They've been in Canterbury for nine years and were granted Freedom of the City twice but today, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders learned they're being cut back and moved on. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced the following to Parliament at lunchtime today:
"In order to raise the profile of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and of the army in Scotland, a public duties company will be created, returning sentries to Edinburgh Castle and the palace of Holyrood House on a permanent basis for the first time in years. Accordingly the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland will be re-rolled as a public duties company."
In May last year, the Argylls returned from Helmand in Afghanistan. They'd provided security for the locals as well as training the Afghan National Army and Police. Two soldiers were killed in the mission. The soldiers also saw service in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. But history is repeating for the battalion.
In 1970, the then-Labour Government threatened to disband it entirely but a million-signature petition saw the troops retained albeit as a company of men only. And they reformed fully in 1972. Until today's announcement, it had been feared that disbanding was on the agenda again so in effect the Highlanders have had a reprieve albeit of a limited sort.
But the Battalion has been slashed to about a sixth of its number, and will now perform only ceremonial duties, in Scotland - a decision derided by the Opposition Shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy:
"The Argylls have been reduced to guarding castles and being the backdrop to Japanese tourist's photographs."
Other units such as the Gurkhas in Folkestone, and 3-6 Engineers at Maidstone, have not been cut today. The Government says it wants a bigger role for the Territorial Army; some consolation for forces in Kent. Lieutenant Colonel Geoff Minton, of 3rd Battalion Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, says:
"In the eighties and nineties the TA kind of lost their way a bit whereas now which is a great opportunity for us to be given a specific role in terms of providing military capability and military capacity."
The Government says the changes make the Army affordable and sustainable; critics disagree; only conflict will prove who's right.
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