THE Duchess of Cornwall paid her respects to fallen soldiers this week after agreeing to become the patron of the local veterans’ group.
Camilla, who grew up in East Sussex, joined dozens of ex-servicemen and women in Heroes Corner at Hastings Cemetery on Tuesday for a commemorative service marking the contribution of Commonwealth soldiers in past war efforts.
It was her first appearance as the patron of the 160 member-strong Hastings and St Leonards Veterans’ Association and alongside her sat guests from across the Commonwealth, including military representatives from Nepal, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Together with teenagers from nearby William Parker and Helenswood schools, the Duchess paid her respects to the many war dead buried on The Ridge - including a large number from Canada who died during the two World Wars.
Looking resplendent in a navy hat and outfit, Camilla laid a wreath on the cemetery’s stone monument, which is engraved with the words: Their name liveth for evermore.
And it was a sentiment echoed by the Reverend Robert Featherstone who led the memorial service.
He told the gathered crowd of more than 100 that it was vital to remember the sacrifices made by past generations - and the bravery of servicemen currently fighting.
And he also spoke of his pride that his father and grandfather had fought to protect freedom, and said his son was set to leave for Afghanistan to do the same.
Richard Vallery-Peters, secretary of the Hastings and St Leonards Veterans’ Association, was delighted to welcome the group’s new patron.
He said: “It’s incredible to have royalty here. It’s really a great day for the members and the work they put in throughout the year to make the association what it is today. To have the Duchess agree to be our figurehead is a real honour.”
Founded just four years ago in 2007, the local branch has gone from strength to strength and organises an annual veterans day in Alexandra Park which is regularly attended by hundreds of well-wishers.
One member, Richard Butcher, got a front row seat for the royal visit. The former RAF servicemen was one of more than a dozen standard-bearers who welcomed Camilla.
Speaking afterwards he said: “It was a lovely occasion and it is great to have a patron who is such a noted personality.
“The people of Hastings are very good at showing their support for veterans and the fact the Duchess has agreed to become our patron is another pat on the back for all the hard work which is done making sure we never forget those who gave their lives.”
His wife Barbara was another veteran pleased with Tuesday’s service - and in particular the provisions made for former servicemen at the cemetery. “The work done in Heroes Corner is commendable and something Hastings can be very proud of,” she said. “The Duchess has honoured us by agreeing to be our patron.”
Thankfully for organisers, the sun shone, but it was too much for one Helenswood pupil who fainted due to the heat.
After her visit to the cemetery, Camilla enjoyed a reception at the Royal Victoria Hotel in St Leonards.
Pictures, clockwise from top left: Camilla lays a wreath (CH19013K); pictured among servicemen (CH19013G); dressed for the occasion (CH19013F); standards at the ready (CH19013L); and servicemen in the cemetery (CH19013R).