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Why history matters in armed forces' future

#1
Opinion from a former WO2 about the strengths of the regimental system of the British Army.

Why history matters in armed forces' future

ALEX FORREST, MBE

GEOFF Hoon is about to break the backbone of the British Army. The regimental system took years to establish: it was not something that came about overnight. It is the system around which the British Army is built.

Recruiting from local areas is not just about saving money and making administration easier, it is about family ties. Many of the soldiers currently serving in the regiment will have fathers, grandfathers, cousins, uncles and brothers who served in the regiment at one time or another.

Young men and women don’t just join the army, they join a tradition. They want to follow in the footsteps of previous generations.

I am a former warrant officer, Class 2, of the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch (RHR). I served for 22 years, have two commendations and an MBE for service in Northern Ireland. I am also, at present, a serving member of the Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard in London.

When I served, there were even soldiers from London and of Canadian descent who joined because their great great-grandfathers had been members of the regiment. The same can be said of any of the great units, the Prince of Wales’s Own, The Hampshires, the Paras. The sense of belonging to one regiment or another is insurmountable. In peacetime or battle, this band of brothers is brought up together. They train and socialise together, their wives become friends, and likewise their children. In many cases, their sons join the regiment. Some even marry the daughters of other members of the regiment. This can only strengthen the bond within the unit.

In battle or in a peacetime role, competing against each other or against an external unit, the need to outdo the other is of paramount importance. You give your all for your own self-esteem and out of respect for your fellow brothers at arms, but you also do it for the family tradition and loyalty to the regiment.

By proposing to turn these proud regiments into a super-sized unit, Mr Hoon will break that backbone. The idea of a regiment as a cohesive unit will have gone.

Under his proposed system, if a fighting force is required in Iraq, Afghanistan or some other trouble spot, those units that are sent will have to be reinforced with soldiers from other battalions.

As soldiers are moved between battalions, the sense of identity of those units will be lost; battalions will be decimated; it may be months before they can regroup.

The bottom line is that soldiers will find themselves serving alongside others who, while wearing a name-badge stating that they are members of the 1st Battalion the Black Watch, will feel no affiliation at all to the battalion.

We don’t fight wars every day of the week, thank God, but in the weeks or months ahead those soldiers could find themselves fighting alongside each other.

True, they will get to know each other pretty fast in battle, but the great advantage of the regimental system, the reason that it has sustained the British Army through the centuries and made it the envy of the world, is that it goes into battle with its esprit de corps already established.

That is what gives the British Army its winning edge and that is what usually decides the outcome. To retain that winning edge, you must have that band of comradeship, loyalty and sense of belonging from the start.

At that moment in time, you are not thinking of politicians or the general public, your sole concern is to survive along with your fellow brothers.

In all conflicts there is death and injury, and to this end, wives, girlfriends, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends grieve along with the regiment, whether serving or past members.

If politicians send us to war, then so be it - right or wrong, we have to see it through to a conclusion.

In summary, by destroying the regimental system, you take away the winning edge, one which has been hard fought for over many years. You end up with faceless soldiers.

Mr Hoon, you don’t have to come to Scotland to get a sense of what the regimental system is all about, to discover what it is to belong to a unique regiment. If you leave your office at Westminster and walk down Birdcage Walk and visit the Household Division’s Guards headquarters at regimental level, you will learn what it is to have a regimental system and the sense of belonging to a unique unit.

Mr Hoon, don’t fix something that isn’t broken. Our men and women of the armed forces will be called on again, and they don’t need it and they don’t deserve it.

The public, on whose behalf you send us to protect your and their interests, don’t need it.

At the end of the day, we all like a winner. I have four sons; one has served in the Royal Signals and one is training with the Royal Engineers. One may even make the Black Watch. I want them on the winning team in the future.
source: http://news.scotsman.com/opinion.cfm?id=1433532004
 
#2
Telegraph Defence Correspondent article at this address: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/mai...rmy16.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/12/16/ixhome.html

...But amid anger at the loss of regimental heritage, and cuts in numbers that are widely regarded within the Army as Treasury-driven, there is expected to be a reprieve for one infantry battalion.

