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Kate speaks of 'special time' in Wales at farewell to RAF Search and Rescue

Published 18/02/2016

The Duke of Cambridge served a three-year tour on Anglesey
The Duke of Cambridge served a three-year tour on Anglesey

The Duchess of Cambridge has spoken of her "special time" in Wales during a return visit with the Duke to say goodbye to the UK's search and rescue helicopter service.

William and Kate joined other members of their "RAF family" in Anglesey to bid farewell to the RAF Search and Rescue (SAR) Force, which was formally disbanded during a poignant ceremony after 75 years.

The Cambridges were just another forces couple when they moved to Wales after the future commander-in-chief of the armed forces joined C Flight, 22 Squadron at RAF Valley in September 2010.

William served a three-year tour with the SAR and during his time qualified as an operational captain, taking overall control of his Sea King helicopter.

The Duke - known as Flight Lieutenant Wales - flew 156 search and rescue operations, resulting in 149 people being rescued.

During a reception held after a disbandment parade, William had the chance to catch up with a few of his former crewmates and others who served with SAR, and he chatted to his former squadron commander, Group Captain Steve Bentley, the last commander of SAR.

Kate, who wore an outfit from LK Bennett, reminisced about her time living on Anglesey, telling the senior officer and his wife Fyona: "It was such a special time for us, it was the start of our life together really."

William was in a relaxed mood and joked with former colleague Master Aircrew Rik Maving, 55, who trained the rear crew of Sea King helicopters and would sometimes be flown by the Duke.

The 55-year-old, who is retiring, said he poked fun at William as soon as they were reunited but remained tight-lipped about their banter, only saying "It's rude."

He said after their meeting: "It was nice to see him again. He hasn't changed much apart from he's lost a bit more hair."

During training exercises the RAF serviceman said he would regularly have a joke with the future king and said he once asked him: "Will, are you flying it with your knees?" and he would say "Rik, I'm warning you."

William is now a helicopter pilot with the East Anglian Air Ambulance and Mr Maving said: "I did ask about his new job and he said 'It's different'. His helicopter will go when the weather's OK. Ours only went when it was bad, because people were only in trouble when it was bad weather."

The Duke also caught up with Flight Sergeant Rob Linfoot, 35, who was part of William's crew from 2012 and 2013, working as a winchman.

He recalled how William's colleagues bought him tea towels and cups with his and Kate's faces on for a joke.

Rob said: "Everyone gets a named cup or a named badge. I think people went above and beyond and got him a few extra bits and pieces.

"Always nice to have a bit of memorabilia around the room."

SAR has been privatised and is now operated by civilian company Bristow Helicopters, on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, after it was awarded the contract by the Department for Transport in 2013.

It is understood William voiced concerns over the privatisation plans when he met the Prime Minister in Zurich as part of England's 2018 World Cup bid in 2011.

Group Captain Steve Bentley, the last SAR commander, said: "The hallmark of search and rescue personnel, both past and present, has been their commitment, sense of teamwork and trust in each other, and selfless dedication to the task of saving lives. They can take immense pride in their achievements."

Wing Commander Mark Dunlop, known by the nickname Sparky, was another of William's squadron commanders and he welcomed the Duke's return, describing him as "one of the family".

He added: "Prince William was a model serviceman, by which I would say he was disciplined, professional, dedicated but also with a human side and was able to get on well with anyone, which is a neat trick."

The senior officer added: "He would live and work with his crew, go on rescues with his crew, eat with his crew and he was just another one of the guys."

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