The visit of the Princess Royal to Dover Castle was always intended to be an outdoor event being the safest way for such a gathering during Covid times. There was of course a contingency plan for bad weather.
The wind blew strongly on September 30th and the leaden clouds hung threateningly, dripping on occasions, but in the eyes of the Captain in charge the weather was no reason to move indoors. The military personnel present either have better weather guidance than us or are just made of harder stuff. They were represented by small groups from different regiments.
· Headquarters 11 Brigade
· 36 Regiment Royal Engineers (Maidstone)
· 1 Royal Gurkha Rifles (Folkestone)
· 3rd Battalion The Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment (3PWRR) (Canterbury)
· 600 Sqn (Aux) RAF
Invitations had been received and names submitted some time ago for the event about which there was to be no publicity. Visitors still wandered around the castle until two motorcycle outriders indicated that the Princesses’ car had arrived.
Those of us who had been invited as representatives of our organisations for the visit to recognise the work of frontline workers during the pandemic had arrived much earlier; four hours before her scheduled arrival. Security was surprisingly inconspicuous but since all but four of the groups present are directly involved in our security – and there was a dog! – coupled with the Castle’s own guards and the Royal protection officers, a secure environment could be relied on.
Organisations representing frontline services were:
· Border Force Agency· Dover District Council· HM Coastguard
· Kent County Council
· Kent Fire and Rescue Service
· Kent Police
· Kent Search and Rescue
· Medway Voluntary Action (with reps from other Charities that played a key role)
Rotary’s presence was low key compared to others and our banners were at risk of heading for the clouds which were no too far away so the Captain ordered a field tent to be erected for us which was done with impressive speed by members of the Ghurkha regiment.
After four cold hours, which passed surprisingly quickly, the combined Band of 3PWRR and the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas played the Royal Salute as the Princess emerged from her car accompanied by her husband. They both spent some time talking to the line of Dignitaries before going their separate ways to talk to all present.
As the band played, the tour took about an hour longer than scheduled as HRH, on her third engagement of the day, seemed unconcerned by time and genuinely interested in everyone. In our case she enquired about how Rotary has responded to new areas of need following Covid and especially about volunteer work at vaccination centres. Practised curtseys were abandoned as both the Princess and the Vice Admiral have a casual approach and a common-sense attitude to the issues of the day about which they obviously have a wide knowledge.
Most of the two hours of this part of the visit was filled in conversation with the various dignitaries. The Lord Lieutenant The Lady Colgrain, preceded HRH and then introduced us. Through the afternoon we also spoke about our work with the local MP, The Chair of KCC, Dover Town Mayor, The High Sheriff of Kent and finally with the Vice Admiral.
While Rotary in Kent talks of 50.000 hours of voluntary work, Rotary in Folkestone has provided some 20,000 hours. Our work extends beyond the vaccination centres, helping schools in various ways, supporting young carers, Age UK, the Food Bank, the Winter Shelter and many other ways.
After perhaps 150 handshakes the Royal Couple’s individual tours ended at the same time in the same place. A well-oiled machine subtly choreographs an apparently casual event.
As they headed off for a tour of the Castle to be followed by a tour of the Tunnels we gathered our belongings and left our tent to the Captain in charged whom we thanked for a perfect day and his weather forecasting.
As both the Princess and her husband left us they sent their thanks for all that the volunteers have done throughout the pandemic.
The casual and friendly style of the visit which was not publicised, left no doubt that it was not done out of duty but a desire to learn and an awareness of the hardships caused by the pandemic and the efforts by so many to support their communities.