REGARDING the article headlined ‘Charles jets into Province for Baronscourt christening’ in Saturday’s News Letter.
To say this visit was a secret is an understatement.
I was a young Royal Air Force aircraft engineer stationed at Ballykelly in 1969 when Prince Charles made his secret visit.
The duty flight at Ballykelly consisted of three airmen of which I was one.
We were told to expect the arrival of a visiting aircraft and it was our responsibility to meet this aircraft and carry out the engineering requirements.
Having taxied in and parked up, the aircraft door opened and this well dressed gentleman asked if the cars were here yet.
They were not and we were not aware of any cars. Just then, two cars appeared and drove straight up to the aircraft.
Number two down the aircraft steps was Prince Charles. We could not believe our eyes.
He spoke briefly to us all and wished us a good day. Within minutes he was gone.
No station commander, no orderly officer, no pomp and circumstance and we were in ordinary working uniforms.
It was a strange feeling that our Royal visitor had arrived and gone and no one apart from us at Ballykelly knew anything. Even the aircraft was not a Queens Flight Andover, something that would have given the game away to the RAF staff in the control tower.
The Andover’s aircrew asked for transport to the officer’s mess and told us to be ready for departure at a given time.
It was to be a completely different departure. We were now in white overalls, shoes cleaned and spotless.
The station commander, the duty officer and the station warrant officer were all in attendance.
Prince Charles stepped from his car, spoke briefly to the station commander and then boarded his aircraft. About halfway up the stairs he turned back, looked directly at us and made this statement, “Bit of a difference from this morning’s arrival gentlemen, thanks for your assistance,” turned round and continued to board his aircraft.
The station commander’s face said it all. Trying not to laugh was very difficult.
That gives you some idea of how secret this visit really was.
The Royals all made many regular visits to Northern Ireland during the Troubles.