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New father returns to the bridge.

A Navy captain who left his ship to be with his wife as she gave birth has rejoined HMS Iron Duke in time for its homecoming.

Commander Clive Johnstone flew off the frigate to be with his wife Alison when she gave birth on Monday.

But just hours later he was back onboard to take control as HMS Iron Duke sailed home from a six-month deployment in Kosovo.

The Type 23 frigate has been in the Adriatic since January but arrived back in Portsmouth yesterday.

Cdr Johnstone, aged 35, was with wife Alison when she gave birth to their daughter Emily Louise at St Mary's Hospital, Portsmouth, at 4.30pm on Monday.

But the proud father from Petersfield, Hampshire, was back onboard Iron Duke by 7pm.

He said: "I try to make sure the men can get home in time for births and weddings and important events.

"But it's a bit different for the captain. I was lucky with the timing - if it had been two weeks earlier then my wife would just have had to get on with it."

Cdr Johnstone left the ship on Friday after he was given permission to fly home. He said: "Normally captains don't leave the ship but we had done all the work and handed over to HMS Liverpool, so our squadron captain said I could go.

"If something comes up in one of the men's lives that is important then I will try to get him home.

"The Royal Navy works incredibly hard and there is a real penalty on people. You have to give them the breaks otherwise they get tired and fed-up. You have to look after them."

He said about 30 or 40 of the ship's 170-strong company had had to go home for various reasons during the six-month deployment, including one man who flew home when his son became seriously ill with meningitis.

Cdr Johnstone said baby Emily Louise, who weighed in at 6lbs 11oz, was his second daughter and is still in hospital with her mother. His eldest child Phoebe is two-years-old.

Iron Duke went to the Adriatic in January and during the Nato air strikes she patrolled the coastline to see if the Serbian navy would launch its own strikes.

Her sailors worked defence watches of six hours on and six hours off to keep all weapons fully manned and since the end of the conflict she has been protecting ships bringing humanitarian aid to refugees.

Yesterday, the ship's company were greeted by hundreds of waiting relatives and friends as they arrived at the Portsmouth navy base.

Waiting wife Sharon Arnott, of Gosport, near Portsmouth, said it was the first time her husband Richard would have seen their son Joe since he was two-weeks-old. She said: "It has been a difficult time for my husband, having to go off to Kosovo, but it's been quite a handful for me too."

Cdr Johnstone was not the only person to benefit from the timing of the ship's homecoming - engineer David Goode made it back in time for his daughter Lydia's first birthday, which was yesterday.

His wife Nicola, also from Gosport, said: "It is wonderful he is going to be here for her first birthday."
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Author:Allen, Vanessa
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 28, 1999
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