Other possibilities considered were the reallocation of one battalion of the Parachute Regiment as a dedicated special forces support unit similar to the US Rangers and the disbandment of one of the two Gurkha regiments....
 
#3
The US Army has no such cohesion and regimental affilation, they move troops around at will and need and it, IMHO, is a travesty. Maybe this is what coined the term "an Army of ONE"

Shame on TCH :twisted: not every thing Spam is pork :!:
 
#4
The saying goes,

Forgive them, they do not know what they do.

They know what they are doing and it it is unforgivable and in my view they are a bunch of cretins.

I shall not forget and one hopes the voters don't either :evil:
 
#5
ctauch said:
The US Army has no such cohesion and regimental affilation, they move troops around at will and need and it, IMHO, is a travesty. Maybe this is what coined the term "an Army of ONE"

Shame on TCH :twisted: not every thing Spam is pork :!:
Thanks for that, ctauch :D
 
#6
Excellent post hackle.
i once read that both the iron duke and montgomery in their time warned the govenment of the day Don't mess with the infantry.
john
 
#8
The majority of voters won't forget...

Principly because they neither know nor care, any football tonight? When's Eastenders on?
 
#9
We can write what we want,
We can say what we want,
We can tell them until our voices are hoarse,

But this bunch of charlatans will not listen to the voice of reason,
They are driving this purely for fiscal reasons,
And one day, they will have to answer for all thier lies and spin,

I also hope that no lives or battles are lost because of this decision, and if they are, then they must be held accountable :evil:
 
#10
Biscuits Brown has it right. The electorate won't forget, as they're priorities lie elsewhere. Eastenders, Coronation st, and poxy pop idol are the priorities.

Heres a thought though, I understand it would be completely un-gentleman like, but why hasn't anyone senior, whos still in an influential position within the services, go public and down right condemn TCH to the papers. Make it as public as possible. We've just seen three weeks of full on coverage with Blunkett, but just the odd headline of TCH and what he intends to do!

Excuse me if I'm showing some sense of naievity(sp?), but I just don't see anyone with influence causing a $hitstorm for TCH.

remember:

GEOFF Hoon is about to break the backbone of the British Army. The regimental system took years to establish: it was not something that came about overnight. It is the system around which the British Army is built
 
#11
We are still recruiting the same lads from the same areas to do the same job. I don't think that the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are a worse unit for having been merged many many times compared to the Green Howards or Cheshires who haven't been... This set of mergers will be the same, bloody painful for the short term but unfortunately we will just have to make it work. The Highlanders for instance had a very bad merger - if the same is repeated now we will just be punishing ourselves.
 

Mr_Fingerz

LE
Book Reviewer
#12
From todays Grauniad. This informs the "thinking" of our Dear Leader and TCH.

Behind the Black Watch

History demands that Scotland's regiments merge

Ewen Macaskill
Thursday December 16, 2004
The Guardian

Old soldiers, and serving ones, have been campaigning hard in Scotland to save Scottish regiments from merger. An announcement is expected from Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, today.
The campaign has been vigorously supported by much of the media in Scotland, recalling regimental histories going back to the 18th century. Typical is the columnist Magnus Linklater: "Merely reciting their names: Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Royal Scots, King's Own Scottish Borderers, is enough to stiffen the sinews, to summon up the whiff of cordite at Waterloo, or the thin red line at Balaclava. You cannot divorce emotion from the memories of great battles fought, or lives bravely sacrificed."

Most Scots are brought up on such stories of martial tradition, of Scottish regiments, especially the Highlanders, in the thick of bloody battles. But there is an alternative history, though one heard less often. It is more likely to be raised among what remains of the Highlanders than by those in Edinburgh and Glasgow prone to misjudged nostalgia.

