A service marking the 75th anniversary of the armed forces’ bomb disposal squads took place in St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday.
The event, attended by Prince Harry, was staged in honour of members of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) units who put their lives on the line to protect property, the public, and fellow personnel through their actions in World War Two, Northern Ireland, the Afghan war, and other conflicts.
The prince (who served in the British Army in Afghanistan) met families of those killed in action, and also crouched down to share jokes with two engineers who lost their legs in that country.
The service included poignant addresses from Ian Kirkpatrick, whose son Corporal Jamie Kirkpatrick was killed in Afghanistan, and from the musician and television presenter Jools Holland, who is honorary colonel of Cpl Kirkpatrick’s unit, 101 (City of London) Engineer Regiment.
There was also a moment which brought the terrible power of bombs home to Harry.
The congregation of 1,500 service personnel and families heard a number of BBC news headlines about bombings played on a speaker, including that of Lord Louis Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s uncle, who was killed by the IRA in 1979.
In a poignant address, Mr Kirkpatrick told the congregation: “It is extremely difficult to put into words what Jamie’s loss has meant to us, his family and his many friends.
“We recall many family celebrations and events that would, under normal circumstances, be a source of happiness, but which are now inevitably a source of sadness too.
“We continue to reflect on all the ongoing events that he is now not around to witness and therefore seem somehow incomplete.”
Cpl Kirkpatrick was born in Edinburgh and lived in Llanelli in South Wales.
Harry spoke to his family, including his young daughter Polly, at the end of the service.
He also spoke to former servicemen badly injured while serving in the forces, including Sappers Clive Smith, 30, from Walsall in the West Midlands, and Jack Cummings, 27, from Didcot in Oxfordshire. Both men lost their legs on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Mr Smith chatted with Harry about the Prince’s Invictus Games for injured servicemen, having taken part last year in the handcycling events.
“He is always very approachable and interested in what you have to say,” Mr Smith said.
Discussing the service, he said: “It was quite emotional. It brings back memories of events you would rather forget but it was a very good service.”
Serving and retired members of the EOD community will deliver accounts of the conflicts and the part played by EOD units.
Officially formed in October 1940, the original Royal Engineers bomb disposal unit played an important role in the Second World War, dealing with tens of thousands of unexploded bombs in the UK and overseas.
Since then, bomb disposal has expanded from the Royal Engineers to function across the armed forces.
Mr Holland, best known for his long-running BBC Two music programme, has been honorary Colonel of the 101 Engineer Regiment since 2012.
He said that from its origins “this story of human courage is set in such contrast to the evil of indiscriminate destruction”.
He also said it was important to remember we had once been “on the other side” and offer remembrance for German civilians who “still live with the legacy of our own weapons dropped in towns and cities that we once targeted for destruction in the battle against tyranny”.