The Queen and Duke visit Suffolk base

THE Queen met families, friends and colleagues of East Anglian service personnel deployed in Iraq, who are affected by what she described as "this difficult moment in our nation's history".

THE Queen met families, friends and colleagues of East Anglian service personnel deployed in Iraq, who are affected by what she described as "this difficult moment in our nation's history".

The visit, to RAF Honington, saw around 300 relatives from both the Suffolk base and nearby Marham in Norfolk, gathered to see the royal party both inside and outside the Sergeants' Mess.

It is the first time the Queen and Prince Philip have visited the base, which has deployed more than 600 personnel to the Gulf.

Arriving separately, by aeroplane and car respectively, the royal couple spent around an hour at Honington at lunchtime.

Dressed in a lime green, calf-length coat, matching hat and black gloves, Her Majesty, who also wore black shoes with gold detail and a diamond lapel brooch, spent the majority of her visit chatting to relatives.

She met Rowena Sinclair, whose fiancé was deployed to Iraq with the JNCBR (Joint Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Regiment) on February 6.

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They were due to marry at St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds this August, and although Miss Sinclair is still hopful her big day will go ahead, she is the first to admit the service may be postponed if the war in Iraq lasts longer than predicted.

She said: "I haven't cancelled anything yet, but it is a bit touch and go at the moment. I am very worried about my partner, and have been glued to the television 24 hours a day since the conflict started.

"When anything happens, you automatically feel sick. There is always that possibility it might be your loved one injured or killed.

"But it is good to have the Queen here, and talking to her was a real morale boost. It is nice to know she cares enough to come down and see some of the families based in the area."

Squadron Leader Andy Liggat, who also serves with the JNCBR, spoke with the Queen as one of the only members of his regiment left behind.

"The Queen asked which unit I was from, and how much communication the wives have with their husbands," he said. "Her visit was quite a surprise, but also a massive boost.

"The majority of our troops are already deployed, and I wish I was in the Gulf as well. I think the conflict is going surprisingly well at the moment."

Personnel deployed from Honington, include members from the JNCBR, First Royal Tank Regiment and II Squadron RAF Regiment.

Units stationed at the Suffolk base concentrate mainly on protection, and offer families some hope their loved ones, away from front line action, may return safely.

"Having the Queen here has helped show us that everybody is aware of the heartache we are going through," said Charlotte Carey, whose husband was deployed to the Middle East seven weeks ago.

"People seem to forget that each one of the 14,000 British troops in the Gulf – a massive amount of which come from the East Anglian region – all have families and friends who have been left behind.

"It is quite a moral boost for us to know the Queen and Prince Philip are thinking about us, and that people further afield do care."

Mrs Carey's husband serves with a SIBCRA team, which identifies biological, radioactive and chemical agents.

Since his deployment, the couple have kept in touch via email, but conversations, Mrs Carey said, have been "idle chit chat" rather than operational details, which allied forces fear could be intercepted by Saddam Hussein's forces.

"Because of the nature of his job, he cannot give me much information. I am waiting for news at the moment, concerning the possible discovery of a weapons factory," added Mrs Carey.

"I watched the news every day avidly when my husband was first deployed, but since the conflict has actually kicked off, I only tune in occasionally for an update.

"It is very nerve-wracking and quite exhausting to watch the different scenarios unravel when you've got a relative out there. I try and keep up and stay informed, but without getting myself upset or over-excited about what is happening."

Newmarket police officer Victoria McNamara has only spoken to her husband twice since his deployment with the JNBCR in early February.

She currently has no idea where her husband is, or when he will contact her again.

"It is very difficult juggling work and worrying about my husband at the same time," she said. "I try not to watch the news – but sometimes watching what is going on offers the only glimmer of hope.

"Although I think the JNBCR is one of the safest regiments, I am never sure whether or not he has come up against Iraqi troops.

"It has been nice to speak to the Queen. Obviously she herself has been through one of the World Wars, so she does have an understanding about what we are going through at this precise moment."

In a message to British troops deployed in Iraq and surrounding regions the Queen expressed both pride and confidence in the troops she commands and wished for a swift conclusion to the conflict.

"At this difficult moment in our nation's history, I would like to express my pride in you, the British service and civilian personnel deployed in the Gulf and in the vital supporting roles in this country and further afield," read the message.

"I have every confidence in your professionalism and commitment as you face the challenges before you.

"Especially for those of you now waiting to go into action, may your mission be swift and decisive, your courage steady and true, and your conduct in the highest traditions of your service both in waging war and bringing peace.

"My thoughts are with you all, and with your families and friends who wait at home for news and pray for your safe return."

The Queen and Prince Philip left the Sergeants' Mess to the sound of applause before flying from Honington's airfield to their next engagement at Devonport naval base in Plymouth.

Group Captain Graham Stacey, commanding officer at RAF Honington, said the event reprsented a "tremendous gesture of support" during a time of uncertainty and strain for the families.

He added that personnel from Honington are well prepared and equipped to do their job, and were "hugely committed" to the conflict.

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