I first heard this alternative history from Derick Thomson, the Gaelic poet and professor of Celtic studies, who spoke with bitterness of the Highland regiments as "cannon fodder". The regiments were raised in the 18th century, mainly as a way of helping to pacify the Highlands. The threat posed by the clans was removed by recruiting regiments and putting them in the front line - the Black Watch suffered 50% casualties at the Battle of Ticonderoga in 1758 - or sending them to disease-ridden places such as the West Indies.

School textbooks lauded the bravery of the Highlanders in General James Wolfe's battle for Quebec in 1759. Less often recorded is Wolfe's disdain for his own soldiers. Reflecting the British government view, he wrote: "They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country and no great mischief if they fall." And fall they did, in large numbers, the deaths of so many men contributing, along with the Clearances, to the depopulation of the Highlands that persists until this day.

The historian Tom Devine, in The Scottish Empire 1600-1815, notes that estimates of the number of Highlanders fighting in the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars ranged from 37,000 to 48,000 men. "This is quite an extraordinary figure, given that the population of the Highlands was around 250,000 to 300,000 during the second half of the 18th century."

The regiments can rightly take pride in the part they played in the first and second world wars, and in post-war engagements. But the motives behind raising these regiments and the way they were cynically deployed should temper the views of those who oppose merger on grounds of regimental tradition. Unlike Linklater, my sinews do not stiffen in recollection at generations of Highlanders who ended up as cannon fodder
 

Mr_Fingerz

LE
Book Reviewer
#13
From todays Grauniad. This informs the "thinking" of our Dear Leader and TCH.

Behind the Black Watch

History demands that Scotland's regiments merge

Ewen Macaskill
Thursday December 16, 2004
The Guardian

Old soldiers, and serving ones, have been campaigning hard in Scotland to save Scottish regiments from merger. An announcement is expected from Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, today.
The campaign has been vigorously supported by much of the media in Scotland, recalling regimental histories going back to the 18th century. Typical is the columnist Magnus Linklater: "Merely reciting their names: Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Royal Scots, King's Own Scottish Borderers, is enough to stiffen the sinews, to summon up the whiff of cordite at Waterloo, or the thin red line at Balaclava. You cannot divorce emotion from the memories of great battles fought, or lives bravely sacrificed."

Most Scots are brought up on such stories of martial tradition, of Scottish regiments, especially the Highlanders, in the thick of bloody battles. But there is an alternative history, though one heard less often. It is more likely to be raised among what remains of the Highlanders than by those in Edinburgh and Glasgow prone to misjudged nostalgia.

I first heard this alternative history from Derick Thomson, the Gaelic poet and professor of Celtic studies, who spoke with bitterness of the Highland regiments as "cannon fodder". The regiments were raised in the 18th century, mainly as a way of helping to pacify the Highlands. The threat posed by the clans was removed by recruiting regiments and putting them in the front line - the Black Watch suffered 50% casualties at the Battle of Ticonderoga in 1758 - or sending them to disease-ridden places such as the West Indies.

School textbooks lauded the bravery of the Highlanders in General James Wolfe's battle for Quebec in 1759. Less often recorded is Wolfe's disdain for his own soldiers. Reflecting the British government view, he wrote: "They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country and no great mischief if they fall." And fall they did, in large numbers, the deaths of so many men contributing, along with the Clearances, to the depopulation of the Highlands that persists until this day.

The historian Tom Devine, in The Scottish Empire 1600-1815, notes that estimates of the number of Highlanders fighting in the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars ranged from 37,000 to 48,000 men. "This is quite an extraordinary figure, given that the population of the Highlands was around 250,000 to 300,000 during the second half of the 18th century."

The regiments can rightly take pride in the part they played in the first and second world wars, and in post-war engagements. But the motives behind raising these regiments and the way they were cynically deployed should temper the views of those who oppose merger on grounds of regimental tradition. Unlike Linklater, my sinews do not stiffen in recollection at generations of Highlanders who ended up as cannon fodder
 
#14
Mr_Fingerz said:
"Merely reciting their names: Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Royal Scots, King's Own Scottish Borderers, is enough to stiffen the sinews, to summon up the whiff of cordite at Waterloo, or the thin red line at Balaclava.
Why can't journos get facts right, especially for anything involving guns?

