Prince Charles unveiled a memorial to the men and women who flew secret missions from Tempsford in the Second World War during his visit to Bedfordshire.
He spoke to veterans and the relatives of those who flew out of RAF Tempsford during the hour he spent at the village on Tuesday (December 3).
On arrival, the Prince was shown to a packed St Peter’s Church by Tazi Husain, who first proposed the memorial in January, and designed the white dove mosaic which crowns the stone pillar.
Here, he attended a service of remembrance for all those who operated from Tempsford airfield to support the resistance movement in Europe.
The Reverend Margaret Marshall lead the service where she acknowledged the bravery of the 75 women secret agents who were dropped behind enemy lines to aid the resistance along with the ‘back room’ staff who ran the airbase.
Following the service, the Prince made the short walk to the memorial, which was draped with a union flag and a RAF insignia. After the unveiling, he put the final piece of the mosaic in place before reading the 75 names inscribed on the side of the memorial.
Mr Husain, who is a professor and surgeon and lives in Tempsford, said: “It was a magnificent day and everything went according to plan. The Prince was very chatty and congratulated us on the memorial.
“I would like to add how grateful we are for all the help given by the villagers and especially the memorial trustees who worked so hard.”
He added it was not just English women who were involved with the missions but women from 12 other nations – all of which sent representatives to the unveiling.
Once the official business concluded, Prince Charles got the chance to meet villagers and some of the children who helped make the mosaic.
He stopped and spoke to around 20 children, including Luke Maberly, who attends John Donne School, Blunham, and gave the Prince a small bouquet.
Luke said: “He said thank you for the flowers and asked if I made the bouquet myself. I did, with my mum, who got the flowers for me.”
The last airworthy Westland Lysander aircraft, the sort that operated from the airfield, made a fly-by as the Prince moved on to chat to villagers before heading into The Wheatsheaf pub, where he meet a group of veterans and relatives of the people who flew the secret missions.
With a half-pint of Adnam’s Broadside, he chatted to them about their aviation experiences and his own, explaining how he learned to fly in a Chipmunk.
In the group was Special Operations Squad 161 Commanding Officer Len Ratcliffe, now 95, who piloted Lysander aircraft from Tempsford during the war.
He said: “I was stationed in Tempsford from 1943 to 45 and flew the night missions which earned us the nickname the Moon Squadron. There was no radio and we flew with our maps on our laps with a small torch.
“I flew about 45 missions, including dropping the secret agents behind enemy lines.”
One of his missions was to pick up 11 agents up from France in a two-engined aircraft, the Hudson, and bring them home to Tempsford.
Mr Ratcliffe added: “We are great admirers of Prince Charles. He is a wonderful influence for the future and we talked about all sorts of things from my war experiences to our love of gardening.”
Before leaving Tempsford, the Prince signed the last page of a book containing messages from all the people who helped with the mosaic, and the church register.
Prince Charles is the second royal visitor to Tempsford. In November 1943 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth arrived by train to inspect the airfield.
For more information go to www.tempsfordmemorial.co.uk