When Prince Harry took the stage last Friday for the opening ceremony of the third Invictus Games, it was difficult to know who was more proud – Harry, or the hundreds of injured veterans hanging on his every word.
His rallying call to the gathering in Canada – ‘I hope you’re ready to see lives changing in front of you’ – was as touching as it was inspirational.
Sadly, that didn’t stop an attack on him this week by his local MP in Kensington and Chelsea, Emma Dent Coad, who said that ‘Harry can’t actually fly a helicopter … he tried to pass the helicopter exam about four times and he couldn’t get through it at all, so he always goes for the co-pilot. So he just sits there going “vroom vroom”.’
Harry not only qualified as an Army pilot, he passed all the additional tests required to be an Apache pilot, along with ‘road tests’ every six months to keep his skills sharp
The truth, if she’d bothered to find out, could not have been more different.
In fact, Prince Harry passed all the tests required to become a qualified Army pilot, all the tests to become an Apache pilot – and all the extra challenges to become an Apache aircraft commander.
These deadly aircraft cost several million pounds each, and they are flown by only the most elite pilots.
His time with the Apache units was the high point of a military career that started at Sandhurst in 2005. Having completed the 44-week training course, he joined the Blues and Royals.
Harry was secretly deployed to Helmand in Afghanistan at the end of 2007. It was only two months later, after a magazine revealed his whereabouts, that the MoD confirmed he was there.
The prince also served part of a combat tour of Afghanistan, but was forced to return home after his presence was exposed
Having been recalled to the UK, he undertook the gruelling training required of an Apache pilot.
Had Miss Dent Coad been interested, she would have discovered the intensive tests included psychometric challenges, medical tests and then months of flying exercises – hardly the pursuits of the ‘playboy’ prince he was painted as this week. It’s believed Harry finished near the top of his class.
The last challenge was live firing from the Apache, and learning to land it in dust storms in California and Arizona, where only the ‘best of the best’ are sent. Again he passed with flying colours.
Even when he had fully qualified, Harry then also passed so-called ‘driving tests’ every six months to ensure he was still able to fly an Apache. An Army source said: ‘He was in fact very successful, and passed them all.’
A former Apache aircraft commander who served at the same time, said: ‘He did not get any special treatment. He was a good pilot.
‘To say he is not a proper pilot shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Apaches. She knows nothing about what it is like operationally or flying Apaches. Her comments are laughable.’
There’s no doubt Harry was involved in the heat of battle. He admitted in an interview that he’d killed enemy fighters, and he must have known that if he’d been shot down by the Taliban he would have been paraded on television, tortured and quite possibly murdered.
There can also be no doubt that Harry has seen the heat of battle, and admitted to having killed enemy fighters in an interview
He thrived in the Forces, finally able to prove himself among fighting men. His comrades recall a down-to-earth soldier mucking in with his mates, showing great leadership, skill and courage in battle.
And it was of course the bonds he forged in Afghanistan that inspired him to launch the Invictus Games when his ten-year Army career came to an end. He knows all too well the sacrifices made by those who were killed or maimed in the service of their country.
When he pointed at former soldiers in wheelchairs, or amputees balancing on blades at the Games this week, and said ‘this is for you, and you, and you’, he was acknowledging life-changing sacrifices.
But he was also reminding the rest of us, as the Victorian poem Invictus does, that we are the masters of our fate and captains of our souls, and that whatever adversities we face, we must never give in.
Accusing Harry of being a toy soldier may win Emma Dent Coad garlands for courage from Corbyn’s thugs, but she should study the prince’s service record and learn a lesson in humility.