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Royals to meet with lost diggers’ families

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The grieving families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq will spend time with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Queensland.

For some relatives, it will be the first time they’ve returned to the Royal Australian Air Force base at Amberley, west of Brisbane, since the bodies of their loved ones were flown home for burial.

Air Commodore Tim Innes, the senior Australian Defence Force officer who is hosting the royal couple, says the meeting will mean much to families still struggling with an enormous sense of loss.

“That’s an extremely important point about the visit,” he told reporters at the base on Saturday.

“That is a big part of why they are visiting the base – to honour those fallen and those who made a sacrifice in Afghanistan and other conflicts around the globe.”

Afghanistan war casualties Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Trooper David Pearce and Matthew Lambert, and Paul Pardoel, who died in Iraq, had served at the Amberley RAAF base.

Lance Corporal Milosevic was one of three Australians killed by a rogue Afghan army soldier in Oruzgan province in 2012.

Prince William and his wife Kate will arrive at Australia’s biggest air force base at 11.05am, where they will be welcomed by Defence Force chief David Hurley, an honour guard and a flyover of fighter jets stationed there.

They’ll later plant a tree in the memorial garden before meeting with the four families.

The ceremony has echoes of April 1927, when Prince William’s great grandfather Prince Albert, the Duke of York, who later became King George VI, planted a tree in Melbourne in honour of RAAF pilots who died in a ceremonial flyover accident.

“They’ll be planting a tree there, which was similar to what his great … grandfather did in Melbourne years ago,” Air Commodore Innes said.

The royal couple has plenty in common with military families, with Prince William having spent seven and a half years in the British military before retiring to take up official duties.

Air Commodore Innes said that as a fellow helicopter pilot, he felt an affinity with William, who will be taking controls of an F/A-18F Super Hornet flight simulator during the Amberley visit.

“I’m sure the prince is much more current than I am – my recent skills apply to flying a desk,” he said.

The duke and duchess will then head to Brisbane’s South Bank for a civic reception with Premier Campbell Newman and Queensland Governor Penelope Wensley.

Royal watchers are already gathering at the parkland precinct, hoping to steal a glimpse or perhaps a quick word with the couple during a public walk.

The couple will leave Brisbane for Sydney just after 3pm.