RICHARD KAY looks at how Harry's army passion has come to a sudden end

RICHARD KAY looks at how Harry's army passion has come to a sudden end


Prince’s last parade? As a boy, he loved to wear tiny Paras fatigues, but now, after what might be a last appearance in uniform, RICHARD KAY looks at how Harry’s life-long passion for the armed forces has come to a sudden end

Just over a year ago Prince Harry was at a Royal Marines base deep in the Dartmoor National Park presenting new recruits with their coveted green berets.

It is an annual event of simple ceremony but deep historical significance. Indeed, if there is one occasion that can be said to truly emphasise the near sacred link between royalty and the Armed Forces it is that unfussy ritual.

When the next batch of tough young men complete the gruelling commando course at Bickleigh Barracks in Devon – the one that his uncle Prince Edward famously dropped out of – it is unlikely Harry, Captain General of the Marines, will even know, let alone be on hand to present the fabled berets.

In fact, after wearing his scarlet mess jacket at the Mountbatten Festival of Music in the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday evening, he may never be seen in military uniform for formal duties again.

Pictured: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrive for the Mountbatten Festival of Music at the Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington, London, March 2020

He will effectively be joining the ranks of retired service personnel who can wear their medals but not their uniforms at official engagements.

Of all the unintended consequences of Harry’s decision to step back from royal life, the loss of his military connections is surely the most heartfelt and poignant.

When next we see Harry at the Cenotaph, say, on Remembrance Sunday he will not be a participant with his father and brother laying a wreath of poppies, but rather gazing on the scene from the Foreign Office balcony as a mere spectator.

How tragic that as one of only two front- line royals to have seen military action – the other is Prince Andrew – Harry may never again be on parade in full ceremonial wear. Yet for as long as he can remember Harry wanted to be a soldier. 

From the moment he could stand on two feet he preferred marching to walking, snapping to attention as the guard changed at Buckingham Palace and crisply saluting at anyone in gold braid.

While William day-dreamed about being a policeman – so he could protect their mother – Harry yearned for active service and a life in an Army uniform. From the age of two he loved nothing more than dashing around in his cut-down Paras fatigues, with the famous red beret pulled down low over his eyes.

Pictured: Prince Harry overseas, November 2012

RICHARD KAY: Of all the unintended consequences of Harry’s decision to step back from royal life, the loss of his military connections is surely the most heartfelt and poignant 

As an eight-year-old he travelled with Princess Diana to Germany to take the salute from the Light Dragoons, watching on from the turret of a Scimitar armoured vehicle, his camouflaged face a beaming picture of pride.

Fast forward two decades and the tall broad-shouldered figure in sunglasses scrambling to his Apache helicopter for a front-line sortie in the skies over Afghanistan, is unmistakably a grown-up version of that same sandy-haired little boy proudly showing off his double-time marching.

In the coming weeks, as he contemplates the wreckage of his royal life, Harry – a man given to brooding introspection – may well look back on those years with more than just nostalgia. The esprit de corps he found with his brother officers and the men he led in battle against the Taliban, gave him not just a structure but a framework for life.

Now all that is gone, lost in his and Meghan’s grab for an independence free from the conventions and scrutiny – as they see it – of being a member of the Royal Family. Under the terms of the deal struck with the Queen and Prince Charles, he will give up all his military appointments and must lose the honorary roles he holds with the Armed Forces.

Of all the adjustments he will have to make, the loss of those service ties must surely be the most painful of all. Even last week, during a speech at the Endeavour Fund Awards for wounded veterans, he acknowledged the wrench.

Pictured: Prince Harry mans the 50mm machine gun on the observation post at JTAC Hill, close to FOB Delhi in Helman province, Afghanistan, January 2008 

Pictured: Prince Harry wearing the uniform of the Parachute Regiment of the British Army in the garden of Highgrove House in Gloucestershire with Princess Diana, July 1986

Pictured: Harry smiles after being kitted out during a visit to the Royal Navy’s fleet diving squadron at Portsmouth, where he carried out underwater engineering, October 2007

‘Being able to serve Queen and country is something we all are rightly proud of, and it never leaves us,’ he said. ‘Once served, always serving.’ How baffling then that he is turning his back on this brotherhood he loved.

Once a hankering for a life under orders was all he craved. This ambition drove him from Eton’s combined cadet force to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and a commission with the Blues and Royals.

His aptitude for the Army was never in doubt from the moment he passed the board for Sandhurst qualification with the highest possible grade. The Queen was there at his passing out parade.

Two tours of Afghanistan followed, including one as an Army Air Corps gunnery co-pilot after he retrained to fly helicopters. He was always happier bedding down in an Army issue sleeping bag than slipping between those monogrammed palace sheets.

But after a time the military represented a paradox for Harry. Instead of helping him find the freedom he sought away from royal life, it began to frustrate him. Restrictions imposed because of who he was meant the top brass were not prepared to allow further front-line postings.

With the prospect of a desk job Harry brought down the curtain on his ten-year military career. Nevertheless he promised himself that the comradeship of bonds forged in war would endure.

Pictured: Prince Harry runs towards a light tank during a visit to the barracks of the Light Hussars in Hanover, Germany, July 29, 1993

Pictured: Prince Harry attends the 91st Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey, 2019

His support for charities like Walking With The Wounded and highlighting the mental wellbeing of our servicemen and women as well as his establishment of the Invictus Games for disabled veterans were ample testimony.

Succeeding Prince Philip as ceremonial head of the Marines was another significant step. But the Duke of Edinburgh remained in the role for more than 64 years. And Harry? So far he has lasted a trifling 25 months.

So who suffers most from this shattering of the royal link? 

Harry, of course, who never thought it would come to this. But if we have learned one thing about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in this sorry saga, it is their failure to think beyond their own gratification.

He failed to realise how the ties of duty, implicit in the covenant between the military and the Royal Family, could not possibly survive his ambitions to be a part-time royal, flying in and out from his Canada hideaway.

Within the Marines the disillusionment runs deep. Prince Philip was adored, and even for Prince Edward, who endured considerable mockery for his failings, there remains an acknowledgment that at least he tried.

Harry, they feel, has let them down. 

The ordinary Marines would like their next Captain General to be Prince William – with the proviso that, unlike Harry, he does their commando course.

To the wider military family, Harry’s departure is being likened to a lack of a respect, not just for the Queen and senior royals but also for the traditions that underpin their role. In short they feel their warrior prince has turned his back on the men – and women – who for so long had his back.

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