Army's in a right regimental mess

NOBODY should be surprised at last week's figures that showed the armed forces are almost 3% below strength. The Ministry of Defence's latest manning figures show that the full-time trained strength of the three services was 180,690 - 97.

NOBODY should be surprised at last week's figures that showed the armed forces are almost 3% below strength. The Ministry of Defence's latest manning figures show that the full-time trained strength of the three services was 180,690 - 97.2% of its target of 185,870.

In former times, the lads from Tyneside, the grim towns and cities of West Yorkshire, Lancashire, the Potteries, the Black Country, deprived parts of London, the Scottish central belt and south Wales were the cannon fodder on which, in particular, the army depended for its personnel.

But these areas are now all enjoying unparalleled wealth with plenty of well paid jobs. It takes a certain type of man - and, increasingly, women - who is attracted to an occupation where they risk your life for Queen and country when full employment at home can be enjoyed.

The ending of national service means we have a volunteer army, navy, air force and marine corps and the chance of being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan offers is not the greatest incentive to recruitment.


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And the emasculation of historic regiments by successive governments means the pride of serving your own local regiment is no more. The historic infantry regiments have long been consigned to mere tales of valour and daring feats of arms.

Over the decades, governments of both parties have streamlined the army. Gone are the Essex Yeomanry, the Suffolk Regiment, the Sherwood Foresters, the Black Watch, the Gordon Highlanders and scores of other famous names.

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Yes, the armed forces must move and adapt with the times. The navy doesn't need hundreds of frigates, destroyers and cruisers when a handful of nuclear submarines can deliver a mighty attack on any enemy. The modern air force can send missiles to destroy targets at a rate of attrition which could never have been anticipated 60 years ago.

But as a traditionalist, I like the historic names. It must come from having family connections with the Navy, which hands the names of fighting ships down from one generation of warship to another - Ark Royal, Bulwark, Invincible, Repulse, Resolution etc. But I fear we'll never see the Essex Yeomanry and the Suffolk Regiment ever raised again. >

MARGARET Thatcher is named today by BBC History Magazine as Britain's best 20th century Prime Minister. Historian Francis rates Clement Atlee second, Edward Heath third, Winston Churchill fourth and Harold Macmillan fifth.

Propping up the table as worth Prime Minister is Neville Chamberlain and in ascending order Anthony Eden, John Major, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Ramsay MacDonald. The criteria used was how well they implemented their policies - which puts Tony Blair slightly below midtable.

DAVID Cameron has had an impact on the Liberal Democrats, who have at last accepted reality and quietly dropped the injudicious phrase “the real opposition” from their media releases.

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