Australian war veterans were among the Victoria and George Cross holders who sat down for tea with Prince Charles in London.
They are some of our bravest war heroes, used to roughing it in tough desert conditions, but Australia’s surviving Victoria Cross winners were in more palatial surrounds as they met Prince Charles for tea in London.
Afghanistan war veterans Ben Roberts-Smith, Corporal Daniel Keighran and Corporal Mark Donaldson joined 20 other Victoria and George Cross holders at St James’s Palace on Monday to meet the Prince of Wales.
It marked the start of three days of Royal events honouring servicemen and veterans who have received Britain and the Commonwealth’s highest award for military bravery.
There are 30 VC and GC holders worldwide from conflicts including World War II, Vietnam, and Afghanistan.
Cpl Keighran was attending the biennial event for the first time.
“It is incredibly humbling to talk to these guys and hear their stories,” he said.
“To be a part of that group as well – I don’t think I’ll get used it.
“Every year there are less and less members, so it’s good to come together.”
The 31-year-old won his Victoria Cross in 2012 for repeatedly putting himself in great danger at the Battle of Derapet in August 2010.
Cpl Donaldson, who was awarded the VC in 2009, said the reunions were much more about the relationships between the men than it was tea with the prince or the medal itself.
“It’s a bit like Christmas time when family all gets to come together, share their stories, have a catch-up, and it’s just like it was the last time you saw them,” he said.
“I missed the last one because I was serving in Afghanistan, so 2010 was the last one I’ve been to but it honestly feels like only a couple of months since the last time I saw most of these people.”
Cpl Donaldson was an SAS trooper in Afghanistan in 2008 when his selfless actions during a Taliban ambush saved the life of a wounded Afghani interpreter attached to his patrol.
Mr Roberts-Smith, 35, said the reunion’s royal connection made it particularly special to him.
“It’s an amazing thing for a kid from Western Australia to end up sitting having a cup of tea with His Royal Highness,” he said.
The former Special Air Service corporal, Australia’s most highly decorated soldier, received his VC for his actions during a helicopter assault in Tizak in June 2010, and also won a Medal for Gallantry in 2006.
The Australian trio was also joined by Keith Payne, an 81-year-old Vietnam veteran from Queensland who was awarded the VC in 1969.
Mr Payne said during his chat over tea, the Prince of Wales had expressed concerns about post-traumatic stress affecting returned servicemen and women.
“He has a very deep interest in what is happening to our veteran community,” he said.
The men will meet the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at a reception at Buckingham Palace on Thursday, and will be hosted by Prince Harry on Wednesday.
The parents of Cameron Baird, who was awarded his VC posthumously in February this year, are also taking part in this week’s events.