The Duchess of Cornwall opened the new Woolwich home of the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery yesterday.
The regiment moved from their barracks in St John’s Wood in February this year, having been stationed there for over 200 years. The new state-of-the-art facilities in Woolwich are home to 120 horses and 150 soldiers, and cost £16.5m.
The Duchess visited the officers’ mess at the start of the visit where she boarded a horse-drawn open-top carriage, known as a ‘sociable’ carriage, arriving at the main barracks in the carriage with four outriders.
The Duchess then toured the forge, veterinary centre and stables, and viewed a demonstration of 12 horses exercising with the gun carriages which carry the 13-pounder (6kg) guns that were first used in the First World War.
The guns are now fired during Her Majesty The Queen’s birthday parade, state visits and on Remembrance Sunday.
During her tour of the stables, the Duchess pulled out a packet of mints and fed the horses, including nine-year-old mare Cognac.
Gunner Nikopaul Powell, who used to be a backing dancer on TV show ‘The X Factor’, met the Duchess in the tack room. He said:
She’s a lovely lady, really easy to speak to. I joined the King’s Troop because I really love the show side of the horses, putting on a real performance and delighting the crowds. I normally ride the horses behind the guns and get the kit ready.
The Duchess also presented Afghanistan campaign medals to four soldiers from the King’s Troop who have just returned from front line duties.
Master Saddler Jonathan Ashton, who spent six months as an operational watchkeeper in the Joint Force Support Headquarters at Camp Bastion, said:
It was a real honour to be presented with my medal by royalty, and lovely to see the Duchess here today at the Troop.
Master Saddler Ashton is looking forward to a busy ceremonial summer - he is the safety officer for the King’s Troop and will take part in the Royal Salute for Her Majesty The Queen’s birthday on 21 April, and in events over the Diamond Jubilee Weekend. He had the same role ten years ago for the Golden Jubilee.
Lance Bombardier Dave Taylor also received his operational service medal from the Duchess. He said:
She’s a really nice person, so friendly and warm, and asked me all about my time in Afghanistan and what I think about the new accommodation here in Woolwich.
Lance Bombardier Taylor was the driver for the Deputy Commander of ISAF, the highest ranking British soldier in Afghanistan, and consequently got to see a lot of the country:
I really enjoyed my time in Afghanistan; it was fantastic as a ceremonial soldier to get that operational experience and learn things I would never normally get the chance to do.
The new barracks is fantastic, a real improvement on where we were before in St John’s Wood. We’ve got space and beautiful facilities, and the horses absolutely love it.
Before departing, the Duchess unveiled a plaque to commemorate the change of the name of the new barracks from Napier Lines to King George VI Lines.
And the Commanding Officer of King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, Major Mark Edward, presented Her Royal Highness with a specially engraved and polished 13-pound (6kg) gun shell which was fired during the Royal Salute to mark the start of Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations on 6 February 2012.
The new barracks offer the most up-to-date facilities available to horses and soldiers, whilst also offering improvements to the horses’ welfare with a larger and better-equipped forge and veterinary clinic, and a wide range of riding services to school both horses and soldiers.
It was a real honour to welcome Her Royal Highness here today and for her to see the King’s Troop in their tremendous new home here in Woolwich, the spiritual home of the Royal Artillery.
As she left, the Duchess said:
I am so impressed with how it has all worked out.