MORE than 800 submariners, Royal Navy veterans and their families joined royalty at HM Naval Base Clyde last week to mark half a century of the UK’s longest sustained military operation.

Friday’s event – celebrating 50 years of the Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD) programme – was thought to be the largest single gathering of Royal Navy submariners since the Second World War.

Princess Anne welcomed a parade of serving Royal Navy and Royal Marines platoons, as well as veterans and US Navy personnel, paying tribute to those who have dedicated their lives to the service.

The CASD mission began in 1969, a year after the Faslane base near Helensburgh was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, with, at first, a Resolution-class ballistic submarine and more recently a Vanguard-class boat at sea consecutively for the past 50 years.

Special mention was given to “those left behind” – highlighting the honourable role played by military partners and families, while the thousands of civilian workers employed at the base were also commended for contributing to the historic milestone.

READ MORE: Princess Royal leads 50-year celebration of Faslane's deterrent role

The Princess Royal told the crowd: “The base, as we see it, has changed dramatically, from the transition from the original workhorses, the Resolution class, to the current custodians of the task, the Vanguards, and it will continue to evolve as it will house the whole of the submarine service from the mid-2020s onwards.

“That is a considerable and substantial continued investment in this base and is testament to the vital importance this base has in our national security.

“Due to its nature, CASD very seldom receives the recognition it deserves, but it is important that we respect and remember that service.

“This is a very special occasion. The deterrent has been in safe and professional hands for 50 years and it will be so for as long as it is necessary.”

READ MORE: Submariners mark 50 years of Navy's 'ultimate mission'

The day was particularly special for one couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary, having met and married in Helensburgh.

Alan Pitchfork was serving on the HMS Repulse submarine in the 1960s when he met wife-to-be Brenda, who was working as a radio operator.

The 71-year-old former submariner said he “instantly fell in love” with the young Wren when they met at the communication centre – and eventually decided to propose on the site.

Alan told the Advertiser: “We feel quite honoured to be invited back, it’s a double celebration for us, our 50th wedding anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the at sea deployment.

“I asked Brenda to marry me while we were both working in the base here, and, fortunately, she accepted. Fifty years later we’re still plucking on.”

READ MORE: Royal Navy sailors' salute to 50 years of Faslane

Brenda said: “The base has played an important part in both of our lives.

“It set the basis for us really, going on to a life in service.

“I’m forever grateful to Helensburgh for introducing me to Alan. Our first married home was here in Helensburgh and we actually married in the Helensburgh registry office, so our connections are quite numerous.”

Alan added: “It’s very special to mark this occasion.

“It doesn’t seem like 50 years ago, but it’s marvellous to be back and see all of the different changes that have taken place in the base and in Helensburgh and the wider area. It’s nice to be back.”

READ MORE: Helensburgh set to swell under £1.3bn expansion of naval base

Also in attendance was 96-year-old Royal Navy veteran Jim Irvine, who was part of the D-Day landings in 1944, helping rescue more than 70 men.

He said: “It was a case of taking a Grantham in your left hand and soldiers in your right hand, flinging them round and dropping them on the boat.

“We did that 71 times. It was quite a busy day!

“It’s important to mark this occasion because it reminds people what happened a long time ago, and it’s nice to honour the people who we didn’t manage to bring home.”

READ MORE: Sub agreement 'paves the way for growth in Helensburgh'

Among the esteemed company, civilian workers at the base also received recognition of their efforts, including Theresa Purdie who was born and grew up in Helensburgh.

Now living in Cardross, Theresa earned a long-service pin from the Princess Royal after 43 years working as the supply operations support manager.

She said: “It’s a great honour and my family are all very proud.

“The base is hugely important from an employment point of view and it’s going to grow even bigger and bring a lot to the communities.

“It’s really quite an exciting thing to look forward to.”

READ MORE: Helensburgh D-Day veteran receives top French WW2 honour

Conservative West of Scotland MSP and Helensburgh resident Maurice Corry said: “I congratulate the naval base team on putting on such a wonderful parade in the presence of the Princess Royal. It clearly demonstrated the fantastic work our CASD team do, and have done, providing security for our country for the last 50 years.

“I would also like to pay grateful thanks to the families who support our submariners who go to sea on such long patrols. I know the pressure that can build up on families when submariners are away at sea and I commend them for the support they give.

“It was also great to see colleagues from the US Submarine Service attending the event to underline the co-operation there is between our two navies.

“It was particularly impressive to see so many submarine veterans on parade. I know the West of Scotland branch of the Submariners’ Association is very strong, and does fantastic work in this area, and I thank them for the service they have given to our country.”