Video & Galleries: Prince Charles meets Suffolk troops

PRINCE Charles thanked troops for their service in Afghanistan yesterday when he met them on a rain-soaked visit to Bury St Edmunds.

PRINCE Charles thanked troops for their service in Afghanistan yesterday when he met them on a rain-soaked visit to Bury St Edmunds.

Torrential rain failed to dampen the spirits of those gathered in the historic town and the sun even managed to make an appearance as the Royal visitor arrived.

Hundreds of people waited on Angel Hill, next to a stationary Apache helicopter, in anticipation of the arrival of Prince Charles, Colonel-in-Chief of the Army Air Corps.

About 110 servicemen and women from 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, based at Wattisham Airfield, waited in line with bayonets raised to receive Afghanistan campaign medals from the prince.

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A dramatic flypast of two Apache helicopters heralded the arrival of Prince Charles in a black Mercedes flanked by Land Rovers and police escorts.

He was met by Commanding Officer of the regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Tennant, before proceeding to the dais to take the salute.

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Dressed in the same camouflaged attire as the troops, the prince made his way along the line of soldiers, chatting with each as he handed out the medals before returning to the dais.

His visit came just over a week after his younger son, Prince Harry, visited nearby RAF Honington.

Addressing the regiment and crowds Prince Charles said he was “so pleased and proud” to be there that afternoon.

He said: “It really is a splendid backdrop to what I think you will agree a very important and special day for the officers and soldiers of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps.

“I would like to express my gratitude to you all for your unceasing and generous support of our Armed Forces.”

He also thanked each soldier for “all you have done in Afghanistan” and the families of the troops for supporting them.

On finishing his address one woman in the crowd was heard to shout “we love you, Charlie”.

The prince then made the short walk to the Athenaeum where he met civic dignitaries and representatives from the regiment involved in arranging the Freedom of the Borough ceremony.

Earlier in the day the Freedom of the Borough of St Edmundsbury was granted to the regiment, which gave it the right to march through the town centre with drums beating and bayonets fixed, returning to Angel Hill.

Behind the doors of the Athenaeum, dressed in their best attire, waited members of Suffolk County Council and St Edmundsbury Council, as well as 10 borough council staff involved in preparing for the Royal visit.

Mayor of St Edmundsbury Ian Houlder said Prince Charles had mentioned how “marvellous” the town looked, which was a credit to those on the ground.

Malcolm Gunner, from Colchester, who was involved in the highways preparations, and who had previously met the prince when he was a young man in the Royal Air Force said it was nice for their work to be appreciated.

Chairman of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Eddy Alcock, said the day was a “grand occasion”.

He said: “It’s a great honour for Bury to have the regiment here and for the regiment to be able to parade with their newly-found freedom.”

While inside the Athenaeum the rain had started to pour and the prince made a quick dash to the Abbey Gardens for the regimental photograph and a reception with servicemen and women and their families.

Sarah Holder, from Chevington, near Bury St Edmunds, managed to grab a quick handshake with the prince as he was on his way.

“I just seized the opportunity because I have been here all afternoon. It’s been a fantastic and very emotional afternoon.

“I’m proud to be here, proud to be British, and even with the rain we won’t be disheartened.”

In the rain-drenched Abbey Gardens, Captain Rob Gittoes, of Ipswich, who received a campaign medal, said his chat with the prince had been “very interesting”.

The 29-year-old said: “He’s got a very good character, he’s always got something interesting to say and he actually knows a lot about us as a unit.”

He said it was great to see such support for the troops when they were on parade, which really mattered when on operations.

Warrant officer Mark Squires, from Stowmarket, was also there with wife Chrissie, six-year-old daughter Tegen and eight-year-old Liza from Russia, who is staying with them for a break, arranged through a Chernobyl children’s charity.

Mrs Squires said: “He [Prince Charles] was really just talking about how we are getting on with Liza and what a wonderful opportunity she’s got to come over here.”

Lt-Col Tennant said the whole occasion had made the soldiers “very proud”.

Other medals received were a US Air Medal of Valour for Captain Joseph Kay, a Mention in Dispatches for Warrant Officer Bruce Allen and Meritorious Service Medals for Warrant Officer Damon Hyland and Captain Chuck Nicol.

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