The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay paid a morale-boosting visit to a Highland barracks yesterday, speaking to families of Black Watch soldiers serving in Afghanistan and colleagues recently returned from the battle zone.
Their trip to Fort George, near Inverness, was the first of three engagements during the day.
Prince Charles and Camilla went on to open an environmental centre in memory of broadcaster Magnus Magnusson and to praise a community which worked tirelessly to raise funds to restore the historic spa pavilion at Strathpeffer
The prince, who is Royal Colonel of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, arrived with the duchess by helicopter to be greeted by local dignitaries and military personnel.
They then heard of the experiences of more than 100 wives and children of troops serving in Afghanistan during an intimate 90-minute walkabout.
Around 450 Black Watch soldiers are still on a six-month tour of duty. Last month Corporal Sean Binnie, 22, from Aberdeen, was killed in Helmand Province while trying to help a soldier pinned down by Taliban fighters.
Inverness mother-of-two Vicky Robertson, 31, whose husband Scott, a 33-year-old sergeant, is part of the unit, said the prince had inquired about how her family was faring.
“It just goes to show that he’s thinking about us while our husbands are out there and he’s taken time to come and visit us, so we all appreciate that,” she said.
Wendy Anderson, 33, originally from Kirkcaldy and now living in Inverness, is looking forward to her sergeant husband Paul returning from Afghanistan.
She said: “The prince asked how my husband was and how he was coping out there. He was really very nice. I’ve met the Queen and Princess Anne before, but it’s the first time I’ve met him. It certainly does give us a boost, knowing that royalty are thinking about us.”
Major David Bruce, officer commanding operations at Fort George, was overwhelmed by the royal couple’s attentiveness.
He said: “It means a huge amount for morale and to show the Royal Family are thinking of the soldiers while they’re deployed, and take the time out to visit us.”
He told the Press and Journal that maintaining morale in the long conflict was “very challenging,” but the unit believed it was right to be deployed there.
Asked if he thought the battalion’s presence had made an impression, he said: “I think we are achieving, or towards achieving, our aim by protecting Britain. We’re taking the fight to them, so I think we are achieving. It may well be a long drawn out affair, but I think we’re containing it.”
Major Bruce, who has served numerous tours of duty in Iraq, was convinced that public support remained solid and was typified by the attendance at recent welcoming home parades.
Speaking later, during his first trip to Strath- peffer, Ross-shire, the prince said it was a “great joy” to see the results of the local community’s hard work and dedication in restoring the village’s treasured spa pavilion, which he considered a “remarkable achievement”.
The duke and duchess took time to speak to more than 100 invited guests inside the Victorian-built pavilion and several dozen well-wishers who had braved downpours outside.