The Duchess of Cambridge broke with tradition by staying at home with her children, leaving her husband to hand out shamrock to troops during a St Patrick’s Day parade.
Usually a female member of the Royal Family presents the Irish Guards with their traditional honour, but Kate, 34, was at home in Norfolk with Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
Instead the Duke, who is Colonel of the regiment, led the parade at Hounslow Cavalry Barracks in west London.
Since 1901, when the regiment was first founded by order of Queen Victoria, the regiment’s parade has traditionally been presided over by a woman.
For the last five years, Kate has presented soldiers with their St Patrick’s Day shamrock, but this year decided to put family first, as she and William prepare for lengthy state visits to India and Bhutan later next month.
Although the soldiers were disappointed that the Duchess was unable to attend, Company Sergeant Major Carl Laverty said they were “conscious that she has family commitments”, adding that the “lads were ecstatic” to have their Colonel present the honours instead.
After arriving at the barracks, William led a private ceremony for the family of Major Harry Shapland, who was killed in operations in northern Iraq in 1994.
Inside the barracks’ Mess Hall, the Duke presented Major Shapland’s mother with the Elizabeth Cross and Memorial Scroll, created in 2009 to recognise the families of armed forces personnel who have died in conflict or as a result of acts of terrorism.
After the private ceremony, William, dressed in an Irish Guards frock coat and wearing a ceremonial sword, was welcomed on to the central parade ground with a regimental royal salute, followed by the National Anthem played by the regiment’s bagpipes and drum divisions.
The Duke began the parade by handing out baskets of shamrock to warrant officers, who then distributed the sprigs down and along the ranks.
William appeared in good spirits throughout the parade, joking with officers.
For many of the soldiers present, the parade was the first St Patrick’s Day celebration in recent memory where the entire regiment has been in attendance. It was also the first time that the parade has been held at Hounslow, which became the new barracks for the regiment in 2015.
In recent years the parade has been much smaller, due to the Irish Guards’ commitments to frontline duties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more recently in operations in Bosnia, Oman and Kenya.
After the ceremony, William met soldiers and their families, and sat for group photographs with the Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess.
He also spoke to Army cadets attending the parade, including Lance Sergeant Alex Hullme, 16, of Crosby, Liverpool.
“He was very pleased to hear that I’ve signed up to join the Irish Guards,” Alex said. “It was great to have him present our shamrock to us.”