LONDON — Military service is a tradition for the men of Britain's royal family, but combat has been off-limits for the next in line of succession. That has fallen to the "spare heir," the second son:
William, the eldest son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana who is second in line to the British throne, is a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot based in Wales. Known in the army as Flight Lt. Wales, he has said he would like to serve in Afghanistan. He was a crewman on a flight to Afghanistan in 2008 that returned the body of British soldiers and visited troops there in 2010. The prince, 30, graduated from the Royal Military Academy in 2006 and received his RAF wings two years later.
Harry, 27, the younger son of Charles and Diana who is third in line to the throne, is a captain in the British army. In February he completed an 18-month training course in Britain and the United States to become an Apache attack helicopter pilot, and on Friday he arrived in Afghanistan for a four-month combat tour.
In 2008, Harry became the first British royal to serve in a war zone in 25 years when he was deployed to southern Afghanistan for 10 weeks as an air controller. The palace had imposed a news blackout on Harry's deployment, but when that was broken the prince was pulled out immediately because of concerns for his safety.
Charles, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II, served for about five years in the military, beginning in 1971 when he trained as a jet pilot with the Royal Air Force. He then joined the Royal Navy, serving on several warships and qualifying as a helicopter pilot. He joined an air squadron on commando flying duties aboard the HMS Hermes in 1974. Two years later Charles was given command of a Royal Navy coastal mine-hunter for the final 10 months of his active service.
Andrew, the queen's second son, was a helicopter pilot during the 1982 Falklands war. The prince began his Royal Navy career in 1979 as a seaman officer specializing as a pilot. Andrew sailed to the South Atlantic on the HMS Invincible in the campaign to regain the Falkland Islands from Argentina and flew there on missions including anti-submarine warfare, casualty evacuation and search-and-rescue. In 1997 Andrew was appointed a staff officer for naval operations at the Ministry of Defense, serving there until 2001.
King Edward VIII
Edward, the eldest son of King George V, was a soldier in the Grenadier Guards and was willing to fight in World War I, but Lord Kitchener, the secretary of state for war, refused to allow it. Edward was greatly disappointed by being kept safely away from combat. "What difference does it make if I am killed?" he was quoted as saying. "The king has three other sons."
King George VI
The second son of King George V and the great-grandfather of William and Harry, joined the Royal Navy in 1909. Then known as Prince Albert, he manned a gun turret in the Battle of Jutland in 1916, despite feeling ill because of a "surfeit of soused herring." Albert became King George VI after the abdication of his brother Edward VIII in 1936. As monarch, George visited the troops frequently, including on France's Normandy beaches 10 days after D-Day in 1944.