The Prince of Wales, who is Marshal of the Royal Air Force (the highest rank in the RAF) , watched over 500 graduates parading from RAF College Cranwell and RAF Halton who qualified during the Covid pandemic without any family, loved ones and friends present.
This enabled the RAF’s newest personnel to celebrate their achievements.
His Royal Highness acted as the Reviewing Officer with full ceremonial dress and officer’s sword, accompanied by the Commandant, Air Commodore Andrew Dickens, to inspect some of the aviators on parade, watched by around 1,500 guests as well as the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff.
Prince Charles received a Royal Salute before watching a fly past over the College by an RAF Voyager and two Typhoon aircraft.
Music was provided by the Band of the RAF College.
Prince Charles said he was "immensely impressed" with the graduates and wished them the best for their futures.
He said: "I am all too aware, having attended the Graduation Ceremony in July 2020, that up until now you have not been able to celebrate this notable achievement in the way you would have wished, owing to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.” He said it was “long overdue”.
He also paid tribute to them managing to carry on with their training despite the pandemic. "I know that this will not have been easy and at the end of the day is a great testament to the flexibility and determination of both the staff and every one of you."
He added: "The conflict in Ukraine is a stark reminder that there is no substitute for credible Defence.”
The Prince of Wales ended his speech by saying "we are fortunate indeed to be able to rely on you."
He then went into the Lancaster/Spitfire Room, where he spoke to graduates and their families. He also signed the visitors' book and reminisced about his time at RAF Cranwell in the 1970s.
In 2008 he attended the college for his son, Prince William’s graduation.
Graduate, Corporal Smith commented: “Today is a special day, not just for me but my family and friends. I didn’t get the opportunity to share this day with my family when I graduated from RAF Halton in March 2020. Therefore, I feel grateful to have been given this opportunity.”
Parade Commander, Group Captain Paul McClurg said he was “truly honoured” to parade the next generation of aviators for the Prince of Wales. “The combined parade recognises the hard work and commitment made by our whole force during the Covid pandemic.”Sally Lester, 32, one of the graduates on the day, is an air ground steward on the Royal Air Force Voyager which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Prince of Wales often use. She said: "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to graduate in front of Prince Charles. It gives you a sense of pride as well, because obviously you work your way through basic training, working your way to graduation to not get one at the end.
"It has been like a mini reunion because there's a lot of us who [should have] graduated together but didn't get a graduation. It's been really nice."
She said her work on the Royal Air Force Voyager has given her some memorable moments. "I've been really lucky with the trips that I've had so far," she said.
"I had the opportunity to do a round the world tour with the Defence Secretary, which we stopped in places like Washington, L.A., Hawaii, Tokyo, so that was really good. I also went with Prince Charles to Barbados in December, which was a highlight."
The high level of responsibility of this is not something that has ever phased her. "I quite enjoy it to be honest," she said.
"It gives you a sense of pride, especially when you're doing the Vespina ones with Prince Charles."