Black Watch tour ‘like a lethal Big Brother’

This from the Sunday Times.

The Sunday Times - Britain

December 12, 2004

Black Watch tour ‘like a lethal Big Brother’
Kenny Farquharson

THE BLACK Watch came home from war yesterday to embrace their loved ones, mourn their dead and ponder an uncertain future for their regiment.
Emotions were raw at the regimental base in Warminster, Wiltshire, when 200 soldiers arrived back from Iraq after a six-month tour of duty that claimed five Black Watch lives.

As families were reunited on a chilly parade ground, the Black Watch’s commanding officer paid tribute to a regiment that may be returning from action for the last time.

Lieutenant-Colonel James Cowan is expected to be told this week that, after almost 300 years of service, the unit will be merged with the five other Scottish infantry regiments to produce a single super-regiment.

In comments that were both dignified and barbed, Cowan said his regiment would like to serve “for as long as we are allowed to”. He told reporters it had been “a very pressing time” for the regiment to be the subject of so much attention.

“We have never actively sought the limelight, we have had it thrust upon us. We have always thought of ourselves as one of the army’s best-kept secrets, and we would now like to return to serving this country for as long as we are allowed to in a rather more quiet and anonymous way.”

He likened the regiment’s last deployment — helping American forces to tame the insurgents’ stronghold of Falluja — to being “a rather lethal version of Big Brother”.

His own fears were revealed last month in a leaked e-mail. The message expressed concern that moving 850 men into more hostile territory would lead “every lunatic terrorist from miles around to descend on us like bees to honey”.

In another e-mail Cowan commented: “I hope the government knows what it has got itself into. I’m not sure they fully appreciate the risks.”

At yesterday’s homecoming army officials tried to prevent families talking about the scrapping of the regiment, even intervening during a live interview on BBC radio to tell an army wife not to answer questions.

“Those are questions for another time,” an army press officer said later.
But they could not mask the anger and sense of betrayal felt by many soldiers and their families.

Nicola Spence, 20, from Dundee, summed up their feelings: “Considering we have lost our pals out there, it is very sad that they are going to do this — if that is what is going to happen.”

Her husband, Private Gary Spence, 23, spoke of the pride that made the Black Watch so formidable. “I joined the Black Watch specifically,” he said. “It is a really good regiment and we have a lot of pride in it. It would be terrible to lose it.”

Spence also spoke of the comrades who had died. “I knew every one of them. Now we can mourn. Out there we had to keep our heads on the job.”

Black Watch troops arrive home
(Filed: 11/12/2004)

Two hundred soldiers from the Black Watch have arrived back in Britain in time for Christmas as Prime Minister Tony Blair had promised, but amid bitterness over the future of the regiment.

The soldiers disembark from their chartered flight from Iraq

The troops touched down at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire yesterday morning for emotional reunions with their families.

They then made their way by coach to their base in Warminster after their six-month tour in Iraq, which was concluded with their controversial deployment to the so-called Triangle of Death.

All of the 850-strong group are expected to be back in the UK by Monday, when Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is expected to confirm that the Black Watch will be merged into a single Scottish "super regiment".

Speaking at the base yesterday Lieutenant-Colonel James Cowan, commanding officer of the Black Watch, said: "As a battalion we have never actively sought the limelight. We have had it thrust upon us.

"We thought ourselves one of the army's best-kept secrets and we would like to return to that and carry on serving this country for as long as we are allowed in our own quiet way."

He said his troops' deployment to Camp Dogwood had been a "poignant time" and he paid tribute to the five men from the Black Watch that were killed in Iraq, offering sympathies to their families.

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