Waterloo - 1815. Introduction of cordite in service - about 1895...

/removes anorak
 
#15
I did have a long and reasoned reply typed up for this, but concluded that it would only ever be read on here and in the main agreed with.

If the idiot who wrote the article ever read my response to his half hearted attempt at historical analysis through pc glasses he would probably conclude that i was misguided and blinded by my upbringing.

It is patently obvious that the author of the article neither understands Scottish history (apart from the right on oppression of the poor wee highlander bit), nor the Highland regiments (the big bad meanies).

Sir, if you do read these responses, here's my tuppence worth - go f*ck yourself you arrogant pr*ck, or better yet - go visit some regimental museums, where you will find that most regimental history is displayed warts and all. :evil:
 
#16
Yorkie said:
We are still recruiting the same lads from the same areas to do the same job. I don't think that the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are a worse unit for having been merged many many times compared to the Green Howards or Cheshires who haven't been... This set of mergers will be the same, bloody painful for the short term but unfortunately we will just have to make it work. The Highlanders for instance had a very bad merger - if the same is repeated now we will just be punishing ourselves.
At a time when there are ever increasing commitments against increasing vicious enemies, how can it make sense to eliminate the posts of several hundred experienced SNCOs, WOs and Officers as well as scatter the men between other battalions. At the same time TCH is determined to destroy the regimental character of the infantry?
 
#17
BigCheese said:
Excuse me if I'm showing some sense of naievity(sp?), but I just don't see anyone with influence causing a $hitstorm for TCH. [/quote)

Old Guthrie did at the weekend. He said it was a mistake to cut the infantry at a time when they were overstretched. TCH appeared on the box to sneer in his usual, supercilious style about "moving on" from where things used to be. Cnut. :twisted:
 
#18
Duke of Wellington's comments on the Army...

Ours (our army) is composed of the scum of the earth - the mere scum of the earth.

or maybe...

People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling - all stuff - no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got b*stard children -- some for minor offences -- many more for drink.

I notice no paticular distinction between the Scottish and English Regiments in these statements. Perhaps The Guardians journalist should study history more thoroughly when writing an article consisting of New Labour spin and trying to create divisions, justifying a rubish decision.
 
#19
Hi Claymore,

Guthrie did, though isn't he out now??

What I mean is the likes of Gen.Jackson, or anyone else still in who has some weight to throw about.

Of course what I'd really like to see is some officer or squaddie plowing in to him about what he's doing when he goes round visiting units.

I do hate how they play the '21st century' card as if its the justification for their moves!
 
#20
stoatman said:
Mr_Fingerz said:
"Merely reciting their names: Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Royal Scots, King's Own Scottish Borderers, is enough to stiffen the sinews, to summon up the whiff of cordite at Waterloo, or the thin red line at Balaclava.
Why can't journos get facts right, especially for anything involving guns?

Waterloo - 1815. Introduction of cordite in service - about 1895...

/removes anorak
I know that was meant as a technical point, but I would make allowances for Magnus Linklater from whom the cordite/Waterloo quote came. He is a very distinguished and senior journalist, very on-side to the Black Watch and other regiments, and son of the author Eric Linklater who fought in the Black Watch in WW1 and was official historian of the Regiment.

Take his 'cordite' remark with a pinch of saltpetre!

As to that cnut Macaskill who 'wrote' the Grauniad article .... what utter utter bullshit (and I speak as a Highlander) .... how dare he insult our countrymen and ancestors who fought so well as volunteers in past centuries.

Unfortunately, simultaneously reading Macaskill and listening to TCH from the Commons is causing my fuses to blow... thanks for that :twisted: :twisted: :twisted:
 

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