09 Nov The Duke of Edinburgh praised a mental health charity for its work with veterans during a visit to Shropshire
Prince Edward attended two engagements in Telford this afternoon – first a visit to the Army Reserve Centre, before joining a tea party at Dawley Town Hall. Both events were military-themed, with the Duke meeting cadets at the reserve centre, before meeting agencies and groups which support veterans, gathered together by Telford & Wrekin Council at the town hall, where they also marked the building’s 150th birthday.
Joined by the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire, Anna Turner, the Duke talked at length with young people, veterans, and representatives of charities which support them.
The relaxed and light-hearted Duke shared his sense of humour during his visit, joking on arrival into a packed but silent town hall that he had “killed the party”.
Unveiling a plaque to mark the hall’s anniversary The Duke was introduced by the leader of Telford & Wrekin Council, Councillor Shaun Davies, who shared the history of the hall – and how when it was not allowed to serve alcohol, locals set up a pub nearby.
Addressing the guests the Duke said: “First of all it was really good to meet you all and thank you for your collective service you have done for this country, it is very, very much appreciated. And thank you to Mind and everyone else who organises these get-togethers for you.
“I am told this is not your typical day for getting together so I apologise if I have completely and totally confused your entire week.
“Anyway I have been asked to unveil this particular plaque, I am guessing a few of you can probably remember when the building opened – forgive me, you remember when the pub opened!”
To a background of laughter the Duke promised to try and make the unveiling “as slick as possible,” adding: “I want you to know this has taken years of practice.”
During his visit he met representatives from Telford Mind, a mental health charity that supports veterans, and the people who use its services.
He also took time to sit and chat with other groups such as Models for Heroes, and the All Sports Coaches Coaching Academy.
The academy trains veterans to coach youngsters at sports, and provide mental health support, as well as a range of other skills.
The organisation’s operation’s director, Stuart Cook, who served for five years with the Welsh Guards, was joined by coach Johnny Bradley, who is currently serving with the Royal Irish Regiment, the group’s founder Jim Prescott, and chairman Clive Barnard.
Mr Cook, 35, from Telford, said the Duke had been interested in what sports they provided.
He said: “He was having a chat, asking about what sports we like, what we do. Me and Johnny do boxing and he said Johnny has longer arms, ‘does that mean he should beat me?'”
Mr Bradley, 33, explained how the group could make a difference, saying: “I know first-hand how sports can help towards better mental health. I have been through what I have been through myself so to be part of what Jim has put together has really helped me, so now hopefully I can help others.”
Telford Mind provides a Monday Club where veterans can chat and support each other, and the Duke talked to a number of people who attend the sessions.
Mind trustee, Trevor Hirst, who served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), said the Duke had been “funny”, “very friendly”, and “easy to chat to”.
He said: “He asked who I served with and he said he should have recognised from my tie because his wife is a patron of the REME charity.”
Tom Kane, 65, from Telford, attends the Telford sessions. He came along to the tea party with his dog Harley.
Mr Kane, who spent 30 years in the RAF, said the Duke had asked about Harley.
He said: “He asked what he does for me and I said he tells me when someone is at the door, tells me when the phone rings, and tells me when the missus wants me.”
The Duke chatted with the group Models for Heroes – an organisation which allows veterans and people in the services to meet up and build models together.
Gary Morris, who runs the Telford group, was joined by two RAF servicemen who run the RAF Cosford group, Chris King and George Hickish, and other members.
They explained that the Duke had talked about the original Lightning aircraft, saying that when he was at school they would take off and everyone would have to stop talking because the planes were so loud.
Louise Heap, CEO of Telford Mind, said the Duke had asked about what services they provide and how they work, with service manager Jen Caldicott adding: “He just thanked us for the great work we do.”
Speaking at the conclusion of the visit Councillor Davies said: “It was a real privilege to host the Duke of Edinburgh and to show him first-hand the vital work we do to support the armed services and veterans, it is something we take very seriously.
“He was very personable and able to share not only a story but a joke or two as well.
“And I think everyone who met him at both sites really appreciated his time and effort to come and see us.”
The Duke had earlier attended the Army Reserve Centre – the base of D-Squadron, The Royal Yeomanry.
Local cadets also train at the base twice a week.
During his tour the Duke was given a gun-run demonstration from the Army cadets before they provided a live first aid demonstration.
The Duke then presented an award to 15-year-old Lance Corporal Dylan Fugatt from Ellesmere.
The youngster, who was joined by his mum Sharon for the presentation, was being recognised for using first aid skills learned with the cadets to come to the aid of an elderly man who had fallen over in Ellesmere.
Speaking after the presentation Lance Corporal Fugatt said: “It was a bit of a shock at first. I don’t think it has sunk in properly yet.”
He added that the Duke had been “great” and “just like any normal person”.
His mother added: “I am so proud. I am very, very proud of how Dylan handled the situation back when it happened but to be recognised in this way, I am more proud for him after his efforts in training, I could not be more proud.”
The Duke was also shown laser shooting, had a go at tying knots with Navy Cadets, and then saw young Air Cadets trying their hand at flight simulators and virtual reality kit, before presenting a Long Service Good Conduct award to Sergeant Joel Edwards.
Credit – Dominic Robertson, Chief Reporter, Shropshire Star