Duke and Duchess of Cambridge mark Remembrance week with military families

10 November 2020, 22:00 | Updated: 10 November 2020, 22:02

Prince William met with military service personell
Prince William met with military service personell. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The Duchess of Cambridge has sympathised with military families who have lost loved ones, telling them they should be "proud" of their achievements and "the sacrifice and the bravery that they've shown".

Kate marked Remembrance week by speaking to three women who have mourned the loss of partners or immediate family, and heard how they have been supported by the Royal British Legion.

Speaking via a video call on Monday, the duchess said: "I'm sure you spend your time every day remembering your loved ones but it's so important that the nation comes together and really spends time thinking about those who have lost their lives and the families that have been impacted.

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"It's been a real honour to speak to all of you and I think I speak for the whole nation when I say just how proud you should be of your loved ones, and for the sacrifice and the bravery that they've shown.

"I'll certainly be thinking of you this difficult week and will be for many years to come."

Kate spoke with families of military personell
Kate spoke with families of military personell. Picture: PA

Last week, the Duke of Cambridge held video calls with members of the RAF, Navy and Army - and told British Armed Services serving around the globe the nation was "grateful" for their sacrifices.

The Duchess chatted to Sonia Fleming from Rhyl, Wales, and her son Charlton Taylor, 11, about the schoolboy's father Royal Marine Michael Taylor, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010.

Kate asked Charlton, who was dressed in his school uniform, to tell her about the three medals he was wearing. "Are those your daddy's medals? Wow. Its very special that you're wearing them."

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The Duchess asked him if he would tell her a little bit about his father, but laughed when he said he could not remember much, adding: "I think mum would explain it best, you take the floor, mum."

Charlton's mother, Sonia Fleming, described how her husband had died when Charlton was 10 months old and her other sons were 11 and 13.

"Probably the hardest thing is doing it on your own," she said.

Kate told the families should be "proud" of their achievements
Kate told the families should be "proud" of their achievements. Picture: PA

Serena Alexander, from London, described the moment that her son, Sam, told her he wanted to join the Marines before going on his first tour to Afghanistan, when he was awarded the military cross for rescuing his commanding officer from the Taliban.

"Very sadly on his second tour, they were inspecting a compound and an IED went off and killed Sam, his commanding officer and an interpreter," she said.

"That was when we first met the Royal British Legion, firstly on repatriation when they were just so kind at Wootton Bassett and just so warm and loving and helpful and just friendly at a time that was so dreadfully sad."

Mrs Alexander told the Duchess that it was such a bleak time, the Legion had provided a "kind of comfort blanket" with not just practical support but also moral support that was so welcome.

Chantelle Wynn, from Tamworth, was widowed in 2015 when her husband Ryan took his own life after struggling for years with post traumatic stress disorder, following a posting in Afghanistan, where he worked for six months as a medic in the Territorial Army.

The couple had been together since they were 16 and were married for 17 years. They had two daughters, Rosie and Daisy.

Mrs Wynn told the duchess: "Obviously, this time of year is always really bad and with his anniversary the day before Remembrance day, this week is really significant. But we plod on and we've got family who support us so we get through."

She explained she had no idea what the Royal British Legion really did until she needed them, revealing that it had provided crucial financial and emotional support.

The duchess, who had a poppy pinned to the black collar of her white blouse, asked what Remembrance Day meant for her and her family.

"We've always gone out and gone to the parades, which we still do now with the children just to show them that you have got to remember those who fought and those who have got invisible injuries and burdens - it's not just those servicemen who died while they have been over there," she said.

Kate agreed: "It's the physical and mental impact."

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The Duke of Cambridge has joked about needing to get back into shape after lockdown as he carried out a video call with military personnel serving overseas, to mark Remembrance week.

William recalled being "beasted" by PT fitness instructors during his time in the forces, as he chatted to representatives from the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force.

He told Leading Physical Instructor Damon Bell, who is deployed on HMS Montrose in the Gulf on Op Kipion, the UK's long-standing maritime presence in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean: "I remember being beasted by people like you Damon on the (HMS) Iron Duke.

"The on-deck PT was always quite a fun afternoon. I think after a number of lockdowns I might need your PT skills to help get back into shape again."

Bell replied: "Always on the end of a Zoom call, Sir, whenever you're ready."

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Former serviceman William recalled the £40 million Navy drugs bust he took part in in 2008 while on board HMS Iron Duke.

The Navy seized more than one tonne of cocaine from a speedboat north-east of Barbados in the North Atlantic.

It was more than double the value of HMS Montrose's recent £18 million haul of 450kg of methamphetamine in the northern Arabian sea.

Bell remarked: "Only half of what you got on Iron Duke, but still nonetheless very good."

William joked: "I wasn't going to bring that up but I'm glad that's still being talked about."

Flight Sergeant Gemma Thomson, from RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire, who is serving in Qatar on the US-led mission against so-called Islamic State Op Shader, told William her son was born on Remembrance Day in 2014.

William said: "To be born on Remembrance Sunday is a very special birthday."

Flt Sgt Thomson said: "It is so much more than just physical sacrifices but also small sacrifices people continue to make. Remembrance, other than my son, is a very important time.

"Remembrance is so much bigger than myself is something I articulate to my son when I'm making him lay a wreath on his birthday."

William spoke about laying a wreath on the youngster's birthday and the party afterwards.

"Got to get the balance of having a party and laying a wreath - one quite solemn, one quite chaotic," the duke said.

As he heard how Flt Sgt Thomson's son got to eat lots of cake, father of three William replied: "Then the sugar kicks in and it's all chaos after that."

Gemma remarked: "Oh. you know."

William, who has spoken before about his children's rowdy birthday parties, added: "Yeah, I know."

Corporal Jiwan Kumar Thapa, of the Queen's Gurkha Signals who is stationed in Somalia as part of Op Tangham to help defeat extremism and aid regional stability, described how his father and grandfather had served in Gurkha regiments for the British Army.

William said: "You followed in a very proud history.

"We are very grateful for all the hard work and wonderful history that we have had with the Gurkhas. You have a fearsome reputation around the world."

The duke, who will one day as king be head of the Armed Forces, paid tribute to British military serving around the globe, saying the nation was "grateful" for their sacrifices.

William said in the call made last week: "I hope that you know that we are still thinking about all of you and the important job you're all doing, and that everyone is very grateful.

"I hope that over Remembrance Sunday we can remind people just how committed and determined, and how brilliant all the people we have in the Forces are around the world."

He added: "People don't necessarily realise how committed and scattered the British armed forces are around the world.

"It is quite impressive just a little snapshot of you three here in important areas of the globe where we are committed to doing our best and making a difference.

"It is interesting at Remembrance to have that time to reflect on all the roles that you guys are playing and British forces are committed to."

More than 11,000 members of British Armed Forces personnel are currently deployed on operations around the world.