Bell backs EADT's regiment campaign

By Annie DavidsonFORMER MP and journalist Martin Bell has pledged his support for the East Anglian Daily Times' campaign to save the historic Royal Anglian Regiment.

By Annie Davidson

FORMER MP and journalist Martin Bell has pledged his support for the East Anglian Daily Times' campaign to save the historic Royal Anglian Regiment.

The ex-BBC correspondent said it would be “disastrous” if the regiment was scrapped under a planned Government reorganisation of the Army.

Ministers want to cut the infantry by four battalions and create larger regiments with at least two battalions each.

The Queen's Division - which incorporates the Royal Anglian Regiment - has been ordered to come up with proposals for a possible loss of a battalion and restructuring of the division.

Mr Bell served with the Suffolk Regiment, which was amalgamated along with a number of other regiments into the Royal Anglian Regiment in 1964. The 66-year-old did two years' national service based in Cyprus from 1957-59.

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The former MP said yesterday that he “absolutely supported” the East Anglian Daily Times' campaign.

Mr Bell, who is now an ambassador for the United Nations' Children's Fund, added the axing of the regiment would be “absolutely tragic”.

He continued: “The whole point of the Royal Anglian Regiment was that it was a large regiment. It was originally three battalions.

“A great, honourable tradition of the East of England would be completely gone. It seems so absurd.

“There is no case for eliminating the regiment altogether. It was supposed to be a large regiment.”

Mr Bell said his time with the Suffolk Regiment had been the best education that he had had, adding: “It was very good for me, although I wouldn't say it was good for the regiment having me.”

A decision about the reorganisation is due to be made before Christmas. The EADT has been told the Queen's Division has refused to suggest which battalion should be scrapped and regimental colonels have been unwilling to take part in the process because they considered the time scale to be too short.

The EADT is urging readers to sign our petition calling on Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon to leave the Royal Anglian Regiment intact and not to scrap one of its battalions or to merge it into a super-regiment with the rest of the Queen's Division.

The campaign already has cross-party support of the region's MPs, who have reacted angrily to the threat to the Royal Anglian Regiment.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that while politicians may have the final say over changes to historic Army regiments, the decision would be the one that was best for the armed forces.

Mr Blair also criticised media coverage of the reforms, which are expected to see several units merged - including the Scottish Black Watch, which is currently fighting in Iraq.

“Of course, ultimately, all these things are political decisions, but what is sensible for us to do is to work with the Army to get the right solution for our armed forces,” he said.

“The issue is simply whether the rigid demarcation of regiments and the fact that people stick with the one regiment throughout their career is sensible to be maintained in today's world.

“It's a discussion that we should be able to have without us having stories about how we are betraying this or doing down people and that.

“We are not trying to do anything other than get the most effective British armed forces we can for the modern world. It is not the case that politicians are trying to push the Army in a particular direction.”

n Did you or your family serve in the Royal Anglian Regiment? We would like to hear your memories of life in the regiment and support for our campaign.

Send them by e-mail to essexnewsdesk@eadt.co.uk or by post to Juliette Maxam, East Anglian Daily Times, Fairfax House, Causton Road, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1RJ.

annie.davidson@eadt.co.uk

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