THE future of Hampshire’s Army regiment could be under threat of being axed, the Daily Echo can reveal.
Fears have been raised that The 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1PWRR) could be among a number of British infantry units facing amalgamation – or even being turned into a Territorial Army unit.
Nicknamed The Tigers, the regiment is steeped in the history of the county and is home to hundreds of soldiers from Hampshire and the south coast.
Even though they were only formed 20 years ago, from an amalgamation of The Royal Hampshire Regiment and The Queen’s Regiment, they are considered among the best of British infantry.
Their fate is expected to be revealed this week when the Government unveils details of a mammoth review into the UK military.
It is understood at least five infantry battalions will be cut and many amalgamated or turned into TA units.
The Tigers are feared to have been drawn into the firing line because they rely on up to one fifth of their strength through recruitment from foreign countries – and 1PWRR have significant numbers of Fijian and Caribbean soldiers.
It is believed that Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is suggesting that those battalions who recruit foreign troops as a proportion of their strength will be more vulnerable.
The battalion has only just returned from operational duty, having spent more than six months in Afghanistan. Just last week more than 450 Tigers were on parade at their barracks in Paderborn, Germany, receiving medals for their efforts on the front line, which saw them parted from their families over Christmas.
Thousands of people in Hampshire have taken the regiment to their hearts – many having helped raise vital funds to support the families of soldiers wounded while on the front line, by buying and proudly wearing Tigers wristbands.
In 2009, following six months on the Iraq front line, more than 15,000 people lined the streets of Southampton and several thousand more packed into Romsey to welcome the soldiers on their homecoming parades.
The full scale of the cutbacks to the British Army – described as the most significant reforms in more than 100 years – are likely to be revealed on Thursday and will see numbers reduced to 82,000, its lowest level since the Napoleonic Wars.
There is speculation that a “super regiment”
might even be formed which will include The Tigers and could be known as the East of England Regiment.
Last night a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence could not confirm any details but said an announcement was imminent.
He said: “It is all speculation at the moment. All regiments are likely to see something happen to them under the Army review.”
But the threat to The Tigers has angered local veterans and civic leaders.
John Evans, secretary of the Southampton branch of the Royal Hampshire Regiment Comrades Association, said yesterday: “I’m dead opposed to more cutbacks.”
Mr Evans, who served in the regiment from 1946 to 1948, added: “We would be losing a lot of history if the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment was amalgamated. The heritage covers regiments from Hampshire and across the south-east.”
Archie Parsons, secretary of the Southampton branch of the Royal British Legion, said 1PWRR was cemented in the history of the county.
He said: “I don’t know where all these cuts are going to end.
The current Government seems hell-bent on destroying our armed services. They want these guys to do more and more but there are less and less of them and they are being thrown on the scrap heap – that is the thanks they get.
I would hate to see the demise of The Tigers – the battalion is part of our heritage. I think it is so short-sighted and I know I speak for thousands of people in saying that.
“Wherever these regiments have links or are stationed it without doubt generates employment in the area. We cannot simply keep cutting back and cutting back.”
Royston Smith, Tory group leader on Southampton City Council who wrote to The Tigers’ commanding officer Lt Col James Coote, inviting the battalion to return to Southampton later this year, added: “I understand that savings have to be made and that sometimes means cuts – but regiments are like family, and merging regiments is something that should be avoided.
Their historic connections and past campaigns is what makes them what they are.
“If you sever that link, it is counter-productive.”