UK royal couple gets up close with British service personnel here

HIS Royal Highness Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, and Her Royal Highness Princess Sophie, the Countess of Wessex visited the British Forces Brunei last week. They were representing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the Golden Jubilee Celebration of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s Accession to the Throne.

The British Forces Brunei includes a Gurkha light infantry battalion, currently the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, the 7 Flight Army Air Corps with three Bell 212 helicopters, and the Jungle Warfare Division.

Separately, 30 UK loan service officers and senior non commissioned officers work in a variety of key appointments within the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF).

Their Royal Highnesses were greeted upon arrival at the headquarters of the British Forces Brunei by a guard of honour. They also received the traditional Gurkha welcome of Mala garlands from the Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Murray, and his wife, Susan.

The royal couple then visited Hornbill School, which provides primary education for over 320 British and Nepali children from UK military and civilian families serving in Brunei.

Their Royal Highnesses took part in a range of activities with pupils aged three to 11, including art, drama and info-technology (IT). They met parents, teachers and support staff, and unveiled a new playground.

Their Royal Highnesses were then flown into a rain-sodden jungle by two helicopters from the 7 Flight Army Air Corps.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex speaking with soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles
The Earl and Countess of Wessex opening the new Hornbill School playground. – PHOTOS: BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION

After equipping themselves with kukris, the famous gurkha fighting knife, they set foot in the dense undergrowth, guided by soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR).

The Earl and Countess were first shown how a Gurkha patrol can track an enemy in the jungle through a combination of footprints and other tell-tale signs such as disturbed leaves and broken twigs.

Their Royal Highnesses then walked a narrow, rocky path to see how Gurkhas are able to survive in the jungle by trapping wild animals, building shelters and finding drinking water.

The royal jungle tour ended with a field cooking demonstration. Prince Edward and Princess Sophie sampled fruit plucked from nearby trees, tasted Gurkha curry and talked to Nepalese soldiers about their experiences serving with the 2RGR. These included eight tours of Afghanistan between 2003 and 2016, as well as other operational deployments to places such as Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor.

Over lunch, Their Royal Highnesses were introduced to soldiers from the Third Battalion of the Royal Brunei Land Force, who regularly train together with their Gurkha counterparts.

The British Forces Brunei works in close partnership with the RBAF, through routine joint training and exercises from individuals to unit levels.

In March 2017, they co-hosted a Regional Jungle Warfare Symposium with delegates from seven Asean member states, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

On the helicopter flight back from the jungle, Their Royal Highnesses were escorted by a Blackhawk helicopter from the Royal Brunei Air Force. They were greeted on arrival at Rimba Air Force base by Brigadier General (U) Dato Seri Pahlawan Shahril Anwar bin Haji Ma’awiah, the Commander of the Royal Brunei Air Force.

Captain Ranjan Badgami of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles said, “It was such a privilege to meet Their Royal Highnesses and show them a little of how we survive and thrive in the jungle. We are taught from a young age in Nepal how to build shelters, and find food and water in the wild. My troops are very happy to bring these skills to the British Army, as well as learn new ones, as we continue our forefathers’ 200 years of service to the Crown.”

Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Murray, the Commander of British Forces Brunei, said, “We are extremely proud to have hosted Their Royal Highnesses. The UK-Brunei defence relationship is close, strong and enduring, as demonstrated by this visit. As the only significant permanent UK military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, it was a real boost to our garrison and wider military community to host the Earl and Countess of Wessex.”