William and Kate play Santa for troops' families

The snow was artificial but the sentiment had come from the heart.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge hosted a Christmas party for families and children of deployed personnel from RAF Coningsby and RAF Marham serving in Cyprus.

As children played in a makeshift grotto and tried their hand at making crackers, their parents and grandparents hung on their hostess’s every word.

She could not imagine the emotions they felt, as families of serving military personnel, at this time of year, the Duchess of Cambridge said.

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In fact, she had an idea. She had been separated from her husband, Prince William, a former RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot, when he went to the Falklands for six weeks in 2012.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge hosted a Christmas party for families and children of deployed personnel from RAF Coningsby and RAF Marham serving in Cyprus.

It was, perhaps, that experience that had inspired the pair of them to host yesterday’s party for more than 200 wives, girlfriends, parents and grandparents, in the grounds of their home, Kensingtion Palace in central London.

“As someone whose husband served, I know how hard it feels when a loved one leaves home to do the job they trained for,”Kate told her guests.

“But I can’t imagine how it feels when your loved ones are away on active service over Christmas.

“The absence of people you love must be especially hard at this time of year. William and I, however, hope that today shows, in some small way, how much you are all valued.”

She added: “Not only are we grateful for you coming here to join our party, but also for the sacrifices you make on a daily basis on behalf of the nation.

“ We should never forget our military families and all the service you do for us all.”

She and William had arrived at the party to a chorus of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a shower of foam snow and a hail of soft, artificial snowballs. Kate wore a black cashmere Brora top and a seasonal, Tartan skirt by Emilia Wickstead; her husband was in jeans and a blue sweater.

Today, they will fly to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to meet servicemen and women, including some whose relatives had been their guests.

They had wanted deliver a message of support to deployed personnel and to “acknowledge and honour” the fact many were away from their families at Christmas, Kensington Palace said.

William and Kate’s guests were relatives of personnel from RAF Coningsby and RAF Marham, who are serving in Cyprus.

William is Honorary Air Commandant at Coningsby, south of Lincoln, which is home to Typhoon squadrons which deploy to Cyprus and fly operations in support of Op Shader, the UK’s contribution to the ongoing campaign against Isis.

They work alongside 31 Squadron, a Tornado GR4 unit based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, which is also involved with the campaign.

The party was a family event, with stalls at which children could decorate stockings and snow globes, make crackers and create Christmas party kits.

There was also a photo booth and a post box for guests to take pictures, which William and Kate will hand deliver today to RAF Akrotiri, home of the Cyprus Operations Support Unit which provides joint support to British Forces Cyprus and operations in the region to protect the UK’s strategic interests.

There will be 11,000 sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines deployed on operations over Christmas. Service personnel have been sent on 30 operations in 35 countries across the globe from Somalia and South Sudan to Kuwait and Ukraine.