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EDITIONS
Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 04:22 GMT 05:22 UK
For Queen and country?
The Queen and Chelsea Pensioners
The Queen met old soldiers as part of her Jubilee tour

They could be doctors or lab technicians in their white coveralls and face masks, surrounded by hi-tech lab equipment.

In fact they are soldiers, members of one of the newest units in the British armed forces.

Their job, using specially-designed and equipped vehicles, is to detect chemical or biological weapons used by an enemy on the battlefield.

The Joint NBC Regiment draws three-quarters of its members from the first Royal Tank Regiment, a quarter from the RAF Regiment.

Like all Britain's servicemen and women, those in the JNBC have been steeped in the traditions of their parent units.

They have sworn an oath of allegiance to the Queen, whose portrait hangs on their mess walls. She is both regiments' Colonel-in-Chief.

The Joint NBC Regiment
The Joint NBC Regiment is a new regiment
But the technology they use would be unrecognisable to an earlier generation of soldiers. So - do they still share the same values as their predecessors?

In particular, do they still serve - and are they still prepared to die - in the old phrase "for Queen and country"?

Lance Corporal Stephen Loughlin from 1 RTR - known as Locky - has no doubt.

He is motivated firstly by a sense of comradeship, but secondly by the notion of serving both Queen and country. The Queen is, in his words, "the be all and end all".

Locky may not be typical: he originally served in the Queen's Regiment but left when it was amalgamated with another regiment and he could not come to terms with the loss of its unique traditions.

He became a security guard, then a dustman, before rejoining the regular army via the TA.

Contradictory views

However Corporal Steven Higgs from the RAF Regiment says something very similar.

The Queen is a soldier's ultimate commander: she is special, she needs looking up to and he is proud to have her as his boss.

But Staff Sergeant Pete Brooks is more sceptical. He thinks "Queen and country" a rather old-fashioned phrase.

In his view soldiers are motivated more by loyalty to those around them, by a fear of letting down their mates, than by the rather abstract notion of loyalty to the crown.

Although, he does concede that in the "Royal" Tank Regiment and elsewhere in the army reminders of the monarchy, even if it's just the crown as a badge of rank, are rarely far away.

The Queen
The Queen paid tribute to the armed forces in a Jubilee address
No-one seems too sure about whether it is possible to be a republican and a serving soldier, but at the very least it must involve an ability to hold two quite contradictory sets of views.

The officers, for the most part university-educated, seem less likely to include loyalty to the Queen among the things that motivate them.

Josh King, a young second lieutenant who commands a tank troop in 1 RTR and has yet to serve a stint in the JNBC, takes a similar line to Brooks.

He joined not out of any abstract notion of service to the nation but because he has always loved tanks.

He sees himself motivated more by patriotism and by loyalty to friends and comrades - though as the country's figurehead the Queen clearly comes into it somewhere.

The commanding officer, Lt Col Patrick Kidd, says the regiment is like a close-knit family, with the Queen as its head.

But he also says that what drives individuals is principally their relationship with the other members of that close-knit team.

Certainly the oldest member of the regiment thinks things have changed in recent years.

Abstract notion

Warrant Office Mike Taylor is still in post after 34 years at the age of 51. Despite his grey hair he is the very picture of a senior NCO.

He served as an assistant parade marshal during the Queen Mother's funeral and was immensely proud to have done so.

As society has changed, and the old habits of deference to authority and unspoken loyalty to the Queen have disappeared from civilian life, so the character of new recruits has changed, he thinks.

They join for the adventure, the travel and the job security, not out of abstract notions of service, he believes, and it worries him.

The day the armed forces lose their reverence for tradition, and for traditional values, is the day we should all start to worry, he says.

But with stalwart figures like WO Taylor around, you feel, there is little danger of that.


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27 Jun 02 | England
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