The British Regimental system - Better or worse?

Discussion in 'Infantry' started by oldcolt, Nov 4, 2009.

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  1. A deliberately contentious title to stimulate debate, I got the idea for this from another thread. In short with all the recent amalgamations of the past few years does the current system give us a better, more streamlined Army that allows us to move forward into the 21st Century and beyond or, have we trampled on hundreds of years of traditions and County ties to the eternal detriment of the British Army?

    To get the ball rolling, I am going to suggest that the history and traditions of the British Army were the envy of the world and, whilst some of these have been maintained and passed down through to the new 'super' regiments, the proud battle won honours and quirks of many regiments have been lost and the sense of history and regimental pride has been weakened as a result.

  2. rampant

    rampant LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    One tyhing that should be noted is that traditionally the battallions that made up a regiment were much larger in days gone by (in WW2 approx 850, and in the 19th Century closer to a thousand) now battalions are a lot smaller (around 500) and thusly so are regiments.

    The Scottish Regiments had reached such a state in the late 20th century where they were fielding a single battalion, and even then they were hard pressed to fill that. The new RRS, comprising 5 battalions, c. 2500men, with two TA battalions is actually closer to the the size of its 19th century antecedents.

    The creation of super-regiments like the RRS and Rifles are in effect aping tradition. The main failings have beeen the inability to maintain recruitment at high levels in order to keep the trad regiments at reasonable levels hence mergers. Which is a damn shame as so much history and pride gets swept away at the stroke of a pen. :x
  3. After the Gordon Highlanders where amalgamated into The Highlanders in 1994 many of the old salts left. Recruiting dropped through the floor and there was a real struggle to field a full battalion.

    The fact they where amalgamated on there bi-centenery was a cruel twist of fate.

    The Gordons had an extremely strong tie with the Aberdeenshire area and the locals took exception to the merger. A saving grace was that the Highlanders wore the Gordon Kilt and Archer Green jacket, but lost the sporran, Glengarry and cap badge to The Queems Own Highlanders.

    They also lost the Pipes and Drums in the sense that they wore Cameron of Erracht tartan.

    Now the Gordons tartan has gone for ever with the amalgamation into the RRS. Still wear the Blue Hackle of the Queens Own and The Highlanders, but the only gordon tartan is a small patch on the arm.

    To locals and to ex Gordons this really puls at the heart strings. I can see why young lads did not want to join up.
  4. old_fat_and_hairy

    old_fat_and_hairy LE Book Reviewer Reviews Editor

    As an old fart I have been dismayed at the butchery that has been perpetuated on the Regimental system. Even in my service there were assorted (and some very odd) regiments with titles like Carbiniers, Dragoons, Lancers and so on. I know the names live on to some degree within the amalgamated units, but there is something vital missing. My own regiment, when I joined was 3 Greenjackets (The Rifle brigade) and had a proud and established family tradition. Father and son, and in one or two cases, grandson joined. The names were known and didn't change much over the years.
    Now, we all know that despite all the pomp, soldiers don't fight and die for Queen and country. They fight, and die, for their mates and for the regiment. Or so it was. It may yet be the same, but a Very Large Regiment is a bit more anonymous than a small battalion.
    Traditions too have mutated or vanished. We had some peculiar ones which have not travelled, not even to when the Bn became just another RGJ battalion.

    Some of these traditions, especially in the older regiments, have antecedents hundreds of years long. Now they have been diluted.

    The wish of government is to follow the American system, whereby units swear allegiance to the state, and are fairly malleable and anonymous groupings.
  5. Whilst the 'pals' battalions of the 1st World War had their own problems when massive causualties wiped out whole communities/ families in a single day, the very fact that there is no longer a local link (or at least a greatly diminished one) with the community from which a regiment draws its men is one of the causes of lower recruiting. With the amalgamation of the Gloucesters into the Rifles for example, I understand that the back badge, a terriffic mark of honour and history has now been all but relegated by certain Officers personal preference for everyone in their command to 'look the same'. A crying shame. Ditto the red flash behind the bugle of the LI. Sad...
  6. OF &H I have to agree with you on that. My Grandfather and father were KRRC, I was 2RGJ, my son is in 4Rifles though he did join when it was still RGJ and still cannot work out how the D&Ds ended up with the traditions of a Rifle Regt. He tells me that the general feeling amongst the old geenjackets is that they should have stayed redcoated where they belonged

  7. Too true.

    Sad as it is though to see cap badges disappear and traditions lost - the truth of the matter is, we could well have kept 100 Regiments - all containing less than a Company of men each.

    Though I cant see how we could now become any smaller - there was a lot of Regiments out who were struggling to man the correct levels and even with merging there are still units who are borrow man power from others to man operation levels.
  8. Auld-Yin

    Auld-Yin LE Reviewer Book Reviewer Reviews Editor

    When I joined the Infantry Junior Leaders Battalion in 1966 the name of the WRVS Club was the 54 Club. So named because there were 54 infantry Regiments. Unfortunately now it would be named "Bring your own Regiment" Club
  9. old_fat_and_hairy

    old_fat_and_hairy LE Book Reviewer Reviews Editor

    I remember when the idea was being mooted, we had a couple of blokes from D 7D here and they couldn't understand the rationale behind it. The thought of having to learn new drill etc was strange to them, and it's not as if they had a Light background.
    Now when there were the old DLI, SCLI, KOYLI etc it would have made some sense, but Rifle regiments have always been different from line battalions. Not saying better, but different.

