The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were left tickled pink by stories of Churchill’s “secret” birthday message to his son when they chatted to Second World War veterans about their VE Day memories.
Champagne was flowing when William and Kate made a video call on Wednesday to residents of an East Sussex care home to listen to them reminisce about the day the war ended in Europe on May 8, 1945.
The residents had started their VE Day celebrations early and when the royal couple asked what they would do when the Covid-19 outbreak was over, the sprightly group said, hold VC Day – “Victory over coronavirus”.
William praised the efforts of the wartime generation, and told them: “Because we can’t be together, everyone’s still thinking of you all today, and are very proud of everything you’ve all achieved.”
Kate also revealed Prince George and Princess Charlotte have been asked by their teachers to learn Dame Vera Lynn’s famous wartime anthem.
She said: “The school has set all the children a challenge and they’re currently trying to learn the lyrics to the song We’ll Meet Again… so it’s been really lovely having that playing every day.”
Meanwhile, with a glass of bubbly nearby Charles Ward, the oldest resident at Mais House, a Royal British Legion Care Home in Bexhill-on-Sea, joked about how he served tots of rum to fellow servicemen.
Mr Ward, aged 101, had a varied military career during the war and after first being called up into the London Irish Rifles he later served in North Africa before joining the Special Operations Executive to encrypt, or cipher, messages from British agents parachuted into France and Italy.
He joked about the day the war ended in Europe while he was a sergeant stationed in Greece.
“VE Day was very good, I had to go round and give all the men a drink of rum,” he said with a laugh.
William replied: “I bet you were the hero of the time there Charles, delivering rum out to everybody.”
Mr Ward, from South Kirkby in Yorkshire, said he told the Cambridges about working on “secret” messages from wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill.
He said: “The message came from Churchill I had to decipher it, re-incypher it and send it to his son in Yugoslavia to say ‘Happy Birthday’.
“And then there was another one from the son to Churchill himself to say congratulations on your speech in parliament.”
“When I told William and Kate that story they giggled.”
The residents began VE Day with a religious service performed by a minister on a balcony, to maintain lockdown rules, before they were entertained by a comedian and historian – in character as Churchill – and enjoyed a lunch washed down with more champagne.
Mais House went into lockdown before the government issued social distancing rulings, has remained virus free and has been receiving supplies of personal protection equipment for staff, said Sue Barnes, the registered home manager.
Resident James Pyett, 95, also chatted to the royals and he said: “They said to me ‘we’ve heard you’ve had some adventures during the Blitz’.”
The family of the veteran, who served as a driver with the Royal Corps of Signals during the war, were bombed out of their Limehouse home in the East End of London, but when they sought refugee in Bournemouth they found themselves targeted again by the Luftwaffe.
The 95-year-old said: “I was blown up and put in hospital and my father said ‘right if we’re going to be bombed here, we’re going back to London’.”
Mr Pyett said his family were given a home in Clapham, south London but within hours of moving in their new property was destroyed.
“My mum was down the air raid shelter but we were up in the house when the house got bombed, the roof fell in and we were covered in dust and dirt,” he said.
“We went into the air raid shelter and my mother looked at my father and she said ‘I knew we bloody well should have stayed in Bournemouth’.”
The 95-year-old was in Holland on VE Day, returning to his unit’s base in Ghent, Belgium, “when we got back we had a whale of a time”, he said with a laugh.
He added: “When William and Kate were talking to us they asked about the end of this period we said we’d celebrate it like VE Day, but we’ll call it VC Day, Victory over Coronavirus.”
Jean Hull, 78 from Little Eaton in Derbyshire, was a small child on VE Day but went on to serve with the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service.
After speaking to William and Kate she said: “I was very young at the time but I remember the celebrations, the masks that the children wore were a bit like a Mickey Mouse mask and if you blew hard the nose sort of went bluugh – they thought that was quite funny.”