Hundreds of flag-waving children shrieked with delight as HRH Sophie Wessex walked into the playground of the Family Centre in Wittering to unveil a plaque.
The mother of two was totally at ease as she sat in on a Musical Mini session, cradling three-month old Rowan, whose mum Emma Wilson-Jones attends the centre with three-year-old son Ronny.
Tiegan Beeny, three, was nonplussed by the Royal visitor and continued to sweep the floor with her little broom while the Countess tried to speak to her.
Ten-month-old Paige Ross, who was in her mother Emma’s arms, delighted in the attention when the countess crouched down to play with her on her way out of the newly renamed centre.
Emma, 28, who moved to the village after her husband Robert was posted to RAF Wittering a year ago said: “It’s made it a very special day that someone special has come and opened the centre for us.”
The Countess spoke to parents and staff and crouched down time and again to speak to the children at the centre and Wittering Primary School pupils.
The centre, attached to Wittering Primary School, provides activities for kids and support for parents with young children.
Charlotte Blake, the school’s deputy headteacher said: “It was a children’s centre for a long time, now we are trying to make it a family centre.”
Headteacher Rhys Thrower said: “It’s been fantastic having the Countess opening the new family centre. It’s her second visit - her previous visit was in July 2012. It’s been brilliant to have her support.”
The Countess’s first port of call on Tuesday was RAF Wittering where her Augusta 109 helicopter landed at 11am. She was greeted by Group Captain Damien Alexander and Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire Hugh Duberly.
Outside the officers mess the Countess, dressed in an elegant navy blue skirt opensand black jacket with nude heels, was greeted by pupils from Wittering Primary School. She was presented with a bouquet by Year Six pupils Rebecca O’Sullivan and Owen Harrison.
Inside the Countess, who is the station’s Honorary Air Commodore - heard about personnel who had provided “outstanding service”, an officer whose “quick thinking” during a fire saved lives and staff whose level of commitment was exemplary, as she presented them with good conduct, long service and overseas service medals and certificates.
Group Captain Alexander said the recipients “all stand out individually and collectively”.
Station typist Emma Stacey, of Spalding, received a commendation for “outstanding contribution” for her voluntary work.
A former journalist, Emma organised the station’s Heritage Centre and helps edit and publish the base magazine Wittering View in her own time.
Emma said meeting the countess was “really lovely and a little bit scary”.
Cpl Angela Tooth, who grew up in Oakham, and was at RAF Cottesmore before transferring to RAF Wittering, was given a long-service award.
“It’s nice to know that I have a clean record and haven’t done anything wrong,” Corp Tooth said.
The Countess met a team of trainee pilots including Katie King, a physics and chemistry student at Gonville and Keys college and Christopher Khoo, a neuroscience student at Robinson College, from the University of Cambridge Air Squadron, which will relocate to the base next year.
She was also treated to an aerobatic display, shown the controls of a Grob Tutor, the aircraft used to train the pilots, and met members of the 71 Inspection and Repair Squadron who have relocated to the base from, St Athan, in Wales.
Group Captain Alexander said: “We’re deeply honoured to have welcomed Her Royal Highness to RAF Wittering.
“I’m always struck by just how appreciative Her Royal Highness is about what we contribute, both to Defence and the community.”
All photos: David Lowndes