbourne, but I had some success.  

Along with the pink and white blocks some of you sent in for the Captain's daughter's quilt you also sent in pink and purple blocks to make a quilt for a junior sailor's daughter.  Mother and daughter were more than happy to stop and pose for the camera.  


This fellow received a quilt that was a joint effort from myself, Carolyn and Kym.  He was still on his way to find his family but posed quickly for a pic and then dashed off - who could blame him?  Later that afternoon on Facebook he said  "And if I wasn't so distracted about wanting to see my family I'd have stayed for a proper chat. Thank you again for my awesome quilt.  Currently wrapped in it watching a movie.  Oh and drinking a few cold beers!!!  Oh yeah."


It was really the luck of the drawer who I found and this lovely lady had received a green animal quilt made by Lynn and quilted by Belinda.  This Petty Officer was the second person to tell me not to underestimate the value of what we do and how much it means.  


Chelly, this young lady received your awesome bright surfing quilt.


Lisa (from Muswellbrook) this is the young lady who received your musical notes and stars quilt.  I met her in the Junior Sailor's Cafe - her mother, Rosemarie, who has come and helped me out and has come to one of our dinners, told me where to find them otherwise I would not have had a hope.  


You may be wondering why are some dressed in their spotless white uniforms and others are in their camoflage uniforms or DPNUs.  Let me explain.  A number of the ship's crew are sent home maybe a month or so ahead of the rest of the crew and they proceed on leave until the ship returns.  They are called the "Early Leavers".  That does not leave the crew shorthanded.  An equal number of junior or inexperienced personnel join the ship in their place.  On the trip home the crew are engaged in training these more inexperienced crew members so that they can can learn along the way.  

Once the ship gets inside the Heads, or somewhere similar, a boat load of the early leavers are brought on board and they are available then so that those who are returning home from deployment can head off on leave straight away and see their families.

Without exception, everyone whose name badge I recognised and who I approached was very welcoming.  As soon as I said, "Hi, my name is Jan-Maree from Aussie Heroes and I think you received a quilt from us" I was greeted with a big smile and handshake or a hug and always words of gratitude.  Everyone was more than happy to pose for a photo for the blog and, most importantly, for their quilter.  They all told me how much they loved their quilts and used them

Meg, one of your quilt tops was quilted by Stephanie T and went to this fellow.


Louise your smiley faces and rainbows top was quilted by Belinda and is still being enjoyed by this lovely young lady.  

These two gents received quilts made by Lynn and Jillianne and both were quilted by Stephanie T.


One of the quilts donated by the Camden Country Quilters Guild went to this young officer.


Debbie was really lucky.  She managed to meet most of her quilt recipients and got photos with some of them.




Finally I made Debbie do the "tourist thing" and stand for a picture.


Not much later and the sea of people who had been waiting to meet and greet HMAS Melbourne were gone and she was fairly quiet.  


Chaplain Murray drove us home and Debbie and I were totally pooped.  The weather had been perfect, if a little warm.  I was so grateful of the cold bottle of water we were offered on arrival.  There was none of it left by the time we got home.  

The overwhelming impression that will stay with me was the smiles that came onto people's faces as soon as they knew we were from Aussie Heroes.  I know I tell you from time to time time that we are making a difference and that people really appreciate it, but I am not sure that I can adequately express in the written word just how much people appreciate it.  

I know when I first started Aussie Heroes I knew what we were doing was a good thing, and I knew that it would be appreciated, but what I did not know was how much, and how deeply, our recipients would feel about what we do.   I have to admit that I feel a bit uncomfortable trying to explain it as it feels somewhat immodest to try and describe it, but every time I talk to someone who I meet who has received a quilt or a laundry bag, or who has known that their mates or family member have received one, I am always touched by their gratitude.  There is a sincerity in their voice, in their eyes, that makes it clear.  I know Debbie felt it on Saturday for the first time and I know it made an impression on her.  I hope over time, more of you will also get the opportunity.

For now, I am off to do some more sewing.  There are loads of requests on the list at the moment and that means loads of men and women wanting to receive a bit of love from us while they are away.

Till next time................welcome home HMAS Melbourne........and to the rest of you.......keep spreading the word and happy stitching!  JMxx



3 comments:

  1. Thank you, Thank you Thank you for sharing it all with us, Truly a wonderful day.

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  2. Thank you for such a wonder post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sand storm up my way tonight (*grin). Why aren't there more hours in the day to sew??

    ReplyDelete