Britain’s Prince Harry yesterday reported for duty with the Australian Army to begin an “authentic” experience featuring bush patrols and indigenous engagement, as he prepares to retire from the British military.
Hundreds of well-wishers turned out to see the 30-year-old prince at the National War Memorial in Canberra — the one scheduled public event of his visit — before he met Australian Defence Force head Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin.
Wearing a white dress uniform, he reported for duty at Duntroon Military College, delivering a letter to Binskin from Queen Elizabeth II in which she wrote her grandson would “benefit greatly from spending time with the Australian diggers.”
After flying in from Sydney, Prince Harry arrived to cheers from the crowd of about 1,000 people at the war memorial in Canberra where he laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and toured galleries concerning World War I and Afghanistan.
The prince then waved off the option of an umbrella and spent time greeting the crowd outside despite drizzling rain.
As some chanted “Harry, Harry, Harry,” the prince made his way around the barricades, and spoke to a ginger-haired child with a poster reading “Red Heads Rule.”
“He said that I was fabulous in making the sign and it’s awesome to be a redhead,” a delighted Ethan Toscan, aged 12, told reporters. “I’m over the moon — it’s just wow. I got to shake his hand.”
During his time in Australia, Captain Wales, as he is known in the British Army, will be embedded with Australian army units and regiments in Sydney, Darwin and Perth.
“He is expected to take part in a range of unit-based activities and training exercises,” the Australian Defence Force said in a statement announcing his arrival last week. “These will include urban training exercises, regional bush patrols, flight simulation and aviation activities, joint fire exercises and indigenous engagement activities.”
The prince, who has flown Apache helicopters for Britain, has reportedly also asked to fly helicopters in Australia. An Australian Defence Force official said checks would need to be carried out first.
Building on Prince Harry’s interest in veterans affairs, opportunities to meet with wounded, injured and ill service personnel will also be provided while in Australia.
The Australian military said it hopes to provide the prince with “an authentic military experience in the Australian Army,” adding that it would include routine activities, such as physical training, first-aid training and pack marches.
The Australian army attachment comes as Prince Harry, a graduate from Britain’s elite Sandhurst military academy, who served twice in Afghanistan, has announced his departure from the British Army.
“After a decade of service, moving on from the army has been a really tough decision,” he said last month, adding that he plans to quit in June. “The experiences I have had over the last 10 years will stay with me for the rest of my life. For that I will always be hugely grateful.”
Harry earned a reputation as a wild child in his early 20s with his party-going high jinks, but has since tried to carve out a more mature role for himself, with his devotion to military service playing a major part.
The prince will break his attachment to travel to Turkey later this month for the ANZAC Day dawn service at Gallipoli, to mark the centenary of that World War I campaign.
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