"He's a smashing guy, and it's nice to have a normal, down-to-earth chat with him," Royal Marine Alec Robotham tells PEOPLE
Schoolboy Miles Bailey handed over 5, visitor Jess Blundell gave 10 and new dad Daniel Evans threw in a few pound coins as he held up his five-month-old son, Kyle.
At every turn, Prince Harry, 31, and his band of wounded ex-armed forces members surprised bystanders along the lanes of Shropshire, about 150 miles northwest of London, earlier this week.
“People come out to give money, and then when they hear what it’s for they put another 20 in,” Harry told PEOPLE on the walk.
Raising funds and awareness for Walking with the Wounded, the trek is also a personal milestone for the men, and one woman, making the full 1,000-mile journey.
British soldiers Stewart Hill, Matt Fisher, Royal Marines Alex Robotham, Scott Ransley and U.S. Marines Kirstie Ennis and Andrew Bement spoke about the morale boost of having Harry along.
At a lunch stop in Ludlow Wednesday, Royal Marine Alec Robotham, 29, said of the royal, a former Army man himself, “He’s a smashing guy, and it’s nice to have a normal, down-to-earth chat with him. I’m sure if he could he would do the whole thing with us.”
U.S. Marine Bement, 32, who copes with PTSD and suffered a traumatic brain injury, says having the prince along “brought a bit more meaning to the logos on our shirt for the Royal Foundation” and the Endeavour Fund. I now understand from his perspective what these organizations are about.
“He is very passionate about what we are doing,” Bement tells PEOPLE. “You can see his role and what he wants it to be in this arena – which is taking care of veterans regardless of what has happened.”
A highlight for Bement had been achieving the three peaks of Great Britain: Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scarfell Pike in Cumbria, England, and Snowdon in Wales. “Each one was unique in its own way,” he says. “When I came over, someone told me this was on their bucket list. I never thought of it like that – hitting all three peaks would be somebody’s idea of a good time!”
For Ennis, the route through Wales a week earlier had been mixed. “We climbed Snowdon in the rain and it was freezing,” she says. “But Wales was good to me too, as my family came out to see me. My boyfriend, a triple amputee, walked with us and my parents are both Marines and they walked with us too.”
As they exited the village of Onibury, Shropshire, on Wednesday, the merry band stopped to throw a football around. “We were chatting about the NFL game coming up in London,” NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino told PEOPLE. The NFL, which backs veterans’ charities in the U.S., is sponsoring week six of the walk.
And although Harry is obsessed with rugby at the moment, “He said he enjoys [American football] and likes to watch it as much as he can,” said Marino.
“He’s a very engaging, nice young man and doing this for the wounded warriors is really cool.”
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