It was announced yesterday that His Royal Highness Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh is to retire from public duties in August. This quite incredible man will be 96 years old on Saturday 10th June.
I met Prince Philip once. It was many years ago in my youth and at a time when I was involved with The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme.
A group of us were gathered together to meet the prince and talk about what we were doing in the award scheme. I remember His Royal Highness flying in by helicopter which he piloted himself. There were three of us sitting at a table on which was a small display of objects from our work in the award scheme. When Prince Philip came into the room we all stood up. He came over and asked about our participation in the award scheme. I remember him talking about a band he had seen when he was in Mexico.
In my day you could join The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme as soon as you were fourteen years old. I signed up on my fourteenth birthday.
There were three award levels: BRONZE - I gained my bronze in one year. SILVER - I won my silver two years later. GOLD - I had almost completed my gold award when I stopped working towards it at the time I left school and went to work. I am now so really upset with myself that I failed to complete everything, particularly as I was so close to achieving the ultimate award. In my day you had to complete the gold by your eighteenth birthday but I understand today the upper age has been significantly extended. I don't think, however, it has been extended to sixty-seven years of age !
There were four sections to each award: Hobbies - Rescue and Public Service - Physical Fitness and Expeditions.
Throughout MUSIC was my hobby, playing music on a recorder and trumpet. YES I used to play the trumpet. My trumpet these days is in its case in the loft.
For my public service element I attended first aid classes to gain qualifications. I have never had to administer anything beyond basic first aid but thanks to His Royal Highness I could if I had to. The knowledge I gained as a teenager is still there stored carefully in my brain. For my silver award I also spent time as a volunteer in a school for mentally handicapped children.
For the physical fitness section standards of achievement had to be reached for running, throwing and jumping. Running was not a problem. Throwing a bit more challenging. For my bronze award I threw the cricket ball over a prescribed distance and then for silver it was the shot. Jumping I struggled with. High jump was a no no for me. For the bronze I had to clear fourteen feet in a long jump and managed that. For silver it was sixteen feet and I struggled. I moved on to triple jump.
The expedition section I loved. For the bronze we had to walk fifteen miles over fairly easy terrain on a two day expedition, camping out at night with everything we needed on our back in a rucksack. For silver it was 30 miles over more challenging terrain and sleeping out for two nights. At gold level it was four nights, fifty miles and wild terrain.
At each level we had to undertake a practice expedition and a test expedition. We had to write a log including text, photographs, maps and drawings.
For my bronze award both expeditions were undertaken in the Dovedale Area of Derbyshire.
It rained all the time.
We cooked on small methylated spirit stoves. I remember for the main meal it was a tin of stewed steak, Yeoman instant mashed potato and Surprise Peas. I wonder if anyone can remember Surprise Peas.
We camped at a place called Whetton Mill. I have a vivid memory of the whole expedition group pissing into the river when we got up in the morning then having a right old laugh when we saw a group of Boy Scouts swimming down stream. For those Boy Scouts Surprise Peas had a different meaning ! Very naughty but I think HRH would have had a giggle at that.
My silver test expedition saw six of us tramping over The Long Mynd in Shropshire. I was the expedition leader. I had a major row with this other boy. He wanted to us to walk round a hill to the check point while I insisted we navigate our way over the top using a Silva Compass and map. I won the argument, I was the expedition leader after all.
A major part of my teenage life was filled with The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme. I owe a lot to His Royal Highness. I was never the Alpha Male Prince Philip was but so much of my character has been formed from his award scheme.
THANK YOU, your Royal Highness.