THE Duke of Sussex has spent his Valentine’s Day visiting naval service personnel hundreds of miles inside the Arctic Circle.
In his first overseas visit in his role as Captain General of the Royal Marines, Prince Harry was involved in celebrations marking 50 years of UK helicopter exercises in the extreme cold.
The Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) – the wings of the Royal Marines – and their predecessors have conducted Exercise Clockwork since 1969, ensuring they are equipped to support Royal Marines in temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees.
Prince Harry, wearing his Royal Marines uniform for the first time, travelled to Royal Norwegian Air Force Station Bardufoss, in northern Norway, to learn about Clockwork at the Joint Helicopter Command facility - as well as meeting scores of Royal Marines and Royal Navy sailors.
‘This is the first time His Royal Highness has visited Joint Helicopter Command since becoming Captain General and it is great that he is doing the visit while we’re in Norway,’ said Warrant Officer 1st Class Adrian Shepherd, who has served with CHF for 27 years.
‘He was able to get a good look at what we do and how we operate in these harsh conditions. He saw the amount of training that goes into it and why it is so important that we do this exercise every year.
‘It is good for the people out here to see their hard work recognised during a significant year for the exercise.’
CHF test their mettle in the Arctic Circle every year and Bardufoss is like a second home to the unit which provides crucial aerial support to Royal Marines.
The Duke gained insight into how working in the extreme weather helps expand their capabilities, as well as viewing CHF’s specialist Commando Merlin and Commando Wildcat helicopters.
He also watched personnel complete outdoor ground training and was shown field tents and a Quincey shelter – a makeshift snow shelter used by elite forces.
Colour Sergeant Gary Bell is an air crewman for the Merlin and the chief air crewman of Clockwork.
The 40-year-old has operated in Norway nine times – four times in the iconic and now retired Sea King and five times with the Merlin. He said there have been many changes to Clockwork during his time but the focus has always been the same.
‘If you can operate in Norway and in these conditions, you can operate anywhere in the world,’ he said. ‘Clockwork is about ensuring our people have the skillset they need to support 3 Commando Brigade and defend NATO’s northern flank.
‘This is the harshest and toughest place to look after yourself and operate an aircraft so it really does make you ready for anything.
‘During the Duke’s visit we were able to show we have those capabilities and the team were able to speak to him about how we achieve it.’