King Charles receives hongi Maori greeting on visit to training camp for Ukrainian recruits

King Charles has received a traditional Maori greeting, the hongi, during a visit to a military training site.

The monarch pressed his forehead and nose against a New Zealander who is part of the camp, where a contingent of Ukrainian recruits are being readied for war.

The hongi, stemming from legend, signifies that the guest is no longer a visitor but bonded with the person who performs the greeting.

It roughly translates as a “sharing of breath”.

The King visited the training site in an undisclosed location in Wiltshire where recruits are completing five weeks of basic combat training by British and international partner forces before they return to fight in Ukraine.

He praised the “amazing” recruits as he watched them storming a mock trench and fighting in a gun battle.

“I don’t know how you do it. I am full of admiration,” the 74-year-old royal told a senior officer.

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The recruits are also taught skills such as basic fieldcraft, medical care, marksmanship and weapon handling, as well as trench warfare which has been a feature of the war in Ukraine.

Many of the recruits are civilians with no military experience. Around 10,000 troops have been trained in the UK since last summer with another 20,000 expected to complete the five-week course in 2023.

The recruits are under the command of Major Tony Harris, from New Zealand’s armed forces, who talked the King through the operation. He said: “We were talking about the fact they’ve returned to trench warfare and the contrast with World War One and how we’re back in trenches in the 21st century.”

“Because of the really stout defence the Ukrainians have put in – they’ve been able to hold Russian forces to pretty much a stalemate in large parts of the theatre – the large part of holding the line is digging in and preparing for the worst,” he said.

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The King was joined by the head of the British Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, who said after the visit that Ukrainians were being trained at three sites across the country.

“This is about trying to get people ready for those first experiences they’re going to have in combat, on the battlefield – it’s about doing what we call ‘battlefield inoculation’ about exposing them to some of the shocks and some of the violence and some of the conditions (they will) face,” he said.

Sir Patrick went on to say the recruits took the training “incredibly seriously”, adding: “They’re very dedicated and what’s remarkable is the range of professions and the ages we get. So we’ve had as old as a 71-year-old, who volunteered to fight, and as young as 18 and 19-year-olds.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met the King on 8 February at Buckingham Palace.