Yorkshire’s famous Green Howards are to be scrapped after 300 years and the region’s other battalions stripped of their historic names as the Government pushes forward with the most far-reaching Army cuts in years.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond described morale in the British Army as “fragile” yesterday as he unveiled plans to axe 17 major units and slash the total number of soldiers by 20,000 over the next five years.
The Yorkshire Regiment will lose one of its three battalions, 2Yorks, which carries the historic name of the Green Howards and has deep-seated links to its base in Richmond, North Yorkshire.
It will be amalgamated into the other two battalions of the regiment, with each of their antecedent regiment names – the Duke of Wellington’s and the Prince of Wales’s Own – also set to be scrapped by local Army chiefs.
The sweeping cuts will see total British Army numbers reduced by a fifth to 82,000, with Labour MPs describing the move as a “huge gamble”. One pointed out the entire British Army could now fit comfortably inside the 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium.
But Mr Hammond insisted the cuts were necessary to plug the “massive black hole” in his defence budget left by Labour, and that the shake-up would create an “agile, capable force”. He said: “After inheriting a massive overspend from the last Government, we have had to make tough decisions to implement our vision of a formidable, adaptable and flexible Armed Forces.”
Mr Hammond said the Army needed to change its structure radically as it finally withdraws from Afghanistan.
His plans involve a much-increased role for the Territorial Army, which will see its numbers doubled from 15,000 to 30,000.
“After a decade of enduring operations, we needed to transform the Army and build a balanced, capable and adaptable force to face the future,” he said.
It had been widely reported that several infantry battalions would be abolished as part of the ‘‘Army 2020” programme, but previous leaks had suggested it was 3Yorks – the Duke of Wellington’s – which would face the axe.
But that battalion appears to have won a last-minute reprieve, perhaps because its soldiers are currently on a gruelling six-month tour of Afghanistan.
Chief of the General Staff General Sir Peter Wall told the Yorkshire Post the decision to axe 2Yorks was based on “force generation cycles, operations and basings” – but that poor recruitment in the region meant that one of its battalions had to go. “The Yorkshire Regiment would freely admit they have relied on recruitments from the Gurkha battalions in recent years – they have not been as well manned as we would have liked,” he said.
“They’re not alone in that, but they are one of the significantly less well-manned organisations.
“Yorkshire will still be the only county in the country with its own regiment and two battalions.”
But there was a considerable outcry in Richmond last night, with the town’s Mayor, Stuart Parsons, describing the decision as “a slap in the face” for those who have served in the unit.
“I am absolutely disgusted by the decision,” he said. “This Government cannot keep doing this to the Army. It is very short-term thinking and very naive.”
He said the initial reaction in Richmond was one of shock. “It is unclear what will happen to the Green Howards regimental quarters and the museum – we will need to look at how they function,” he said.
“There seems little doubt that there will be a negative effect on the local economy.
“I feel so sorry for the family and friends of those who have represented the Green Howards and the Yorkshire Regiment. It is a huge slap in the face to these people.”
Also facing the axe are the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment (Staffords), and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh. The 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) will be reduced to ceremonial duties in Scotland.