(Sydney) Prince George’s first royal tour came to an end today as his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, said goodbye to Australia.
After 19 days travelling down under, William and Kate were left “bowled over” by the warmth of the welcome from well-wishers, said Kensington Palace.
The royal couple began in the New Zealand capital of Wellington where they experienced a ceremonial welcome from the Maori people and ended the longest royal tour in a generation in Canberra, standing shoulder to shoulder with veterans, serving military personnel and the public as they marked Anzac Day – a national day of remembrance for Australia’s fallen.
Wherever William and Kate have visited, Kiwis and Aussies have shown their affection by screaming, handing over presents and waiting for hours to shake the hands of their special visitors. But the real star of the tour has been their nine-month-old son Prince George.
His appearance at a playgroup in Wellington left the royal fans in raptures and when he made a trip to a Sydney zoo with mum and dad, the baby’s delight being among the animals was clear to see. A Kensington Palace spokesman said: “The tour of New Zealand and Australia has been an incredible experience for both The Duke and Duchess and the couple really have enjoyed it immensely.
“We always said this would be an opportunity for the Duke to introduce both countries to the Duchess and Prince George and the couple have been bowled over by the extraordinarily warm welcome shown to them as a family by people everywhere they went.”
After paying their respects to Australia’s war dead at the country’s national war memorial, the royal couple travelled to the Defence Establishment Fairbairn in Canberra to board a military jet which would fly them to their connection with a commercial plane.
William picked up George from the back seat of a car the Cambridges had been travelling in and handed him to his wife.
The baby Prince, who has grown noticeably since the start of the tour and has a fuller head of hair, was wearing a red cardigan, white shirt, pink shorts and shoes and looked bright and alert.
Kate described how her son had an “extra fat roll” and had changed while they were away, during Tuesday’s visit to Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock.
On the tarmac the Cambridges were joined by their hosts, governor general Sir Peter Cosgrove and his wife Lynne, as they said goodbye to a group of dignitaries.
George waved his arms and legs in excitement and Kate had to shift him from one arm to the other as she shook hands.
The baby was a draw for everyone she met and he was touched and stroked.
Last in the line-up was Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott and before the couple climbed the steps Sir Peter said goodbye and gently touched George’s arm.
At the plane’s door the couple turned to wave at a small group of well-wishers at the perimeter fence, posed briefly for the dozens of photographers on the tarmac, then headed inside.
The royal couple began the last day of their tour Down Under by attending a moving dawn service in memory of the fallen, in the parade ground of the Australian War Memorial.
In the shadow of the memorial, an imposing sandstone-clad Byzantine style building with a copper-covered dome, they stood with others.
Stretching out beneath them from the impressive building and down towards Parliament House, tens of thousands of veterans, their families and members of the public had gathered in the darkness to pay tribute. Some sat with candles, William and Kate and the others in the official party had small torches to read the order of service.
Later that morning the Duke and Duchess attended the Anzac Day ceremony which saw serving military veterans march past William who stood with the governor general. Hymns were sung and wreaths were laid at the Stone of Remembrance by the royal couple, prime minister Tony Abbott, Sir Peter and other leading figures and groups from Australian life.
Anzac derives from the acronym used to describe the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Anzac Day began from the commemoration of the First World War Gallipoli campaign, launched on April 25, 1915, to capture a peninsular guarding the Dardanelles Strait in what is modern-day Turkey.
Now seen by many as one of the Allies’ greatest disasters, it involved more than 500,000 Allied troops – and saw tens of thousands of them killed including more than 8,000 from Australia.
After the ceremony in the parade ground the royal couple walked the short distance to the memorial’s Hall of Memory where they laid posies on the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.
The posies, made up of rosemary, kangaroo paw and bottle brush plants, each contained a wooden cross on which children had written messages of what remembrance means to them. Each year around 40,000 such posies and crosses are sent by schools to military cemeteries in Flanders, where they are placed on the graves of Australian servicemen.
The Duke and Duchess laid their posies after Sir Peter and his wife, then stood and paused briefly as a mark of respect. After the simple ceremony the royal couple chatted to four Victoria Cross recipients including 80-year-old Keith Payne, a Vietnam veteran.
In 1969 the old soldier was commanding the 212th Company of the 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion when it was attacked by a strong North Vietnamese force. His troops began to fall back but ignoring enemy fire he used grenades and his weapon to hold back the fighters then later rallied his troops, and as night fell he scoured the area to find lost or wounded men while evading fire.
He found some 40 comrades, brought some in himself and organised the rescue of the others, leading the party back to base through enemy-dominated terrain. Mr Payne was invested with his Victoria Cross by the Queen on the Royal Yacht Britannia in Brisbane in April 1970.
The old soldier shared a joke with William and said the Duke had told him: “I’ve been hearing some stories about you.” The veteran said: “I don’t know what he’s been hearing, but I bet it’s all good.”
He added: “For the royals to come out and visit is absolutely great,especially the younger generation. “I’ve seen the tour on TV as they moved around, the new generation is a little more casual – but still very royal. I think that’s a great thing for Australia.
“Australia doesn’t have too much of the class thing so it’s great for them to be more relaxed and a little bit more down to earth.”