Sailor flying flag for her newborn niece

‘Girl, Poppy, Perfect’. Those were the only words that sailor Natalie Parkes managed to glean from a phone call home before escorting HMS Illustrious as the ship steered through the Strait of Hormuz.

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Natalie Parkes, standing, on the frigate HMS Montrose with her shipmates who are holding her big and bold message of love for her newborn baby niece Poppy

But the naval rating from Stourbridge – proud as punch at becoming an auntie to her policeman brother Tom’s first baby, Poppy – has now sent the little girl a special wave of love from across the seas.

As she will be away serving in the Gulf over Christmas, she wanted to make sure her family back home – and particularly Poppy – knew how much she was thinking of them.

Together with some shipmates, she spelled out the words ‘Aunty Natty Loves You’ from a gun turret aboard the frigate HMS Montrose and took a picture of it to send a message to Poppy and the rest of her family back in Stourbridge.

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Sleeping baby Poppy with parents Tom and Zoe Parkes and a message for her aunt

On the day of the birth, on October 20, Able Rating Natalie, aged 25, was on duty as operational narrative aboard Montrose, helping to guide HMS Illustrious through the busy Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf.

Natalie is currently deployed on the ship in the Gulf, where she is carrying out maritime security operations and regional engagement.

Natalie, whose parents, Steve, aged 53, and Lynne, 52, live in Stourton, and who attended King Edward VI sixth form college in Stourbridge, started her deployment two months before Poppy was born.

All she could hear in her brief call home before returning to the bridge on the day of the birth was ‘Girl, Poppy, Perfect’.

But every day since that phone call Natalie has received an emailed photo of her niece, from her Baggies fan brother, Sandwell Pc Tom Parkes, and sister-in-law Zoe, both aged 28, from Wordsley, so she can watch her grow.

It will be early next year before Poppy finally gets to meet her aunt.

In a special message to her family, Natalie said: “I always knew being away at Christmas would be a testing time, but the constant support from home and the knowledge that you’re a part of something important makes it all worthwhile.

“I want to wish everyone in my family a Merry Christmas, especially Poppy who I cannot wait to get home and meet in person.”

Poppy’s mother, Zoe, said: “It’s amazing that, although she’s so far away Natalie is thinking about us – and we love and miss her too.”

And now Poppy has responded with her very own special message to her aunt: “Merry Christmas Aunty Natty!! 84 sleeps to meet you!!”