Carl Court/Getty
June 25, 2011 12:15 PM

The Duchess of Cambridge displayed her compassionate side during Prince William‘s first event as the Colonel-in-Chief of the Irish Guards on Saturday.

Dressed in an elegant navy blue coat dress with matching heels, Kate spent about an hour privately meeting the families of three Irish guardsmen killed in Afghanistan. She also wore a fascinator and a gold shamrock brooch similar to the insignia worn by the Irish Guards – previously owned by Princess Anne and the Queen Mother.

Her visit was twice as long as the originally scheduled 30 minutes.

Kate was very pleased to be undertaking the role for a cause “so close to her husband’s heart,” said a royal aide. The duchess later presented Afghanistan campaign medals to 60 men from the First Battalion Irish Guards at Victoria Barracks in the shadow of Windsor Castle.

Personalized Attention

The royal couple, who are about to embark on their North American tour, made sure to have a conversation with each soldier they met.

Kate spent extra time with double-amputee Lance Corporal Scott Harrington, 26, who lost both legs in a Taliban IED explosion. William mirrored this concern while presenting a medal to Guardsman Lamin Manneh, 34, a triple-amputee from Ghana who suffered his injuries from another IED on New Years Eve.

Their efforts were duly noted.

Irish Guard Nadine Gwendu, 25, one of the few female members of the regiment to serve in Afghanistan, tells PEOPLE, “When I found out that I had been selected to meet them I was so happy as Prince William is so handsome. But even though I didn t get to meet him, I did get to meet Catherine, which is just as great.”

“When we were in Afghanistan I really wanted to go to the wedding, but obviously we didn’t get an invite,” Gwendu continues. “So for me this is like going to the wedding and she even shook my hand.”

“The Irish Guards is like a close-knit family, so to have William and Kate join the family is brilliant. I can now say that Kate is a member of my family – even though she is married to my prince!”

“She is very pleasant and funny – and a lot taller than me!” adds Guardsman Carl Dodds, 23. “To switch the TV on for the royal wedding and see him stood there in his Irish Guards uniform in all its glory, was a very special moment.”

The Prince Shows His Appreciation

The feeling was mutual for William.

“It was with wonder that as Catherine and I rode through the Centre Gate of Buckingham Palace, there you were,” he said of the Guards role at the royal wedding.

“I am proud to be your Colonel. I am humbled by the thought of the sacrifices that you and your families have made and the losses that you suffered, all in the service of our country.”

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