Prince Charles hails Essex troops
PRINCE Charles has hailed the achievements of Colchester-based troops - and said Britain was “incredibly lucky” to have them.The heir to the throne flew into town by helicopter yesterday with wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, to present campaign medals to soldiers from Third Battalion, the Parachute Regiment.
By Sharon Asplin
PRINCE Charles has hailed the achievements of Colchester-based troops - and said Britain was “incredibly lucky” to have them.
The heir to the throne flew into town by helicopter yesterday with wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, to present campaign medals to soldiers from Third Battalion, the Parachute Regiment.
His Royal Highness is Colonel-in-Chief of the Paras. In a parade ground speech at Hyderabad Barracks on Mersea Road, he told of his “immense pride” in the regiment's achievements during its recently-concluded tour of duty in Afghanistan.
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He said that he and the Duchess had enjoyed meeting the troops in August before they left for Afghanistan and added: “Tragically not all of you have returned. The families of those who have not returned, whose lives have been torn apart, I hope and pray they are sustained in some way by the regimental family.
“I think that's the best part of the regiment system, that it looks after those who have suffered in different ways.”
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The Prince added: “We are incredibly lucky to have people like yourselves carrying out the most difficult and dangerous tasks imaginable in pretty dreadful conditions, never shirking even for a moment the seemingly impossible.
“Along with so many others in this old country of ours who share my sentiments, you have made your old Colonel-in-Chief of nearly 30 years now immensely proud.”
After touching down at about 11am, Charles transferred to a Jaguar car and arrived at the barracks entrance to be greeted by 3 Para's commanding officer, Lt Col Stuart Tootal.
Prince Charles had been petitioning ministers throughout the Afghanistan tour to provide the battalion with greater resources and his first task on arrival was to hold private debriefing talks with Mr Tootal and his staff.
Wearing Army uniform and accompanied by Camilla in a green coat and grey hat, he then headed to the parade ground where soldiers were standing to attention ready to greet the Royal couple.
The regimental band played as the Prince and Duchess handed out medals and congratulated the troops.
Among those spoken to by Prince Charles were three men seriously injured in an explosion at a former Soviet minefield that claimed the life of their colleague Cpl Mark Wright.
They were Lance Cpl Stuart Hale, 24, Cpl Stuart Pearson, 31, and Fusilier Andy Barlow, 20 - who was attached to the Paras during the tour of Helmand Province.
There was also a word for invited pupils from two schools that serve Colchester's Army families, St Michael's County Primary and Montgomery Juniors.
Many of the children's fathers had served in Afghanistan and were involved in the parade.
Finally, at an informal reception, the royal couple enjoyed a chat with four soldiers who returned in September to be reunited with their wives and young babies.
Some had met the pair during a visit arranged before the Afghanistan tour began in May - and Cpl James Shimmins' wife Michaela said the Duchess had recognised daughter Sophie, 13 months.
“Camilla looked at her and said 'she's got ever so big',” she said.