Echoes of the past in these Army cuts - Telegraph Interesting implication at the end - Gurkhas being kept in case it doesn't work and numbers need to be increased quickly (and cheaply?) Echoes of the past in these Army cuts Defence Secretary Philip Hammond could go down in military history with his risky but ambitious Army reforms By Allan Mallinson 7:00AM BST 08 Jul 2012 In the long history of Army reform, two names stand head and shoulders above the rest: Edward Cardwell and Richard (Lord) Haldane. Both were secretaries of state for war in Liberal administrations: Cardwell in Gladstones first, in the decade following the débâcles of the Crimean War; and Haldane in Asquiths, in the decade following the humiliations of the Boer War. The essence of their reforms are still the foundation of how the Army and the infantry in particular, the principal fighting arm organises itself. Over the centuries, the British Army has shown itself capable of almost infinite adaptation. But the latest reforms, announced last week by Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, are the biggest in decades. They include a 20,000 reduction in the size of the Army, will result in the disappearance of historic regimental names, and take the number of infantry battalions to just 31 the lowest since 1698. While many of those on battlefields today will be enablers rather than warriors, there remains the nagging question of whether an army of 82,000 is just too small to sustain a qualitative edge. Is there such a thing as critical mass for an army expected to have a full spectrum of capability and worldwide reach? Will a manpower cut of 20 per cent also make it more difficult to fill the ranks of Special Forces, who are recruited largely from the infantry and armoured corps? There are many questions thrown up by leaving the Army incapable of ever again fighting a large-scale conflict alone. But it is telling that half of the ones asked in the House of Commons following Hammonds statement on Thursday were about the loss of particular cap badges. MPs on both sides were dismayed by the loss of their regiments. No one should have been surprised by this. It was the unintended consequence of Cardwells concept of localisation of infantry regiments. From the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 to the middle of the 18th century, regiments were simply known by their colonels name Barrells Regiment, for example and, later, by a number indicating their seniority in the line of battle by date of raising. However, in 1782, after the drubbing in the American Revolutionary War and the losses through yellow fever in the Caribbean, each regiment was identified with a particular part of the country in an attempt to stimulate recruitment. So, for instance, the 34th Foot became the 34th (Cumberland) Regiment of Foot, though these were fairly arbitrary affiliations and there were no formal links with counties. It was this potential that Cardwell, struggling to fill the Army with recruits a century later (made harder because of mass Irish emigration to North America), wanted to exploit by firmly rooting regiments in their counties. He particularly wanted to tap into the militia, the medieval county levies that had been resurrected and come into their own as home guard during the Napoleonic wars. At that time, they had been a significant source of recruits for the regulars, as the men were already toughened and found the camaraderie appealing. It made sense to align the regulars as closely as possible with the militias, especially as by then the actual regiments were rarely stationed in their nominal county, and would drum up recruits where they chose or where they could. Cardwell therefore instituted a system of pairing regular battalions with common local connections, one serving overseas, the other training recruits to feed to the overseas battalion. The home battalion was to be based in a depot that would also serve as both the headquarters for the local militia battalions and the receiving depot for ex-regulars recalled to the colours in time of war. This linking programme changed the face of many a British town, as well as that of the Army. It was a timely idea. Local regimental pride perfectly suited the mood of mid-Victorian Britain: many a prominent architect enthusiastically drew up grand designs for the new depot barracks in his county town, and regimental bands were applauded at the county fairs. Some of the linked battalions found their homes in imposing fortresses: the 34th (Cumberland) Regiment and the 55th (Westmoreland) were linked by a depot in Carlisle Castle. Likewise, the 91st (Argyllshire Highlanders) and the 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) were linked by a depot halfway between their two recruiting areas at Stirling Castle. Recruiting remained a problem, however, and the system was soon thrown out of balance again by demands for more battalions overseas. And the sometimes incongruent linking was not calculated to generate harmony, for the strength of the regimental system derived in part from robust independence rather than collaboration: why, for instance, should the 34th work harmoniously with the 55th just because they both recruited in the north-west? So in 1881, when Gladstone formed his second administration, the new secretary for war, Hugh Childers, decided to take Cardwells system one step further by amalgamating the linked battalions into new regiments. The regimental numbers were dropped altogether and new regimental names substituted. Some of the names were an obvious reflection of the amalgamation: for example, the 91st (Argyllshire Highlanders) and the 