GALLERY, VIDEO: Navy frigate treats Lydia to a birthday surprise

WARRNAMBOOL’S Lydia Sinclair got a birthday present last night that will be pretty hard to top. 

Just before 6pm, the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Melbourne sailed in close to Warrnambool’s breakwater to deliver Mrs Sinclair an 80th birthday gift she won’t forget in a hurry. 

The ship’s Seahawk helicopter, Dominator, circled the foreshore and at 6pm let off a short volley of flares, while the ship sounded its horn and sent a special birthday message to the shore in Morse code. 

The Melbourne is returning to Sydney from a six-month deployment to the Middle East as part of Operation Slipper — a counter-terrorism and piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. 

The 138-metre ship’s commanding officer just happens to be Mrs Sinclair’s godson, Commander Brian Schlegel. 

Speaking to The Standard from the bridge of the Melbourne yesterday afternoon, Commander Schlegel said the spectacular display was all part of compulsory exercises that have to be carried out while the ship is at sea. 

He said it was just good timing the ship was sailing off the Victorian coast soon after Mrs Sinclair’s birthday, which was celebrated on Saturday. 

“I obviously couldn’t make it to Aunty Lydia’s birthday party, but when I checked the dates, I saw we would be in the area around the time,” he said. 

“We have to do certain amounts of exercises, so I thought we would take the opportunity to drop by Warrnambool say ‘hello’ to Aunty Lydia and put on a bit of a show for everyone. The Seahawk had been at the Portland airport earlier in the day doing land-based exercises.”

Commander Schlegel remembered fondly school holidays spent in Warrnambool with the Sinclairs. 

“We used to come down from Melbourne every Easter and often in other school holidays,” he said. “My wife and I still regularly holiday in the area.”

It’s not his only link with the city. Commander Schlegel was the executive officer (second in charge) of the patrol boat HMAS Warrnambool before it was decommissioned. 

Mrs Sinclair and her husband Bill gathered at the Harbour Pavilion with friends and a glass of wine to watch the proceedings. 

She said she was very proud of Commander Schlegel, who she has known since he was a baby. 

“When I first came to Australia I became friends with his parents and he was my first Australian baby,” she said. 

“I looked after him from the time he was a newborn. It’s been a very special afternoon. I’m very proud of him and thankful he organised all this.” 

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