The Duke of Gloucester paid a flying one-day visit to Northern Ireland today.He officially opened the Somme Heritage Centre near Conlig, between Newtownards and Bangor. Secutity was tight as the helicopter of the Queen’s Flight touched down at 11.30am.
Northern Ireland Goverment Ministers Sir John Wheeler and Michael Ancram were on hand to greet the Duke, as were Councillor Wilbur Magill, Mayor of Ards, Strangford MP John Taylor and Lord Brookeborough. vice-president of the Somme Association. Colonel William Brownlow, Lord Lieutenant for County Down, attended the Duke.
Welcoming the Duke to the Centre, Dr Ian Adamson, chairman of the Somme Association,said: ” To those who have seen Mr Spielberg’s film on the Holocaust -with its vivid puctures of children going to the gas-chambers-this will be an evocative reminder that the First World War was a children’s war for us.”
After unveiling a commemorative plaque at the new £1M centre the Duke toured the exhibition halls.
Hugh Forrester, Director of the Centre, said “It has been a long process,but it has all been wothwhile. We are delighted to have the Duke here todayas this special event is important,not only for Northern Ireland but for the whole of the world. This conflict affected everyoneand is a living memory to all those who perished.”
The Duke also chatted to two Ulster Somme Veterans, Lesley Bell (98) and William Calvert(97) . Mr Calvert said: “Itis a great honour to be here today. Ilost quite a few friends at the Somme and today is bringing back a lot of memories”.
The Duke mingled with local dignatories before leaving for a reception at St John Ambulance Centre in Bangor. This was followed by a private dinner at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club,of which he is Commodore. He has now visited Northern Ireland eight times and he is the third Royal Visitor this year.