The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge bade farewell to RAF Valley in Anglesey today, as guests at the official disbandment ceremony for the base to end the 75 years of service.
The Royal couple arrived by helicopter at around 11am to attend the disbandment parade, to officially close the base and its operations after decades of search and rescue service. RAF Valley was once home to Prince William in his days as a search and rescue pilot.
The parade featured military band – including Auld Land Syne as the standards of the SAR squadrons marched for the last time – in the hangar, with a yellow Sea King helicopter standing by. These aircraft were central to the rescue operations undertaken by the team, including The Duke of Cambridge.
Prince William carried out 156 search and rescue operations as a captain, helping 149 people. Operations will now be carried out by a private company.
At a drinks reception following the parade, William and Catherine spoke to former colleagues of William’s. The couple discussed the base, its operations and their time on the island of Anglesey, where they first set up home.
“It was such a special time for us. It was the start of our life together really,” the Duchess told one, as she sipped orange juice.
Group Captain Bentley said: “I was here as the squadron commander when The Duke of Cambridge arrived in 2010. It was lovely to meet him again. He was very much part of the squadron, part of life here. He said they enjoyed coming here and seeing Anglesey again.”
“For everyone it’s a little bit bitter-sweet. We enjoyed the role so much, though we recognise it’s now someone else’s turn to do it,” he added.
The search and rescue service dates back to 1941 when it was formed and equipped with high speed launches and fixed wing aircraft to rescue wartime pilots whose aircraft ditched in the English Channel and North Sea.
William’s former Squadron Commander, Wing Commander Sparky Dunlop, praised the Prince’s skills as a pilot and his work at RAF Valley: “He was not only up to doing it but he did more than that. When he was serving with us he was a very good pilot.
“I did his operational captaincy check, when you jump from co-pilot to captain, and he was given a very tough check and he more than rose to the occasion.”
The Duke was known as Flight Lieutenant Wales during his time at the base.
“He would come on shift and do all the duties associated with going on shift. He would live and work with his crew, go on rescues with his crew, eat with his crew. He was just another one of the guys,” Dunlop continued.
“He is one of the family and we wanted as many of the family to come back today and say goodbye.”
William and Kate moved from Anglesey in 2013, just after the birth of Prince George; this was likely a final goodbye for them, now that the base has closed.