CAMILLA, the Duchess of Cornwall, has spoken of her sadness at the demise of HMS Ark Royal during a visit to Portsmouth.
While on a tour of hospital ship RFA Argus yesterday, she stood on the bridge and gazed at the flight deck of the nearby HMS Ark Royal and said: ‘Sad, very sad.’
It was an unguarded moment, but the first time a member of the Royal family had let slip a personal view about the hugely controversial scrapping of the flagship of the fleet.
Ark’s Petty Officer Jessie James said he was pleased with Camilla’s reaction.
‘It’s great. It just shows that the Royals are still behind it,’ he said. ‘When we were on board 11,000 people came down to see the Ark Royal. It’s a great ship.’
The 63-year-old duchess spent the morning touring the 28,000-ton Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship in Portsmouth Naval Base which is the Royal Navy’s primary hospital ship.
She was given a tour of the bridge by First Officer Ben McInnes, 30, from North End, Portsmouth.
‘And this is the steering wheel we use when we’re at sea,’ he told the duchess.
‘Goodness me. It’s tiny,’ she said.
As Commodore-in-Chief of Royal Naval Medical Services she also watched demonstrations of casualties soaked in fake blood come aboard and be taken to an operating theatre where a leg was amputated, before touring the 12-bed intensive care unit.
She was intrigued by the work of Royal Marines bandsmen and women who in times of war double as stretcher bearers.
‘So that means you drop your instruments to do this job, does it?’ she asked 21-year-old Bugler Ross Tomkins. ‘And then you can give them a little concert afterwards when they’re recovering I suppose,’ she added with a grin.
Bugler Tomkins, from Ayrshire, Scotland, smiled nervously, adding: ‘Yes, you could say that ma’am.’
‘Well, you learn something new every day,’ she told him.
After the duchess had gone he said: ‘She was really nice, very friendly and she really wanted to know what we do and how we do it, but I don’t think she realised what Royal Marines bandsmen do in a conflict.’