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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 September, 2004, 20:00 GMT 21:00 UK
Hoon defends planned Army mergers
KORBR soldiers
Historic regiments fear being disbanded or losing their identity
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has said that a planned shake-up of Army regiments will bring "overwhelming advantages" without loss of identity.

Some 19 single-battalion infantry regiments would be merged under the proposals. Four more would disappear.

Mr Hoon said they might incorporate their historic names into new titles.

But former members of a 300-year-old regiment handed in a petition with 30,000 signatures to Downing Street, pleading for their survival.

The King's Own Royal Border Regiment (KORBR), based in Cumbria, is 300 years old.

It is likely to be one of those merged or disbanded as a consequence of large spending cuts in the armed forces.

Eric Martlew, Labour MP for Carlisle, said: "We are the oldest regiment in the north of England and it is very important for practical reasons that we keep the regiment or keep the name of the regiment.

"The tradition is we recruit from Cumbria and north Lancashire. If we lose the local regiment it would be as though the defence of Britain has got nothing to do with us."

Historic names

In his address to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, Mr Hoon said that a final decision had yet to be made, and that regiments with recruitment problems were more likely to be disbanded.

But he insisted that historic names could be incorporated into the new ones, and that battalions would still be recruiting from the same areas.

"A lot of people are concerned about the identity of existing single-battalion regiments," Mr Hoon said.

"But I see no reason, for example - should the Army Board choose to recommend it - why in Scotland the existing regimental name shouldn't be bracketed after whatever title is given the Scottish division."

He insisted that by merging several regiments into large regionally based units, they would develop stronger ties to the local communities than under the current system, under which are rotated to different postings every few years.

KORBR banner
Our whole aim is, whatever happens in the reorganisation, we should retain our name
Major General Nigel Gribbon

"Indeed, one thing that has been seriously overlooked in these proposals is that, by basing the Army more consistently in one area, we will add to its local connection, not take away from it," he said.

But for those whose family history in intertwined with that of the battalion they served for, the issue revolves around preserving one's identity.

"We appreciate that larger regiments are wanted and some new system has to be instituted," said Major General Nigel Gribbon, who, combined with his father Brigadier Walter Gribbon, has served some 100 years in the KORBR.

"But it should not lose its identity, because identity is what matters locally for city councils, inhabitants, territorial and cadets.

"Therefore our whole aim is, whatever happens in the reorganisation, we should retain our name."

Support for threatened regiment
05 Aug 04 |  Cumbria
Regiment's future still in doubt
21 Jul 04 |  Cumbria
Move to save threatened regiment
16 Jul 04 |  Cumbria

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