    Old comrades are disheartened at the weakening of the tradition, and serving blokes I know still find it hard to live with. Mess traditioons have altered and old loyalties are not as strong. I know it can't be undone, but can be lamented.
  10. I've seen the Regiment I followed my father into, subsumed into a Large Regiment recently. Dad told me that the jostling for position, and subsequent internal politics, that took place on the amalgamation of East Yorks/West Yorks in 1958, were damaging to morale for a while (at least until some of the old hands retired.) Then the younger soldiers set about the task of forming their own set of traditions, and taking a pride in the only military home they'd ever known. When 1 PWO became 1 YORKS, some of the mutterings of discontent sounded remarkably similar to those heard over 50 years ago. Mind you, the 14th/15th Foot had to get their act together pretty quickly: they were in Aden a month after amalgamating. We can only hope that the current high operational tempo helps to weld the new units together in similar fashion.

  11. Question is: are we any less combat-effective as a result? In the light of (to choose just one example) 2 RIFLES' recent tour in Helmand, I think probably not.

    Too often we are just too deeply, institutionally, resistant to change. The fact is that in the amalgamated Regts, within around 10 years there will be very few who remember how it was back in the olden days, and the loyalty will be to RIFLES (by way of same example) rather than to the antecedent Regts.

    Time to accept change, live with it, accept the benefits, and move on. Still Swift and Bold though...
  12. old_fat_and_hairy

    old_fat_and_hairy LE Book Reviewer Reviews Editor

    Yes, I can't disagree, but in the same way as kids learn there is no Father Christmas ( make sure The Snail doesn't see this!) there is a sense of loss.

    As for remembering how it was in the old days; I wasn't quite old enough to serve in the Peninsular war but still have a fair understanding of the birth of my regiment, it's growing pains and it's maturing into a comprehensive and mature fighting unit. The memories of Calais are not fresh in the minds of many, but we still quietly hold our heads high at the sacrifices made there.
    I have no doubt that things will go well, and 2 Rifles have shown tremendous courage, but next time a senior civil servant has a brain fart, what will happen then? Will they be almagamated with 3/17 The Queens Own Foot ans Mouth Lancers? or The new Light Mobile bath Corps?
  13. I've no doubt that some expressed the same opinions at the time of the Cardwell reforms of the c19th, which created new County regiments from the old numbered foot regiments; but in time this created a competitive tribal system which was the envy of the world.
    I fully realise that one of the reasons some of the more recent amalgamations came about was because some battalions were struggling to maintain manning levels, but it was also about financial expediency on the part of the MOD. Personally, it grieves me to see some of these fine Regiments destroyed by amalgamation, & centuries of tradition disappear at the stroke of a pen. My soldiering started as a TA infantryman in 3WFR, my father had been a Forester during WW2, & Grandfather had been a Forester during WW1, & the sense of belonging to an extended family was everything.
    Yesterday I was reading a book about the Glosters, & I just can't see how a fine Regiment with battle honours like Alexandria & the epic of the Imjin River could possibly be better off as Rifles. This isn't to decry the Rifles; it's just that some Line Regiments should always remain to preserve their unique history, just the same as the LI & RGJ should always have remained as Light Regiments to preserve their unique identity. Just my 2 bobs worth.
  14. rampant

    rampant LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    You won't find much argument there from me, that was my family's local regiment, people in Aberdeenshire were devastated to see them go, it was cruel very cruel.

    As everyone has noted already the tight bonds of the system were what made it so effective . But with successive cuts to the army strength of the preceding 4 decades its unsurprising that many had to go, it just wouldn't work in such a small military force. If we had chosen to maintain an army of 125,000-150,000 it would have been likely that few regiments would have been culled.

    But there is another factor that comes into play the change in the economy and also social attitudes towards the military have altered the landscape remarkably I think this has had a major impact too, especially with regards to recruitment, before the recession started.

    What will happen in the future, god only knows, we still seem to be floundering for purpose on the world stage :roll:
  15. The_Duke

    The_Duke LE Moderator

    Recruiting in Scotland has been dire for ages, and it is not realistic to put the blame solely on the amalgamations. The lack of desire to serve, the culture of recreational drug use across the UK, the "Rose Gentle" effect, and the SNPs rabid nationalism have all been cited as reasons for difficulty in recruiting in Scotland.

    That said, so has the lack of acceptance of the new Royal Regiment of Scotland, most noticably by the old and bold, not by the current generation. Most of those currently serving seem to just want to get on with the job at hand, and soldier on to the highest possible level. They are being hampered by the "old guard" obsessing about badges, tartans, hackles, names etc, and creating an impression that what is there now is not as good as what went before.

    When you compare this to how the Rifles have managed their formation into a large/large formation, it is not unreasonable to believe that this has been a serious contributing factor in holding them back. They are both split 5 regular, 2 TA Bns. They both have a variety of roles, including one Bn embedded within a high readiness Bde, they both have outstanding histories and lots of current operational experience. Yet, the Rifles are recruiting at a phenominal rate, and the R SCOTS are still struggling.

    I appreciate it is herecy to say this, but perhaps clinging too closely to items of historical interest can be counterproductive?