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Papua New Guinea: Day Three

5th November 2012

The Prince of Wales walks past students dressed in traditional dress at the Hohola Youth Development Center in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

The Prince of Wales walks past students dressed in traditional dress at the Hohola Youth Development Center in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

The Duchess of Cornwall won the hearts of a group of Second World War veterans today as the Diamond Jubilee tour of Papua New Guinea with The Prince of Wales drew to a close.

The Duchess, whose father fought in North Africa, met the old soldiers on a trip to remember one of the pivotal battles of the global conflict.

The elderly men were survivors of the fighting on the Kokoda Trail, where Australian and Papua New Guinea forces held off Japanese troops in 1942 as they tried to push through to the nation's capital Port Moresby, which would have been an ideal launch point for an invasion of Australia.

The veterans may have held off the Japanese but to the Duchess, however, they offered no resistance.

Len Griffiths, 90, held The Duchess's hand and when he learnt that her Diamond Jubilee tour would take her to the Australian capital Canberra, he made a cheeky offer: "Oh, I will put you up."

Another, on being told by The Duchess that she would like to visit Western Australia, told her: "I'm not getting any younger - you had better be quick."

Afterwards, Mr Griffiths was asked if he had been smitten by The Duchess, smiling bashfully he replied: "Yes, a little bit. She is a charming lady."

The meeting was arranged at the last minute after the royal party discovered the veterans were staying at the same hotel.

The Duchess, whose father Major Bruce Shand was captured at the Battle of El Alamein and spent three years as a Prisoner of War, said: "I felt I ought to be here because my father was in the war and I know he would have liked to see me here with all of you."

Recalling the fighting, Bob Iskov, 92, said: "We lost 109 people from my battalion on the track, and 29 missing who were never seen again.

"The trail was a muddy track, range after range culminating in an 8,000ft mountain. When we got there we were into close quarter fighting. It was just horrendous."

Veterans of the campaign remember with gratitude the role played by the so-called Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, the local tribesmen who ferried supplies along the trail and carried away the wounded to safety.

Mr Iskov said: "I remember one bloke put on a stretcher with a bad shrapnel wound in the backside. They took him away and he survived 29 days in the care of those natives."

The Prince of Wales and his wife have been visiting Papua New Guinea since Saturday and later today will leave for Australia.

In Australia the royal couple have set themselves the task of visiting four major cities - Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Canberra - and the island state of Tasmania in just six days.

A royal aide said: "The theme of the Jubilee is service to others and Their Royal Highnesses are determined to meet as many people possible in the time available, which is why we're trying to get around so many states and territories as we possibly can."

Race-goers will see the royal couple at the Melbourne Cup tomorrow where The Duchess, a passionate horse fan like her husband, will present the winning trophy for the prestigious race.

Other events will see them highlight healthy eating in schools, meet Australian cricketers playing with disadvantaged youngsters and promote the wool trade.

The final leg to New Zealand, between 10th and 16th November, will see Their Royal Highnesses  meet popular children's author Lynley Dodd, writer of the Hairy Maclary stories about the adventures of a hairy dog. The book is one of The Duchess's favourite children's book and she often reads it to her own grandchildren.

The Prince will celebrate his 64th birthday in the country on 14th November when he will visit a movie workshop to get a behind the scenes look at the new Hobbit film.