Stowmarket sailor tells of Beirut rescue

A SUFFOLK sailor, safe at home with his family today, has spoken of his part in the evacuation of British citizens from Beirut.Petty officer Darren Acres, of Sandpiper Road, Stowmarket, is now reunited with his wife Claire, 25, and two children following his part in the intense evacuation operation as the Middle East crisis rages.

A SUFFOLK sailor, safe at home with his family today, has spoken of his part in the evacuation of British citizens from Beirut.

Petty officer Darren Acres, of Sandpiper Road, Stowmarket, is now reunited with his wife Claire, 25, and two children following his part in the intense evacuation operation as the Middle East crisis rages.

The 35-year-old was on board Type 42 destroyer HMS Gloucester, which helped more than 650 civilians escape the war-torn capital of Lebanon, in what was the largest evacuation since Dunkirk.

Before his ship was diverted, Mr Acres was due home two weeks ago after a four-month deployment on maritime security operations in the Indian Ocean.

Mr Acres, who has been in the Navy for 18 years, said: “We did two trips taking people from Beirut to Cyprus. The first time we took 170 people and then we went back and took around 500. Then we went back a third time for army personnel.

“It all went smoothly. Everyone knew it was the real deal and gave 110per cent.

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“On the second trip we were told we had to be out by 8pm but it was 7.50pm and we were still waiting for one family.

“They got dropped off by police and had no time to pick up their bags and then literally as we left, bang on 8pm, all the aircraft started bombing.

“There was a mixture of panic and gratitude among the people.

“Everyone was pleased to get out but others couldn't understand why it had taken us so long to get permission to move in. people were saying 'why didn't you come earlier?' as they didn't understand we couldn't move in until all the diplomatic negotiations were done.”

Gloucester was the first British ship to berth in Beirut, parts of which were being bombarded by Israeli fighter jets at the time.

It was also the last Royal Navy ship to leave Beirut, with its final act being to withdraw British troops who had been assisting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in processing evacuees.

Mr Acres, father to Jacob, one, and Megan, four, said: “It's great to be back.

“It was hard not to get emotionally involved, especially having kids myself.

“We took lots of babies onto the ship and one woman who had just had triplets who was having to leave her husband behind.”

The warship returned to Portsmouth last Thursday and Gloucester's commanding officer, Commander Mike Paterson, said: “That's a good example of the high calibre and the top quality of the people we have on board the ship. They were absolutely first class.”

Mr Acres has a month at home with his family before heading off for a month-long deployment in September. He will then return home before another month before going back to sea for Christmas and the New Year.

Do you have a relative involved in the Middle East crisis? Telephone The Evening Star newsroom on 01473 324788.

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