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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 December, 2004, 17:59 GMT
Army defends regiments shake-up
Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin
Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin said links would be retained
Changes to the Scottish regiments will preserve the "golden thread" with their military past, Scotland's most senior Army officer has stressed.

Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin admitted that the Army would not have volunteered to make the cuts.

But he said Scotland's colonels had "stood firm" and maintained the links with the country's military history.

And he said the creation of a single, larger Scottish regiment was going to pull off "a very good trick".

"It is not going to be that large amorphous regiment or so-called super-regiment that many ill-informed and negative commentators have suggested," he said.

"Far from it. It is going to preserve those things that we all hold most dear in Scotland, while at the same time providing for our people a very attractive combination of increased personal and family stability and a much wider career choice for all our officers and men within the same regiment.

'Stood firm'

"I regard the preservation of real and meaningful links with the past as being particularly important.

"It has been at the centre of all the arguing that I have been doing on behalf of all of us over these last few months."

He said that the Scottish colonels had "stood firm" in the battle to retain links with the regiments' military history.

"We may regret having to go through this painful business, and as colonels of our regiments we would certainly have preferred there to have been no cuts, no orders to go large and therefore no changes.

The reason that we have been required to lose a battalion from Scotland is that for many years now we have been the worst recruited division in the whole of the infantry
Sir Alistair Irwin

"But those of us who are serving have no alternative but to set our minds to the task and to make it work to the benefit of all concerned, now and in the years to come," said Sir Alistair.

He said the reality was that a fresh look was needed at how the Army goes about its business in the 21st century.

The Council of Scottish Colonels was asked by the government in July to reduce the number of Scottish infantry battalions from six to five, merging the remainder into one or two larger regiments.

The consultation which followed that order sparked a "wide variation" in opinions.

Sir Alistair said that the recommendation to merge the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers had been made after a great deal of thought.

Significant majority

"This union between a relatively poorly recruited battalion and a better-recruited one is the unhappy consequence of the overall cuts to the Army and none of us take any pleasure in announcing this outcome," he said.

But he said those serving in the Scottish infantry had been "quite clear" when faced with the choice between two smaller regiments or a single larger one.

"As our men looked at the prospect of pursuing their professional military careers into the future, they wanted by a very significant majority to form a single large regiment - provided that the antecedent regiments were properly reflected," he said.

Black Watch badge at its base
The Black Watch is among the regiments affected by the changes
On Thursday, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon confirmed the merger of the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers.

The new battalion will join the other four infantry battalions and the two Territorial Army battalions in a single regiment, to be known as the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Sir Alistair said everyone in the new regiment would wear the same basic uniform.

However, each battalion would retain "overt and strong" links with their past.

He said this would be reflected in the naming of the battalions.

For example, the 1st Battalion The Royal Highland Fusiliers will come to be known as The Royal Highland Fusiliers (2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland).

Uniform items

He said this unique way of naming the battalions was "without serious precedent" in the Army.

"But it has been argued for and accepted because of the unique character of the Scottish regiments and because everyone concerned understood that there were precious things to be preserved if the Scottish infantryman is to remain a dominant feature of the British Army as a whole.

"The links with the past will also be maintained by the wearing of items of uniform specific to each battalion.

The golden thread between the past and the future, through the present, will be fostered and maintained
Sir Alistair Irwin
"So the Black Watch battalion will continue to wear that famous red hackle and The Highlanders their blue hackle."

He said the battalions would retain their links with the communities from where they recruit.

"In this and many other ways the golden thread between the past and the future, through the present, will be fostered and maintained," said Sir Alistair.

He also highlighted the recruitment problems which had made the changes necessary.

"The reason that we have been required to lose a battalion from Scotland is that for many years now we have been the worst recruited division in the whole of the infantry.

Joining up

"In fact our figures are so bad, with four of our six battalions in the top 10 worst recruited battalions in the whole Army, that we very nearly lost two battalions."

He said the new regiment would be at the forefront of the British Army - and that it was vital that Scotland's "finest young men" continued to join up.

"I sincerely hope that those voices... who continue to express their opposition to what is going on will do so in such a way that does not dispirit the serving community and who have to follow orders and get on with this.

"Nor should it discourage young men from joining, or their families and advisers supporting them in their ambition to do so."

CHANGING SHAPE OF BRITISH INFANTRY
1 Two regiments merging and combining with other four to form one regiment of five battalions
2-3 Six battalions merging into two- and three-battalion regiments
4-7 Seven single-battalion regiments merging to form one two- and one three-battalion regiment. Remaining two battalions split to join other divisions
8 One battalion moving to form part of a new special-forces unit
9 TA being restructured to lose one battalion but no manpower





FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
Daily Express Uproar As Hoon Unveils Army Plan - 1 hr ago
Sky News Hoon Announces Massive Army Cuts - 3 hrs ago
Daily Mail Army shake-up: Black Watch to merge - 4 hrs ago
TelegraphMP thrown out of Commons - 4 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Hoon accused over 'cowardly' army shakeup - 5 hrs ago
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