Military traditions face a losing battle as Army cuts loom

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STANley Elton Hollis was the only soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross on D-Day. He also happened to be a Green Howard.

The son of a Robin Hood’s Bay fish and chip shop owner, Hollis entered the history books on June 6, 1944 when in the space of 24 hours he took more than two dozen German troops prisoner and stepped into the line of fire to ensure his colleagues’ route to safety.

The story of Company Sergeant Major Hollis war years is just one of a thousand examples or bravery and courage performed by members of the Yorkshire Regiment batallion since it was founded back in 1688.

As the years passed, the Green Howards found their own way of doing things and attracted a loyal following of supporters. However, as the Government announces another swathe of defence cuts, many fear the proposals will result in centuries of Army tradition being lost.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday admitted that whole units will have to be scrapped as Army numbers shrink from 102,000 to just 82,000 by 2020.

No decision has yet been made on which units will go, but there is already speculation the Yorkshire Regiment could lose one of its four batallions.

“Reorganisation and efficiency drives are nothing new,” says Yorkshire military historian Jon Cooksey. “The latest cuts began nine months ago with the Air Force and the Navy. The Army was always next in line. The danger is that when you lose an entire unit, you undermine the entire esprit de corps on which the Army depends.

“The British Army is a tribe, but the units within it have their own tribal loyalties. There was a major reorganisation back in 1860 and then again in 1908, at the end of which the system of numbered regiments had been replaced by a county set up.

“That meant that someone in Leeds has tended to join the Yorkshire Regiment, while someone over the Pennines goes to the Cheshire Regiment. The set up has engendered a peculiar sense of loyalty between the men and their unit and any move which dents that has to be taken with great caution.

“This isn’t just about the troops, it’s about their families, because the structure is such that they also feel like they belong to and have loyalty with a particular batallion and regiment whether that be the Green Howards or the Parachute Regiments.

“If you start to lose those associations it may well take some heart out of the army.”

The Green Howards has fought off previous threats to disband the batallion and successfully survived a proposed cull back in 2004 and its far from the only unit facing an uncertain future.

Changes in the way modern warfare is conducted means traditional tank and artillery units are seen as outdated on a battlefield where drones roam. It’s not an argument that many find easy to buy.

“One of the reasons given for the reduction in numbers is that we will never get involved in another Afghanistan,” says Jon. “I don’t know how the Government can be so sure - 15 years ago no one thought we were going to become involved in a 10 year war out there.

“Of course wars are fought in a very different way from say the Second World War, but there is still very much a need for men on the frontline and I don’t see that changing.

“Recently I spoke to members of 3 Para who had just come back from Afghanistan and their descriptions of the battles sounded just as intense as those that occurred on the Western Front.”

At the same time money is being cut from the regular Army budget, £1.8bn is being ivensted in reserve forces, with a focus on niche areas like cyber warfare and intelligence.

“The Government has suggested that any gaps which emerge can be filled by working closely with our allied partners, but what if they are not there? What happens then?

“I think what a lot of people are stuggling to see is why so much money has been invested in the Territorial Army. Surely it would have made more sense to put that funding into the regular Army?

“Most people understand that difficult decisions have to be made, but announcing that Army units are to close is hardly a way to win friends and influence people.

“What everyone wants now is clarity. These units are not just names, they are organisations with incredibly long histories that mean so much to so many people.”

sarah.freeman@ypn.co.uk