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The prince, who gave up his seat during the air event, was also praised for helping veterans on his birthday

September 16, 2015 09:20 AM

Proud Prince Harry was one of the first people to welcome a WWII veteran pilot back to the ground after a historic flypast to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on Tuesday.

Harry had hoped to be in the air himself on his 31st birthday, but gave up his seat so another ex-serviceman could fly.

One wing commander, Tom Neil, 95, was particularly special to the prince, as he was the only veteran of the battle.

“He came and welcomed me back,” Neil tells PEOPLE of Prince Harry. “He was so keen to see me around and was so welcoming and even handed me back my stick I had left.”

“He was proud, he was very charming in every respect,” he added.

The pilot, who flew in the Battle of Britain, had thought that Harry was in one of the neighboring planes in the formation over the skies of southern England, as they had discussed it at dinner the previous night. But Harry had to pull out because one of the planes was not serviceable.

He passed on his seat to wounded veteran Nathan Forster, 27, who praised him, saying, “Prince Harry said I could have his seat, which I objected to – but he was pretty adamant that I had to go…He is a genuine guy, a really thoughtful chap.”

Forster added: “And coming [here] on his birthday, putting other people first. He has done that twice today – not just doing this on his birthday but giving up his seat for me.”

As for Harry, he was full of pride for the servicemen who took part in the event.

“I feel like a proud dad. I am thrilled to bits they have managed to last the distance so far and have actually been enjoying it,” he told Channel 4’s Battle of Britain: Return of the Spitfires.

Harry, who watched and took photographs of the planes as they readied for take off and then witnessed them take off noisily from the grassy field, told Forster that it was an “incredible” sight. “He said it was a constant flow of Spitfires getting airborne and that it made an amazing noise.”

Harry told another pilot to “to do some aerobatics over the field, which he did,” says Forster. “He did a few loops and rolls and he said he was really happy and enjoyed seeing that.”

For Forster, the flight was a culmination of a different challenge, for which he owes the prince his thanks. “Being a soldier and an Apache commander, an aviator, he has a real understanding of what it’s like. He has been to Afghanistan and has served his country. But he’s aware that his position can help a lot of people. He knows he can make a huge difference in projects like this.”

While the prince may not have gotten the chance to take a plane for a spin, he did sit in one of the vintage Spitfires.

“It was designed so anyone can jump in it and fly with confidence,” he told Channel 4. “I just sat in there and was in awe of the fact that you fit into it, the noise, the vibrations…boys with toys! It’s that excitement, but then you take yourself back and think what must it have been like for those guys breaking up through the cloud cover and up into God’s playground and off you go.”

Harry also said he was more than happy to spend his birthday with the brave veterans and wounded servicemen supported by his Endeavor Fund.

“I’m unbelievably fortunate and lucky to be here quite frankly,” he said.

He added: “We always had this idea of trying to create as many opportunities for ex servicemen or wounded servicemen, to give them the chance to basically get their lives back on track…To prove to themselves or other people, but mainly themselves, that life in some cases has only just begun.”

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