Region's regiment could lose a battalion

EXCLUSIVEBy Juliette MaxamA BATTALION of the Royal Anglian Regiment, which has historic links with Essex and Suffolk, is under “severe threat” of being axed.


By Juliette Maxam

A BATTALION of the Royal Anglian Regiment, which has historic links with Essex and Suffolk, is under “severe threat” of being axed.

One of the Royal Anglian Regiment's two 650-soldier battalions looks set to be scrapped as part of the Army's reorganisation of the infantry in the second part of the Strategic Defence Review, due in September.

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The Army wants to increase the size of each infantry battalion to improve intelligence, surveillance and target reconnaissance capabilities, said Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, who is on the House of Commons defence select committee.

Since there is no money for extra soldiers to be recruited, the Army is looking to scrap two battalions and redistribute the manpower among the remaining 38 battalions, he added.

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Mr Mercer said it was unlikely a battalion from a single-battalion regiment would be disbanded as it would mean the loss of a regiment - an unpopular move - which left a handful of two-battalion regiments in the firing line.

“If you disband one of the Royal Anglian Regiment battalions, you don't lose a cap badge - a regiment doesn't disappear. The regiment is a prime candidate, it is under severe threat,” he added.

Ministry of Defence (MoD) chiefs have warned commanding officers of all infantry battalions that these cuts are on the way, said Mr Mercer.

“I'm not going to accept it. I'm going to pressurise the Government to give extra funds for manpower to allow the Army to operate effectively and decrease the overstretch that's right across the Army,” he added.

Mr Mercer intends to raise the issue in the Armed Forces personnel debate in the House of Commons on Thursday.

The Royal Anglian Regiment has two regular battalions, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, and a territorial battalion, the East of England Regiment.

The current 1st Battalion was formed in 1964 from the Regiments of the East Anglian Brigade, which had been formed through a series of amalgamations of six former county regiments between 1958 and 1960 - the Royal Norfolk Regiment with the Suffolk Regiment (the latter including the Cambridgeshire Regiment), the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment with the Northhamptonshire Regiment and the Bedfordshire Regiment, Hertfordshire Regiment and the Essex Regiment.

It recruits from Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire, while the 2nd Battalion recruits from Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Rutland.

The 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment served a four-month tour in Afghanistan last year shortly after returning from two years in Londonderry.

The 2nd Battalion was recently based in Colchester, but is currently in Chepstow, and a large contingent is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Shadow Defence Secretary Bernard Jenkin, MP for North Essex, said: “It is an open secret in the MoD that cuts are coming. They're going to cut ships, aircraft and battalions.

“I have huge respect for the Royal Anglian Regiment. They have proved themselves to be a fantastically professional and very able regiment. If this happens it will be a very sad day for East Anglia, and particularly Colchester.”

Former broadcaster and ex-MP Martin Bell, who served in the Suffolk Regiment between 1957 and 1959, said: “I hope it won't go.”

He added there was “a great deal of military tradition in East Anglia” and voiced concern that could be eroded.

Mr Bell said: “They have already been cut from three (battalions) to two. All I can say is, as an ex-soldier and ex-politician, in the present dangerous state of the world we need all the battalions we have got.

“The Army needs more battalions than it has got and I don't see what justification there can be.”

Suffolk South Conservative MP Tim Yeo is writing to the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, to seek clarification about what the position is.

“I think because of historic connections, naturally there will be very great sadness if this was confirmed,” he added.

Colchester Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell said: “I shall make inquiries. If there's any threat, I shall vigorously oppose its demise.”

Colonel Peter Dixon, regimental secretary of the Royal Anglian Regiment, based at the regimental headquarters in Bury St Edmunds, said: “There have been rumours of defence cuts, but I would be very surprised when a decision's made if the Royal Anglian Regiment is to be considered because we are so well-recruited and we do cover nine counties. It was only in 1992 that we lost the 3rd battalion.”

A MoD spokeswoman said: “At the moment there's a review being made in the second chapter of the Strategic Defence Review.

“There will be changes to the Armed Forces commensurate with the threat to the UK. There may well be units to be disbanded, but it's not been finalised.”

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