Prince Harry has saluted St Helens’ war dead, saying they “will forever be in our hearts” as he unveiled a memorial to their sacrifice.
He was paying tribute to British service personnel killed on combat operations in Afghanistan, during a dedication at the Bastion Memorial, inscribed with the 453 names of those killed, including Christopher Davies from St Helens, who was the 100th British soldier killed in the Afghanistan conflict.
The Prince said: “As we sit here amongst friends, we can take comfort in the knowledge that they gave their lives doing a job they loved, for a country they loved, and amongst mates who loved them dearly.”
He added: “Once this ceremony is ended and all the trappings of the day have been cleared away, this will become a place of pilgrimage, a quiet space for remembrance just as it was in Camp Bastion, all those miles away.”
The simple monument at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire, bears the names of all the personnel who fell during the UK’s 13-year involvement in the conflict.
Its simple granite construction bears 12 name plates inscribed recording the fallen, and to its front is a great stone plinth topped with a shining cross made from old brass shell casings.
The name plates and cross were among several parts of the old memorial wall, itself built by British soldiers at Camp Bastion as the conflict raged on about them, now incorporated into the new memorial.
Inside its speckled stonework, though, and hidden from view is a heart-shaped diamond pendant placed there by the builders while the new memorial was being constructed.
It was given to them by widow Jacqui Thompson, whose husband of 23 years Gary was killed when his vehicle hit an anti-tank mine while returning from a perilous mission in Afghanistan, in 2008.
The 49-year-old mother-of-five said: “My heart bursts with pride to think of him.”
The senior aircraftman - known as Tommo - from Sherwood, Nottingham, had served with the RAF, but later left.
Then after years running his own successful business, he rejoined the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, with his widow joking she had thought at the time “we laughed and said it might be a mid-life crisis”.
He was deployed in February 2008 but seven weeks later he was killed along with his friend.
“After his death, I bought a love heart pendant with little diamonds, and I came down to see them building the memorial here at the arboretum,” said Mrs Thompson.
“The builder said ‘if you want us to put something in, we can’ and I immediately reached up to my pendant, took it off and gave it to him. I just wanted something that had been close to my heart to be near him, and now it is.”
Mrs Thompson was joined by many hundreds of other members from the bereaved families of the dead, and also the veterans of that bloody conflict - comrades from every service in the British Armed Forces.
Harry, a captain in the Household Cavalry, is no stranger to Afghanistan having served two tours in theatre, firstly as a tactical air controller in 2008, and again in 2012 as an Apache helicopter pilot.
Camp Bastion was dismantled in 2014 with the end of British combat operations in the country, where UK forces had been in action since 2001.