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Last Updated: Monday, 6 December, 2004, 09:35 GMT
Why do regiments matter?
By Lucy Wilkins
BBC News

The Ministry of Defence is preparing to announce details of another shake-up for the British Army, which is expected to lead to the merger of several historic regiments, including the Black Watch.

Many people outside the army struggle to understand why the regimental system means so much to fighting men and women. Here several veterans try to explain.

Maj Claud Rebbeck, archivist of Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum
The British infantry system of county regiments is the envy of all the armies in the world
Major Claud Rebbeck
Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum
The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire regiment (RGBWs) is one being considered for either amalgamation with the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment or disbanding.

The regiment - which includes what was once known as The Glorious Glosters - has already been merged several times.

Supporters have launched a campaign urging people to write to their MPs to keep the regiment.

The regiment's commanding officer, Lt Col Nick Welch, has said: "RGBWs do not wish to disband.

"Such action would destroy over 300 years of history and provide no future for those serving in the present regiment.

"It would also sever a long history of close links with the communities of those counties."

It is those links that encourage many a soldier to join up.

Curator of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, George Streatfeild, 60, said: "The men from Gloucestershire will not have a natural home to join [if it is disbanded]. They could end up in some mickey-mouse outfit."

Team players

If the regiment is merged "the name would disappear - and that goes back 300 years - into some nameless, faceless and characterless organisation".

The regiment has gained 209 battle honours, 16 Victoria Crosses and one George Cross.

"It's county loyalty, like when the Gloucester rugby team plays Bath. You'd be getting rid of the rugby team," Mr Streatfeild said as he walked around the museum in Gloucester.

Although he was not a member of the Gloucestershire Regiment during his 10-year career, he emphasises the importance of belonging.

"You fight alongside [other regiments], you get on with them and co-operate, but we are also competing to do well, for the plaudits, the professionalism.

"We are out for the regiment's good and for the good of its name," he said.

"The regiment is about loyalty and culture and understanding.

"It seems silly at this stage of our history to get rid of it."

1694: Regiment of infantry raised by Col John Gibson, Lieutenant Governor of Portsmouth
1801: Battle of Alexandria against the French, after which the regiment was allowed unique distinction of wearing a badge on the front of their head-dress as well as the back.
1951: Awarded the President's Distinguished Unit Citation after the Battle of Imjin River, Korea.
1948: Becomes Gloucestershire Regiment
1994: Merges with Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment to become the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment

Retired major Claud Rebbeck, a former regimental secretary, says the regiment provides "a tremendous cement and a focus for loyalty".

He said: "The British infantry system of county regiments is the envy of all the armies in the world, because the business of war is very grim.

"It's much easier to come to terms with the trade if you are surrounded by familiar faces and friends.

"If you're in a dangerous situation, you don't want to let your friends down or let yourself down.

"Particularly if you're on tour and you go home and someone tells your wife that you did a poor job."

Major Rebbeck's army career spanned from 1953, when he was commissioned at Sandhurst, until he was invalided out in 1970 with gangrene after suffering from frostbite in Berlin.

Fiercely proud of the fact that the Gloucestershire Regiment has more battle honours than any other in the British Army, he has a wealth of information about the regimental battles.

'Apples and pears'

Major Rebbeck, who works as the museum's archivist, highlights the battle of Alexandria in 1801, when the regiment defeated the French in Egypt.

That conflict led to the soldiers being allowed to wear two hat badges - front and back - in recognition of the fact they had been forced to fight a front and a rear guard.

George Streatfeild, curator of Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum
The regiment is about loyalty and culture and understanding. It seems silly at this stage of our history to get rid of it
George Streatfeild
Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum curator

Maj Rebbeck said: "Every regiment has its own reason why their soldiers are the best.

"Men from this part of the world are, by and large, nice people. London people can be a bit spiky, but the soldiers here are your friends."

While he describes his own decision to join up as "realising I was too thick to do anything else", he said soldiers are very ambitious these days.

"These days recruits are more intelligent and they already know that they will be fighting with other Gloucestershire soldiers. They are all career-minded, they want to know when they will be majors."

The Gloucestershire Regiment merged in 1994 with the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment (Berkshire & Wiltshire).

Two decades before there was an idea to amalgamate Gloucestershire with Hampshire - "like amalgamating apples with pears" in Maj Rebbeck's opinion.

"Britain makes very good soldiers, but we are not a military nation.

"Ever since the army was raised the government has tried to make do with as few soldiers as possible. The results can be catastrophic," he said.

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