An item on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme highlighted the ongoing decline and ultimately destruction of the British Army’s prized and invaluable regimental system that saw generations of young men enlist to fight for their country, but more than that often, for their mates, recruited in from their own geographical county or regional areas. Local recruitment ensured commonality, shared lives, backgrounds and ultimately closer relationships essential for young men to help them fight through stressful, life-threatening situations where the men around you were the most important people in the world, and for whom you would go the extra mile and not want under any circumstance to let down.
This morning, it was announced that another Army brigadier has written to his superiors (the letter subsequently being leaked) about his disquiet (or more realistically, horror) at the dismantling of the system, and in particular in this case the proposed disbandment of a battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, one of two. The RRF is a well-recruited regiment and the loss of one of its battalions in this serious round of Defence cuts, designed to reduce the army to a strength of only 80,000, will undermine its future existence where the ability to ‘flex’ soldiers between the battalions, depending on their roles at home or overseas is considered important. Many other famous regiments are scheduled to disappear or be amalgamated. Amalgamation is itself a dilution of the localising of regiments which will hit future recruitment. Perhaps it is politically acceptable in England at the moment but there is likely to be a disproportionate disbandment of Scottish regiments, perhaps also as a subtle means of emasculating any future Scottish army in an independent Scotland, or more likely because Scottish regiments are generally under-recruited from a relatively small proportion of the UK’s population. However, such an emasculation will cause feelings to run high in a nationalistic Scotland and will be used against the building campaign for keeping Scotland within the UK – the subject of the referendum of 2014!
In my own family I have seen the results of regimental amalgamation. The press highlighted in the last couple of days the parade through Worcester of principally The Mercian Regiment, together with other smaller units, to celebrate Armed Forces Day. It also mentioned the parading of the Regiment’s mascot, Corporal Derby, a Derby Ram. This strongly reminded me that the ram was originally the regimental mascot of my father’s own regiment, the Sherwood Foresters, themselves once, probably during the 19th century an amalgamation of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire units. My father enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters during WWII before volunteering for the Parachute Regiment (incidentally to be spared any cuts, despite its relatively short life span and juniority in the Army Order of Battle, as it is a mobile, flexible spearhead regiment suited to future Defence policy of rapid intervention in crisis areas, and because it provides half the recruitment for the SAS – my brother included!). After the war and Palestine, my father eventually returned to his parent regiment, which in the late 1950s became the Forester Brigade, at which time he took a golden handshake to retire, shortly afterwards the regiment being amalgamated with the Worcestershire Regiment, forming predictably the Worcester Foresters, and later again after further amalgamations, the Mercian Regiment, recruiting from the area of the old Saxon kingdom of Mercia.
The first occupant of Hanover House B&B (www.hanoverhouse.org) in 1848, Colonel William Croker CB, spent his entire career serving with and later commanding the 17th Regiment of Foot, recruited from Leicestershire, and later renamed The Leicestershire Regiment. Later still, it was amalgamated in the 1950s with East Anglian regiments to form a battalion of the Anglian Regiment, into which I enlisted in 1968 before going to RMA Sandhurst. A friend of mine, during our basic training in Bury St Edmunds, wore the ‘collar dogs’ (lapel badges) of the 4th (Leicestershire) Bn of the Anglian Regiment as his father had been a Leicester, before attending RMA Sandhurst with me.