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) became the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. But there were some other new and rather evocative titles: the 34th (Cumberland) and 55th (Westmoreland), for example, became the first and second battalions respectively of the Border Regiment; the 45th (Nottinghamshire) and the 95th (Derbyshire) regiments became the first and second battalions of the Sherwood Foresters. Regiments were now referred to locally as our regiment, or even the regiment. With these new regimental names, the Army would see out the Empire and fight two world wars. Though the second battalions were mostly disbanded in the 1950s and the depots progressively closed, replaced by centralised recruit training, the names would continue up to the wholesale amalgamations of 2006, when the new large regiment (multi-battalion) names appeared such as the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Rifles, and so on. Do all the regimental trappings the names, tartan, emblems matter? When trying to make cuts, they are certainly inconvenient, because they attract attention. But the attention in part proves their worth. A man fights for his mates: the genius of the regimental system is that it stretches the number of mates a man has, and regimental identity is key to this. The regiment cherishes its identity because it symbolises its history. Past feats of arms by men wearing a particular cap badge encourage those serving today. The Parachute Regiment has a shorter history than any infantry regiment, but none is prouder of its history or derives more strength from it than the Paras. Say Arnhem to a company of Paras in a tight corner, and it is worth another hundred men. Philip Hammond intends to replace the 20,000 troops that are to be lost with reservists (what used to be called territorials) volunteers training part-time, but available for active service. This scheme echoes the second great period of reform, that of Lord Haldane. In the latter half of the 19th century, to meet the threat of invasion, alternately by France and Germany, the (Rifle) Volunteer Movement took off, encouraged by all manner of patriots, including the Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, whose call-to-arms The War began: There is a sound of thunder afar, Storm in the south that darkens the day, Storm of battle and thunder of war, Well, if it do not roll our way. Form! form! Riflemen form! Ready, be ready to meet the storm! Riflemen, riflemen, riflemen form! By 1907, however, the Volunteers, underfunded, increasingly ignored and thereby stubbornly independent-minded, had become a liability. Haldane set about changing this by improving terms of service and training, turning them into the Territorial Force (later Territorial Army), so that, with the Yeomanry, the volunteer cavalry, by 1914 they were considered to be an effective home defence force. When, after the outbreak of war, the threat of invasion receded with the Royal Navys mastery of the North Sea, legislation was enacted to enable the TF to be sent overseas. Alongside the regulars of the British Expeditionary Force, they held the fort on the Western Front until the country could fully mobilise, and paid a heavy price. But Haldane had also revamped the Militia, which too had been languishing in the doldrums, renaming it the Special Reserve, its purpose to provide individual reinforcements to the regulars in a crisis. Volunteers received full recruit training on regular rates of pay, were then stood down to their civilian employment, paid a yearly retainer and given annual refresher training. In essence, the Hammond plan is a fusion of the TF and the Special Reserve concepts. Can it work? Haldane could give him the answer: only if there is legislation in place to compel or encourage employers to release reservists for training and deployment; only if the basing of the regular army is reorganised to permit the necessary integration of reservists for training (for which there is inadequate funding at present); only if the reservist equipment programme is protected in the future as additional costs begin to bite; and only if 30,000 men can be found who are willing to make the necessary commitment. Following a major advertising campaign, net recruiting figures in the past six months are not propitious. The danger is that because the regular manpower savings are being taken upfront, by 2016, while the 30,000 TA will not be in place until 2018, the Army risks being holed below the waterline in mounting an operation that continues beyond 12 months. After two years, for example, some 30 per cent of the deployed force will have to be reservists. Is there a Plan B? If the reservists do not materialise, and if the government of the day wants to retain its policy options, the Army will have to turn on the regular recruiting tap and re-raise battalions and regiments. Significantly, there have been no cuts this time to the Gurkhas. Throughout the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, Britain had the vast reserves of the Indian Army on which to call: troops from India and what is now Pakistan fought in both world wars and in many a colonial campaign. The Gurkhas, a relic of that pool of manpower, have recently filled gaps with the so-called Gurkha Reinforcement Companies. The prospects for a young Nepali who reaches enlistment age in 2018, therefore, still look sound. The Hammond plan is hugely ambitious, and equally risky. If he can pull it off, his name will deserve to go down in history with those of Cardwell and Haldane. The Prime Minister owes it to the nation and the Army at least to let him stay at the MoD until his work is done.