HMS Montrose joined Chile’s party of the year as the country celebrated the 200th birthday of its Navy. The frigate was invited to join old friends – former British warships HMS Grafton, Sheffield and Marlborough, now serving under the Chilean flag – and make new friends in the port of Valparaiso where a series of high-profile anniversary events were staged over nine days.
Montrose – at the start of a mammoth three-year deployment, most of which will be spent in the Middle East – enjoyed a plum berth next to the former Sheffield, today Almirante Williams, after exercising with the Chilean frigate and US warships off the west coast of South America.
The Plymouth-based warship was not the sole UK representative in town for the bicentennial: the Princess Royal and her husband Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence who were hosted by First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones at a reception aboard Montrose, also attended by the head of the Armada de Chile, Admiral Julio Leiva Molina, and the ranking admirals of the Royal Australian and New Zealand navies, plus the commander of the US Navy’s Fourth Fleet (covering Central and South America).
The reception – and all the ceremonial surrounding it – was supported by the Royal Marines Band from HMS Collingwood, who spent over a week in Chile performing at a variety of events.
Ahead of the reception, Princess Anne presented a Fleet Commander’s Commendation to Chief Petty Officer ‘Taff’ Edmunds and a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal to Chief Petty Officer Johnathan ‘Eddie’ Yates.
Twenty-two years ago a then Captain Tim Laurence commanded Montrose on a South Atlantic deployment. Two decades later, his successor Commander Conor O’Neill gave the admiral and Princess Royal a tour of the frigate to see the many changes made since (the ship is fresh out of a major refit, including installing Sea Ceptor air defense missiles) and chat with crew about life in the RN in 2018.
The reception ended with Princess Royal took a Royal Salute from HMS Montrose’s Guard of Honor, before departing to a school for disabled children where the ship’s company had been hard at work.
Escuela Gran Bretana was set-up half a century ago by ex-pats to give youngsters with disabilities a good start in life. An eight-strong team from Montrose cleared undergrowth and rubbish from the garden and brightened up classrooms with a fresh lick of paint.
“This was a great opportunity to assist the school which I found really rewarding, and it was an honor to meet Her Royal Highness as well,” said Leading Engineering Technician Dan Adamson.
Sailors also volunteered to attend another school with British connections: the MacKay School. A platoon of sailors attended the unveiling of a re-commissioned Roll of Honor, listing students and masters fought in the trenches during World War 1.
Midway through the visit HMS Montrose sailed as part of an International Fleet Review joining her sisters Almirante Condell (previously HMS Marlborough) and Almirante Lynch (HMS Grafton) as well as the US Ships Somerset and Wayne E Mayer, Chinese hospital ship Peace Ark and a dozen ships from other South American Navies.
In all, two dozen ships and two submarines sailed past the Chilean ship Sargento Aldea, where the nation’s President Sebastián Piñera and Princess Royal took the salute.
When she returned to her berth, Montrose opened her gangway to the public and delegates attending the nearby ExpoNaval, the Chilean-hosted international naval and maritime trade fair, showing off her Sea Ceptor system – in the process of being fitted to Chilean and New Zealand ships – and Wildcat helicopter in particular.
The ship’s sports teams got their first run out of the deployment; the footballers demolished a side from USS Somerset 15-1, but the rugby side were outclassed 40-5 by the Old Chilean Navy Team.
“All the sailors did HMS Montrose proud,” said the ship’s Leading Physical Trainer Cat Forrest. “While we did not always get the result we wanted, it did not stop them getting out there and trying their best.”
Commander Conor O’Neill said of his ship’s nine days in Valparaiso: “I am particularly proud of all that our sailors achieved, in addition to supporting a Royal visit, they got out into the community to do good and were a credit to the service and their country.
“Our time in Valpariso allowed us to represent the Royal Navy at the Chilean Navy 200 celebrations, highlighting our long-standing friendship with the Chilean Navy and building our relationships in this hemisphere.
“And it was a privilege to host the Princess Royal onboard HMS Montrose; the ship’s company demonstrated how proud they were of their ship.”(RN)