These are people who have suffered enormously and their taking the time to thank us means a lot. To know that what we have done is so appreciated makes up for our being away from our friends and family back home.

Leading Aircrewman Simon Evans

In total, Royal Navy and Royal Marines – bolstered by Royal Engineers and Army Air Corps personnel aboard Illustrious:

  • helped 50,000 people;
  • delivered over 300 tonnes of food and aid;
  • supplied 15,650 litres of fresh water – which would fill the full tanks of more than 280 family cars;
  • flew 431 hours on helicopter relief missions

As for Britain’s overall response to the typhoon:

  • the government and people donated more than £60m
  • 800,000 people have been helped
  • 245,000 people have been given temporary shelters
  • 325,000 people have received food and safe drinking water provided for 650,000 Filipinos
  • 65,000 people have received essential health care

The combined RN and RAF effort on Operation Patwin – the codename for the response by the UK military to the disaster – was choreographed by a 20-strong team of soldiers, sailors and airmen from the Permanent Joint Headquarters, led by Royal Navy logistician Cdre Clive Walker.

With more than five weeks having passed since the storm struck and civilian aid agencies and commercial organisations increasingly taking on the rebuilding efforts, the moment had come for the British military effort to end.

While Illustrious herself remains many thousand miles from home – she’s due back in Portsmouth in mid-January – the air and ground crew of her three Sea Kings have returned to the Commando Helicopter Force base in Yeovilton.

“It’s been an immense effort with some really long days and some very challenging flying,” said pilot Lt Simon Jones of 845 Naval Air Squadron.

“It’s been extremely satisfying to make a difference and deliver aid to where it’s needed most. The Sea King has allowed us to get aid to some of the most remote islands which would otherwise have been inaccessible.”

Leading Aircrewman Simon Evans added: “Everywhere we went the smiles on peoples’ faces when we arrived was truly touching.

“These are people who have suffered enormously and their taking the time to thank us means a lot. To know that what we have done is so appreciated makes up for our being away from our friends and family back home.”