The Duke of Sussex has praised Chelsea Pensioners who were part of the D-Day landings, saying he was “honoured” to be in their presence.
Harry met six former servicemen who were involved in Operation Overlord 75 years ago to liberate Europe from the Nazis, as he joined the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s annual Founder’s Day celebrations.
In a lighter moment, the duke joked about the success of Colin Thackery, who won Britain’s Got Talent last week, saying that Charles II, the hospital’s founder, would be amused to know he was “Royal Variety standard”.
With the Pensioners lined up on the parade ground and around 1,900 of their families, friends and regimental representatives in stands nearby, Harry gave an address.
“On this 75th anniversary of D-Day, I can comfortably speak for everyone when I say we are honoured to be in the presence of six Normandy landing veterans,” he said.
“To all who are on parade today, I can only say that you are a constant reminder of the great debt we owe those who have served this nation.
“You embody the fitting home that awaits them in the peace and tranquillity of the Royal Hospital, should they want it.”
The duke, dressed in his peaked cap, Blues and Royals frock coat and carrying a sword, also wore a large sprig of oak leaves on his shoulder – a symbolic reminder that King Charles escaped from parliamentary forces by hiding in an oak tree.
Harry, a former Army officer, added: “Both your founder, King Charles II, and Sir Christopher Wren himself would be delighted to know that the institution which opened its doors to the first Pensioners over 325 years ago, continues to fulfil its original purpose of giving exceptional care to soldiers in retirement.
“They’d also be amused to hear about the late-night cricket in the hallways! Much less the serenading by Colin, who I am told is Royal Variety standard, but let’s assume they haven’t seen your synchronised buggy drill quite yet!”
After inspecting the old soldiers stood to attention on the parade ground, Harry shook hands with all the pensioners too infirm to stand and seated on benches lining the open space.
He spoke to D-Day veteran Ernie Boyd, 94, who was a wireless operator/signaller with the 14th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery and involved in the battle to liberate the Normandy town of Caen.
The 94-year-old stressed the sacrifices of all those who thought to liberate Europe were made to create a better world: “The point of it was so that you younger people could enjoy life – that was the point of it.”
He said he was “proud” of his own contribution, adding: “How we did it I don’t know, the planning was immaculate, when you think we fooled the Germans into thinking we were go into Calais and we went into Normandy…our intelligence was superb.”
During the visit, the duke was in a boisterous mood, joking with the elderly servicemen and women in the hospital’s infirmary and when he asked a group “who’s your favourite?” gesturing to staff, they erupted with laughter.
He tried to humour Frank Swift, 90, when the old soldier said he was not well when asked by Harry about his health.
“I can’t walk,” said the wheelchair-bound former Warrant Officer 2nd Class who served with the Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (Reme).
Harry lightened the mood and made everyone laugh when he said “but you’ve got a comfy chair”.
When the royal guest was told one pensioner George Stevenson, 89, a former sergeant with the Queen’s Royal Regiment, had to change his “best granddad in the world” socks because they were not part of the uniform, the duke joked “you should of kept them on”.
Later Harry was challenged to make a remembrance Sunday poppy by Fred Brunger, 92, a former Warrant Officer 1st Class with REME.
The pair worked together with Harry holding the poppy petal and saying “to me, to me” as the old soldier pushed the black plastic stub that held the flower together in place.