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Prince William and Prince Harry waded in on Friday to help protect a flood-threatened village in southern England, lifting sandbags alongside soldiers to hold off rising water.

The princes, who have both served in the armed forces, joined an emergency crew in the early morning in the Thames River village of Datchet, near Windsor Castle.

Pictures show the two royals drenched and knee deep in water, handling sandbags near a school. Harry, 29, was in army gear; William, 32, who left the RAF last year, was in civilian clothes.

Their efforts were not announced beforehand. The palace press office called it a private visit by the second- and the fourth-in-line to the throne.

The Daily Mail quoted an anonymous palace official as saying the princes only decided to do this late Wednesday, and did not want it publicized in advance.

They join other members of the royal family both in helping out and calling attention to the flooding that has drenched the southern coast of England, the low-lying Somerset area and the Thames Valley west of London. Hundreds of properties were swamped after the River Thames burst its banks.

Earlier this month, their father, Prince Charles, toured a flood-hit area in Somerset, meeting with residents, farmers and emergency services personnel. His mother and the princes' grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, sent feed and bedding from the royal farms at Windsor to farmers whose land had been inundated.

This is what the royals are supposed to do — express concern and pitch in where needed.

The flooding is at a crisis point, even for England, which saw its wettest January on record since records began in 1766.

Wind and rain have lashed the country since December and it continues: Storms this week have brought wind gusts of more than 100 mph. Another bout of gale-force winds hit the country Friday, bringing large waves and up to 1.6 inches of rain. Hundreds more properties near rivers were flooded.

The princes, father and sons, spent most of this week promoting efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade. All three attended a conference in London on Thursday that they helped organize to urge greater global efforts against poaching.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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