Proud Prince Harry dedicated a cross for fallen British troops today at the opening of a Field of Remembrance – the first for those killed in Afghanistan.
Up to 35,000 crosses are to be planted in the grounds of Lydiard Park, near the repatriation town of Wootton Bassett, Wilts., to mark those lost in the nine-year conflict.
Each cross will bear a poppy and contain a personal message from the public to commemorate the 342 men and women killed in Afghanistan since 2001.
HRH Prince Harry, a Second Lieutenant in the Blues and Royals of the Household Cavalry Regiment, planted a Remembrance Cross with his own personal message in honour of comrades.
His cross carried a photograph of tragic Lance Corporal of Horse Jonathan Woodgate who died in a hand grenade attack – signalled by an Afghan child reflecting the sun in a mirror.
L/Cpl Woodgate, 26, had survived an American friendly fire incident that claimed the life of his colleague L/Cpl Matty Hull in March 2003.
But he ignored fears about ”tempting fate” and returned to the front line only to die on foot patrol by the hand grenade thrown over a wall near Sangin in March this year.
Prince Harry then took part in a two minutes silence at a ceremony to open the field, where he laid a poppy reef and stood for the national anthem.
The prince chatted to service personnel and families – including young Melanie Patten, at the event with father Lance Cpl Ram Patten, captain of the British Royal Marines.
He handed over a book of remembrance to the Lane Cpl before attempting to sound a hooter to mark the start of the Royal British Legion’s March For Honour.
But the horn malfunctioned, much to the amusement of the young prince.
Harry then greeted schoolchildren and young cadets before attending a private reception in the grand park’s grounds.
Royal British Legion president Sir John Kiszely also attended the event along with Amanda Binnie, who dedicated a cross to her husband Sean – killed in Afghanistan.
The 22-year-old corporal, of the Black Watch 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, died in Helmand Province in May 2008.
Sir John Kiszely said: ”The Field of Remembrance is an important part of the Legion’s Remembrance calendar of events.
”We encourage the nation to dedicate personal messages to those who sadly haven’t returned home.
”We are extremely honoured to have Prince Harry dedicate his own cross and take part in the ceremony.”
Civic dignitaries were also invited to the event to dedicate and plant crosses, as well as representatives of the British Armed Forces.
Hundreds of patriotic supporters braved freezing temperatures to witness the momentous event, including Ann and Albert Webb, from Wootton Bassett.
Emotional Ann, 72, wiped away a tear and said: ”We think it is so important to support our troops.
”We attend all the repatriations in Wootton and this event, with all the other work the Royal British Legion do, is very poignant at this time of year.
”It was fantastic to see Prince Harry too.”
Former squaddie Barry Trussell, 66, from Swindon, Wilts., was one of those who spoke to the third in line to the throne.
He said: ”When the hooter failed to sound I said to him: ‘modern technology eh?’
”Harry turned to me and smiled, before he shook my hand and said ‘I haven’t changed colour have I’?”
Excited young cadets Rachel Loveless and Shauna Jenkins also got to meet the prince.
Sgt Loveless, 17, said: ”He asked us if we were cold and also what we would be doing if we weren’t here.
”I was genuinely excited to meet a member of the royal family – especially one so good looking.”
Veterans Allan Thipthorpe and Ernie Nicholls, from Swindon, were also impressed by the young royal.
Allan, 84, who served in the Royal Service Corps during the Second World War, said: ”Harry said it was an honour to meet me.
”I couldn’t believe it when he said that – I almost fell over backwards. It was lovely to meet him.”
Ernie, 72, who served with the Royal Service Corps transport unit, added: ”We have served the Queen so it was fantastic to meet one of her grandsons.
”He was a real gent – a true son of his mother.”
Anne Bevis, repatriation officer for The Royal British Legion, added that the field was the first of its kind in Britain.
She said: ”It will mean a lot to the people of Wootton Bassett and Wiltshire to know that there is a Field of Remembrance solely dedicated to those men and women in the British Armed Forces who have lost their lives in Afghanistan.
”This is the first of its kind, and we’re very proud.”