The Prince of Wales has recalled his first parachute drop almost 50 years ago in Dorset, “initially upside down with my legs in the rigging lines”.
Charles, 72, was speaking as he presented new Colours to the Parachute Regiment at a ceremony at Merville Barracks in Colchester, Essex.
The prince was 23 years old when he completed his first parachute drop on July 29 1971 from an Andover aircraft into Studland Bay, Dorset.
He was training as a jet pilot during a four-month attachment with the Royal Air Force at the time.
Upon his appointment as Colonel in Chief of The Parachute Regiment in 1977, the prince requested to join a parachute training course at RAF Brize Norton in 1978.
Addressing soldiers, veterans and families on Tuesday, he said: “I find it hard to believe that it’s been 44 years since I became your Colonel in Chief and nearly 50 years since I made my first parachute drop, initially upside down with my legs in the rigging lines, into Studland Bay, Dorset, where I was pulled out of the water by the Royal Marines.”
Clarence House’s social media channels shared two photographs from its archives of the prince preparing for his first parachute drop in 1971, almost 50 years on.
The last time new Colours, military ceremonial flags, were presented to the Parachute Regiment was in 1998.
Covid-19 restrictions meant that the once-in-a-generation parade had to be socially distanced, and the 500 guests were tested before attending in family bubbles on seating around the parade square.
Charles arrived by helicopter then inspected the old Colours outside the headquarters of 16th Air Assault Brigade.
There was a two-gun royal salute before the prince inspected the ranks, taking time to speak to troops as he went.
He then formally presented the new Colours and they were blessed.
“The Colours I present today on behalf of the Queen continue to symbolise your loyalty and distinguished pedigree of which you can all be justifiably proud,” said Charles.
A flypast of three Tiger Moth planes, two Apache helicopters and an A400 transporter plane followed, before the Red Devils Parachute Display Team dropped into the parade square with red smoke trailing from their boots.
They presented Charles with a Denison Smock, a type of jacket used by the parachute regiment, that he wore on his first parachute drop in 1971.
After the ceremony, the prince spoke to more soldiers, veterans and families at an outdoor reception.
Dennis Mason, 67, whose son Lance Corporal Nicky Mason died in Afghanistan in 2008, aged 26, said “it means so much” that Charles attended, adding: “The whole day has been fantastic.”
The prince also spoke to veterans and petted a Shetland pony called Pegasus, the Parachute Regiment’s mascot, before leaving the event.