the head of the British Army has moved to reassure critics that the force still has an “absolutely significant” role to play internationally as the cost-cutting Army 2020 plan begins to come into action.
Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall, was speaking as the first major ceremony marked British Army troops’ impending departure from Germany under the restructure.
As part of the Army 2020 the regular Army will be cut by 20,000 to 82,000 and part-time reservists increased from 19,000 to 30,000, while the Army’s two divisions will be divided into three within six years.
Around 2,000 people crowded into the main square at 1st UK Armoured Division headquarters at Hammersmith Barracks, in Herford, Germany, to see the division - one of two main strands of the British Army - renamed 1st UK Division and take on a new role as an adaptable force that deals more in conflict prevention than armed combat.
Gen Sir Peter attended alongside dignitaries from the German military for the ceremony which acted as an early farewell before the 1st UK Division headquarters relocates to Imphal Barracks, York, from its German home of 21 years next summer.
He told the Yorkshire Post: “We are absolutely sure that our contributions to our alliances are an absolutely significant one to the Americans and will set the tone across Europe.”
Admitting the move will signal a narrowing of opportunity for where to serve and the sorts of jobs that are available in the British Army, he added: “I think we have done a good job of reducing the amount of manpower in the British Army as was required by the country’s financial situation.”
Yesterday’s landmark parade featured a display of combat vehicles, including Lynx helicopters, tanks, Warriors and Bulldogs, and the exchanging of ceremonial gifts between high-ranking figures from the British and German military including Lieutenant General Jorg Vollmer.
Applause rang out as around 500 soldiers from the division marched past a crowd of 1,500 at the Herford barracks to the sounds of the Catterick-based band of the Royal Armoured Corps.
The parade finished with a visit from two parachutists, who delivered two silver rhino figures to Army chiefs from Germany and the UK ahead of the divisional headquarters’ York move, which will bring with it 150 staff and their families.
Major General James Chiswell, the head of the new 1st UK Division, said: “We feel very fortunate moving to York of all places. It has an equally long military heritage as Herford and we’re looking forward to having the same happy, prosperous community relations when we get there.”
As part of an extended farewell to Herford a traditional Anglo-German run will take place around the town today. The 14km Bismarck Challenge, organised by the British Army, will involve both British troops and German civilians.
Lord Mayor of York Coun Ian Gillies, who flew over for the occasion, said: “I think the division will enjoy coming back to York as much as they have never been away.”