Grafton's emotional return

AS it glided majestically up the River Orwell for one last time, HMS Grafton received an emotional, yet rapturous welcome.Today, after Ipswich's adopted warship was chaperoned into port by a small flotilla of boats, its crew began to say their final farewells to a town which has taken them to their hearts.

AS it glided majestically up the River Orwell for one last time, HMS Grafton received an emotional, yet rapturous welcome.

Today, after Ipswich's adopted warship was chaperoned into port by a small flotilla of boats, its crew began to say their final farewells to a town which has taken them to their hearts.

HMS Grafton's captain, former Suffolk schoolboy Robert Bellfield spoke of his mixed emotions after he guided it into port.

The ship is being decommissioned in March after nine years of service.

Mr Bellfield, 40, brought up in Clopton, near Woodbridge, said: “It means an awful lot to me to be able to sail the ship into Ipswich.

“It is sad but it's also with great pride that we mark our relationship with the town by coming back. This is the final thing this ship is doing.”

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The Type 23 frigate will remain in the town's docks until Monday , before returning to Portsmouth.

Its arrival, at about 3pm yesterday, was marked with a guard of honour from representatives of the Ipswich branches of the Royal British Legion and Royal Naval Association.

Among the crowd waiting to greet the ship were Mr Bellfield's parents, Juliet and Peter, of Clopton.

Mrs Bellfield, 63, said: “To see Robert commanding a warship as it comes into Ipswich is a great privilege.

“This is what he has wanted to do since he was 10.”

Mr Bellfield senior, 67, added: “This was the ship he always wanted to command and we're very proud.”

Although the ship is being handed over to the Chilean Navy, a lasting link with Ipswich will be retained.

Its bell and name board will be presented to town mayor Bill Wright as a permanent reminder of the association.

And the borough council has also announced it is to name its new headquarters, currently being built in Russell Road, after the ship.

Mr Bellfield remains hopeful Ipswich may be able to adopt another warship in the future.

He said: “We've visited Ipswich almost every year since the ship was built and that's because of the fantastic relationship we have with the town.

“Because of this I believe Ipswich should be given priority in adopting future ships.”

N HMS Grafton's bell was being presented by commanding officer Rob Bellfield to Ipswich Mayor Bill Wright today .

The presentation was due to be at a cocktail party on board the ship.

N Turn to today's eight-page supplement sponsored by Pretty's solicitors to find out more about HMS Grafton.

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