Prince Harry jokes troops are ‘weirdos’ for Valentine’s Day ‘shrine’ of Meghan inside igloo
The Duke of Sussex has celebrated Valentine’s Day 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle, in an igloo decorated with photographs from his wedding. The Duke, who made a flying visit to Bardufoss in north Norway without the Duchess, was greeted with candles, mood music and pictures of his May ceremony as he was shown around a snug snow shelter used by the military to survive in the extreme cold. Checking that the British troops stationed at the base had remembered to send cards and flowers to their wives at home, he teased them about getting into trouble as he reminisced about his days as a pilot. In a three hour visit, in his role as Captain General Royal Marines, he admitted he misses his days as an Apache helicopter pilot as he was shown Commando Helicopter Force train to survive in the extreme cold weather. For 50 years, the Navy, Army and Air force have been undertaking training in Bardufoss to provide aviation support to those who operate and fight in temperatures as low as -30C in what is known as Exercise Clockwork. The Duke landed in a charter plane flown directly from the UK in temperatures of around -10C, greeted by Richard Wood, the British ambassador in Norway, Lt Col Dave West, officer commanding Exercise Clockwork, Lt Col Andy Walker, the UK defence attache, and Col Eirik Stueland, Bardufoss station commander. Taken inside immediately for a briefing, he met senior personnel from the base before sitting down for a lesson in the history of Exercise Clockwork and a video of the modern day training programme. It included footage of servicemen undergoing their grueling ice water plunge, which sees them drop through a hole in the ice into freezing water to learn how to climb out again. Afterwards, the Duke joined the troops for a hot buffet lunch in the mess, away from the cameras so he could meet men and women of all ranks to speak frankly. As the snow fell, he was then invited to inspect the four-man, ten-man and 16-man tents used during training, with avalanche rescue gear and a 45kg Bergen backpack ready for inspection. Spotting Chris Anderson, a corporal in the RAF, dressed in a white, snow-camoflaged suit over his uniform with a mask, the Duke joked: “You look as though you’re loving it.” Inside a tent, he was invited to lift the heavy bag containing rations, emergency clothing, snow shovel, survival knives, hot flask, cooking equipment and sleeping bags, torch, goggles and gloves. “I’d like to but I’m not sure…” he said, making a quick attempt before dropping it. “When you’re out here, what do you guys look forward to the most?” he asked, quizzing servicemen on how long they had served and how long they are based in Norway. “Look after yourself,” he told them. “How’s morale been?” he asked, before indulging in some military banter as Captain General Royal Marines by joking: “The RAF guys will be struggling the most, will they?” Referring to his own time in the army, where he served as an Apache pilot, he empathised with the need to constantly update their training, usually waiting until it was down to the last moment to do so.
The Duke was then invited inside the Quincey Shelter, a version of an igloo dug out and used in emergencies to stay alive in the snow. This time, the shelter had been decked out to welcome Prince Harry, with pictures of the Royal Wedding printed out and pinned on the walls, candles and ambient mood music. Spotting the photographs, the Duke laughed: “You weirdos! Nice. It’s very kind of you to invite into your private, err, shrine,” he added, proclaiming it “romantic”. “Homely in there isn’t it,” he said, as he stepped out into the fresh air. “It starts to get a little bit weird after a while.” “They’re not always that comfortable,” he was told. Sergeant Ads Lesley said the Duke had asked some practical questions about the shelters, before moving on to personal questions about the troops’ welfare. “He was really keen to engage,” he said. “He asked if they had got their girlfriends or wives or partners flowers for Valentine’s Day – he was keen to make sure no-one was in trouble. “He liked to compare what we’re doing out here, how amazing it is, with what we’re doing back in the UK. He was really happy that we’re in a beautiful environment and to see how happy we are. “There was a little light humour: he saw people in sleeping bags and said ‘oh, have you just woken up?” In the shelter, Sgt Lesley said, “he had a smile on his face. We had some chill-out music on, just to show how creative you can be.” The wedding photo decorations, he said, seemed “almost a bit of a shock” for the Duke, who “had a chuckle to himself”. Moving into a large hanger, where the Wildcat and Apache helicopters were on show alongside their pilots, the Duke confessed: “I miss my pilot days.” “How is it?” he asked young pilots, noticing they were reticent. “You can be honest with me. I’m not going to get anything out of you, am I? Guys, well done. Make the most of it.”
Major Huw Raikes, from the Army Air Corps, said the Duke had spoken of how he misses flying the aircraft. “It was a fun period for him,” he said. “He misses the experience he had flying it, he misses the brotherhood. It’s quite poignant to have him here, he’s got a very special relationship with the Army Air Corps.” Offered a chance to get in, the Duke resigned himself to patting the Apache fondly before moving on to meet the teams with the Wildcat and, back outside in the snow, the Merlin. “Did you all get your other halves a card and some flowers?” Prince Harry checked, as he was introduced to a group of Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel. Mock-grimacing, he added: “There were a few guys out there who said they don’t bother any more…” Before leaving, the Duke was asked to cut a cake celebrating the 50th anniversary of Exercise Clockwork, which featured a helicopter made from rice crispies and marshmallows. Quizzing Leading Chef Matt Roberts, he learned the troops in Bardufoss had a larger daily food budget to account for the extra calories they need in the cold, joking: “No wonder you’re all so happy.” Wielding a sword, he ceremonially cut the cake, shouting “Happy Birthday” to dozens of men and women gathered in the hanger.”It’s really nice to see you all and know that you’re having a good time out here,” he told them. “Use every single day as an experience, and bring that back. I hope you can make the most of it. “I know lots of you have left your families at home to be out here. It’s hugely appreciated. And you still have a smile on your face. Congratulations on your 50th anniversary.” After the three hour visit, the Duke climbed back into the small charter plane to fly home: back at Kensington Palace in time for the Valentine’s dinner. Prince Harry’s trip marked the 50th anniversary of Commando Helicopter Force and Joint Helicopter Command deploying to the remote base, where military personnel are taught how to survive, operate and fight in the sub-zero conditions, as well as gaining experience of operating aircraft in severe cold weather and mountainous environments. The multinational exercise, hosted by the Norwegian Armed Forces, comprises environmental flying qualifications, cold weather survival, and snow and ice driving courses. The Duke was appointed Captain General Royal Marines in December 2017, taking over the role from his grandfather the Duke of Edinburgh, who held the appointment for 64 years.
The Duke already has experience of colder climates, facing temperatures as low as -35C on charity expeditions to the North Pole in 2011 and South Pole in 2013 with Walking With The Wounded. Lieutenant Colonel David West, Officer Commanding Exercise Clockwork, said: “We are celebrating 50 years of Exercise Clockwork today and are honoured to be able to welcome the Captain General of the Royal Marines to Bardufoss to mark the occasion. “Clockwork continues to deliver vital training for our people. It provides essential experience in flying and surviving in the extreme cold hundreds of miles inside the Arctic Circle. “For 50 years Commando Helicopter Force and its predecessors have operated in this region and the skills learnt here are more relevant than ever.”