Advertisement

The Royal Rota

The Queen unveils the monument. Credit: PA

It was extremely generous of the Royal Family to turn out in such numbers in only the second week of me doing this job.

There were 14 - yes 14 of them - all in the same VIP box in central London.

So many in fact, I had to Google the last three members on the list.

More experienced Royal watchers might already know of Prince Richard, The Duke of Gloucester - cousin to The Queen - and son of one of King George VI's brothers.

Former prime minister Tony Blair (left) and the Duke of Gloucester at the service. Credit: PA

The other two I didn't know were Prince Richard's wife - the Duchess of Gloucester - and the Earl of Ulster (who is Major Alexander Windsor and - you might have guessed by now - is the son of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester).

They joined more familiar faces like The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Camilla, Princes Andrew and Edward, Princess Anne, Prince William and Kate, and Prince Harry.

I know from my Twitter feed that the informality of writing "Camilla" and "Kate" bothers some, but I plan to call them by both their first names and their official titles, as I see fit.

Anyhow, it was quite a formidable line up.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended the memorial event. Credit: PA

They were all in Horse Guards Parade on a sunny Thursday morning for a service and memorial for the military and civilians who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan between 1990 to 2015.

A quarter of a century of conflict in that corner of the world - it really is quite something.

In fact, the conflict had involved so many of Her Majesty's governments, there were former prime ministers there from Sir John Major to David Cameron (not to mention the controversial invitation for Tony Blair - which caused a bit of a news story in itself).

So this was a not-to-be-missed event for a new correspondent on the Royal beat.

And Prince Harry, himself a veteran of Afghanistan, gave a reading.

Prince Harry speaks with members of the Brigade of Gurkhas during the reception. Credit: PA

What struck me at this event was the number of people this conflict had touched - 320,000 in total, according to my service notes from the Ministry of Defence.

Military, of course, but many civilians too.

I met a 57-year-old grandmother who works for the Department of International Development in Afghanistan.

Wendy Phillips could enjoy the safety of an office in Whitehall in London, but instead, this civil servant braves insecure conditions in a much less safe capital: Kabul.

The day after the service she was back on a plane to her office in Afghanistan, but meeting the Queen at the event was worth flying half-way round the world, she told me.

And then there is the military sacrifice - which comes in so many forms: physical injury, mental injury, the loss of a limb or limbs, and the most grave of all: the sacrifice of life.

Major Matt Titchener was killed in Iraq in 2003.

His widow, Raqual Harper-Titchener, was there along with the couple’s son Matheson - who had met his father - and their daughter Angel - who did not.

Angel was unborn when her father was shot dead.

The memorial stands outside the Ministry of Defence. Credit: PA

But when they kindly agreed to speak to me about the service, Angel was unable to talk about her dad without tears falling from her young eyes.

They are all proud of their husband and father.

He was killed in a conflict now passed. In fact, so far in the past, The Queen unveiled a permanent memorial in the gardens of the Ministry of Defence to all those who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the pain for the Harper-Titchener family - and for so many others - goes on.

They did, however, get to meet some royalty.

Not Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, as 13-year-old Angel had been hoping, but the Duchess of Gloucester (who they said was very nice).

At least I was able to tell them who she was - and how she is related to The Queen.