Prince Harry’s ex-comrades gather in Suffolk base to prepare for upcoming royal wedding
- Credit: PA
Excitement for the royal wedding was mounting this afternoon as Suffolk army personnel who served with Prince Harry prepared for their part in the ceremony.
Members of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps (3 Regt AAC), based in Wattisham, also spoke about what it was like to serve alongside the prince.
Prince Harry served with the Army Air Corps at Wattisham between May 2011 and January 2014. He arrived after completing flying training on the Apache attack helicopter at the Army Aviation Centre in Middle Wallop, Hampshire to carry out further training at the Suffolk base.
It was with 662 Squadron, 3 Regt AAC that he was deployed to Afghanistan as a pilot between September 2012 and January 2013.
Twenty-three soldiers, one sergeant and one officer from Harry’s former Army Air Corps regiment will line the street outside the chapel where the royal couple will say their vows.
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At the special event, the regiment carried out a drill rehearsal, and spoke about their experiences serving and training with Prince Harry.
They paraded and gave the royal salute in their dress uniform, known informally as “blues”, with a red stripe down each leg and sky blue beret.
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Captain ‘Percy’ Pearce, a qualified helicopter instructor, flew with the prince while the pair were serving in Afghanistan.
“He was just a trained pilot, just like the rest of us,” he said. “He was very down to earth and human, and therefore he fitted in with the regiment and squadron very well.
“Every day was a different day. We went through all the pre-deployment training together, which is quite intensive, and so we’d spend hours and hours in the cockpit together, and we got through it.”
He added that he considered Harry a good friend.
“We know each other quite well – like I said he’s a down to earth human being, knows everyone in the squadron, and we did a successful tour of Afghanistan together,” he said.
However due to changing regiments, Capt Pearce will sadly not be at the wedding.
He added: “Unfortunately I’m now an instructor on a different squadron, but we’re having a bit of a barbeque and we’re going to watch it on the telly.”
Corporal Stuart Armstrong, who worked with the prince during his pilot training in 2011, said Harry was very grounded and easy to work with.
He said: “To be honest, if you didn’t know that he was a member of the royal family, you would just think that he was another officer.”
When asked if he thought it was a positive thing that the royal family engaged in national service, Cpl Armstrong was complimentary about the tradition.
“If they can do it, it’s going to inspire other people to do it,” he said.
As for the match, he had no complaints.
He added: “They seem pretty well matched. He seems happy, which is the main thing.”
663 Squadron Quartermaster and Senior Soldier of the Half Company at the Royal Wedding, Staff Sergeant Shaun North, worked with Prince Harry during his Conversion to Role training in 2011. He said he had great admiration for the prince.
“He’s a genuine, hardworking individual,” he said. “He has amazing experience. When he first arrived at Wattisham Airfield in late 2011 people weren’t 100% sure what to expect from a member of royalty, but any airs and graces that people might have got had to be quickly dispelled.”
As for the next few weeks, Ssgt North said he had a simple message for the regiment: “Practise, practise, practise.”
Airtrooper Joel St. Claire-Pierre said he was honoured to be a part of the wedding. He said: “I am very patriotic – my grandparents were. I love the royal family.”
Over in Honington, the Flight Sergeant’s commands bellowed out in a military hangar as RAF personnel prepared for their own ceremonial duties at the royal wedding.
With just over a week to go the 26 personnel, dressed in their smart number one uniforms, completed their first drill practice.
Each individual will have their uniforms closely inspected by FS Bromwell and Flight Lieutenant Jess Donnelly, who will be the parade commander leading the half company at the wedding.
“I think every officer wanted this position,” she said. “I feel lucky to be selected.”
Personnel at the station were asked to volunteer for the special occasion. After hundreds put their names forward, it was whittled down to 26.
“We really wanted a good mix of station personnel and a mixture of ranks,” said Station Warrant Officer Sonya Darbyshire.
One of the specially selected personnel is 31-year-old Leading Aircraftman Umed Rai, who had only graduated two weeks ago.
“I feel lucky, kind of like blessed to be part of this since I just graduated,” he said. “It’s been a really big surprise for me.”
Last year Prince Harry, who is the Honorary Air Commandant of RAF Honington, opened the new medical centre at the station where SAC Steedman works.
She said: “It was amazing, definitely a highlight. Prince Harry, with him being in the military and the way he comes across, he is very relatable.
“I recently got married myself and I love a wedding.”
Norfolk-born Corporal Andrew ‘Crouchy’ Herbert, 39, from Carbrooke near Watton, said it was the sense of pride that made him want to volunteer for the special event.
“I love the Royal family and I’m from a line of royalists,” he added. “My sister works for the Thames Valley Police so she will also be there in her uniform.”
More than 250 members of the Armed Forces have been chosen to offer support at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19.