Prince Harry has praised soldiers who rallied round to help flood-hit villages, on a royal visit to Lancashire.
“I take my hat off to you” was his message to soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, who spent their Christmas and New Year helping out in flood-hit regions.
The prince, dressed casually in jeans, suede boots and a waterproof jacket, arrived at Weeton Barracks at 11.15am on Friday to thank soldiers and their families for their efforts.
He spent the first 10 minutes of his visit speaking to pupils from Weeton Primary School, asking how their Christmases were affected by their parents working to ease flooding.
Then he was ushered inside the Officer’s Mess, where he was show photographs of soldiers at work in the water, and talked to them about their tasks.
Speaking to commanding officer Lt Col Hamish Cormack, he said: “The fact everything that went wrong as in your area was a disaster.
“Fingers crossed for no more weird weather.”
Agreeing with an officer the weather seemed to have got worse since storms began to be named by the MET Office, he said: “We’re copying the Americans, but they’re looking at us, saying, ‘That’s not a storm.’”
The Prince then met five groups of soldiers who worked in different areas across the North of England.
Speaking to those deployed to Carlisle, he said: “I love the stories I’ve heard about the community spirit and everyone getting involved.
“I take my hat off to you guys, dropping everything at a moment’s notice.”
Colour Sgt Andrew Pearce, who was part of the group, said: “It’s nice to get some recognition, and to get some recognition for the area’s too.
“We recruit in the areas we were helping, so it was always going to have a personal effect and it was nice to get good feedback from the residents.”
Colour Sgt Barry Quinn added: “We went without sleep for about three days and were exhausted. We were sleeping in town halls and on the floor of fire stations.
“We were also on rations for the whole time, but local businesses and residents kept coming to us with food and really looked after us.
“As well as evacuations and building flood defences, a lot of our work was reassurance and people were so glad to see us.”
Prince Harry also spoke to the families of soldiers sent to areas including Croston, Appleby, Ribchester, York and Leeds.
Jo Cormack, wife of Lt Col Cormack, was in the Mess with 10-year-old daughter Iona.
Mrs Cormack said: “It’s fantastic that Prince Harry has come, we’re really proud of the battalion.
“It’s great that they were able to help out in the local area, and to see the reaction of people has made us very proud.”
She added: “The Christmas period for us was up and down, turbulent, but not as turbulent as it was for the poor people who were flooded.
“I think we saw more of him on the television than we did at home, but but it’s par for the course - when you marry a soldier, you have to expect these things.”
Sgt Neal Cranney said: “The forces have got a lot of respect for Harry. He’s very down to earth.”
He added: “It’s always in the back of your mind that it’s going to happen again, but you have to just take each day at a time and be flexible.”
Anthony Goth, headteacher at Weeton Primary School, only told pupils they would be going to watch Prince Harry’s arrival at 10.30am.
He said: “Eighty five per cent of our pupils are children of servicemen and women, so many children didn’t see as much of their mum or das as they’d have liked over Christmas.
“So this is a nice way to say thank you to them too.”
Pupil Kian Wright, 10, said of the Prince: “He has a very posh accent, I thought he would be dressed posh in a tuxedo.”
After an hour at Weeton, Prince Harry set off to visit flood-hit St Michaels on Wyre, where he spoke to flood-hit residents and businesses owners about their experiences.
During an hour-long tour of St Michaels, the Prince saw first hand the impact the deluge had on the community which is still cleaning up after the River Wyre burst its banks just before Christmas.
Prince Harry told residents who greeted him outside St Michaels Village Hall: “I have just come from Weeton Barracks and heard how they had done everything they could.
“They were impressed by the community spirit and said everyone here was absolutely fantastic.
“What is really frustrating is the fact the water comes up and the next morning it has gone, but your lives have been turned upside down, and at the wrong time of year.
“Not that there is a right time of year. Now it is a process of getting things back to normal.”
The Prince visited the Blackpool Road home of Alan and Carolyn Bailey. They had to move all their furniture upstairs as the rising torrent of water invaded their home.
They have had to move out into rented accommodation along with Alan’s 94-year-old mum while the rooms dry out and are repaired.
Afterwards Alan said: “He was so compassionate about the situation we have found ourselves in, and he seemed very concerned.
“It has definitely lifted our spirits, it’s not everyday you welcome a prince into your house.”
Adrian Phillips, whose home was also flooded, told the Prince the village was pulling together.
He said: “He was very well informed and very interested in asking everyone what had happened.
“He knew about the community spirit and was very impressed with how the village was coping and that we are getting back on our feet.
“It is great he has taken the time to visit because you don’t see Royals around here too often.”
Harry also had a chat with one of the village’s most long-standing residents, Winifred Hodson, 97, who has seen the floods hit more than once after moving to St Michael’s in 1933.
The great-great grandmother giggled as Prince Harry sat down beside her on a bench at the local pub, The Grapes, and joked she had sheltered from the floods at the bar.
“You were spending most of your time in the pub, were you?” Harry said, as he praised the community spirit in the village as everyone mucked in to help.
“Good friends, good neighbours,” Mrs Hodson replied.
After their brief chat, she added: “I think he’s grand. He’s smashing.”