By PAUL HARRIS
They nicknamed her Lusty, the grand old dame of the sea. She was fast in her day, shapely, ever eager to serve.
But yesterday(07.22.2014), after 32 years as a loyal sweetheart of the Royal Navy, HMS Illustrious sailed slowly into an uncertain future.
The long-outdated warship came home to Portsmouth for the last time – an aircraft carrier with no aircraft; a ship without a mission. What they couldn’t take away from one of Britain’s most celebrated warships, however, was her proud history.
Illustrious is the last survivor of the Royal Navy’s trio of celebrated aircraft carriers, alongside HMS Ark Royal and Invincible. And the question on the lips of those who applauded, waved Union flags or wept yesterday was universal. What now for dear old Lusty?
The Ministry of Defence must decide whether to preserve her for the nation she served or send her to her doom in the wake of her sister ships. Both endured the humiliation of being towed to a scrap yard in Turkey to be converted into tin cans and razor blades.
It’s a fair guess that nobody who turned out yesterday to pay their respects – not even those bronzed bathers cooling down in the shallows off Portsmouth’s ‘hot rocks’ shingle beach as Illustrious passed by – would wish her such an undignified end.
Elsewhere glowing tributes were paid to a warship that had sailed the equivalent of 36 times around the equator, not counting the final few hundred yards under tow into Pompey yesterday.
A formal decommissioning ceremony is due to be held later this year, and Vice Admiral Sir Philip Jones, the Navy’s fleet commander, promised that her departure would be marked ‘with all the pride she deserves’. Ideas are now being invited on how best to preserve her legacy. One plan is to turn her into a UK-based floating museum, a proposal for which private bids are being canvassed.