ONE of the UK’s top generals says the Scottish infantry will face a number of unprecedented challenges in the future, but with recruitment figures rising, he believes the Royal Regiment of Scotland is in good health as it looks to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its founding.
The so-called “super-regiment” was born in 2006 after Army top brass ordered a merger of the six regular Scottish infantry regiments to become battalions within the new Royal Regiment of Scotland.
As part of that process a single battalion was created from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots and christened the Royal Scots Borderers, which became the new regiment’s 1st Battalion or 1 SCOTS.
It was not an easy birth with widespread protests throughout Scotland at the abolition of the independent Scottish regiments.
But speaking to a select gathering, including former officers of the KOSB, Lieutenant General Andrew Graham, colonel of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and current director of the Defence Academy at Shrivenham, said he was confident the regiment had a tremendous future if everyone worked together.
A former commanding officer of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the general was at the TA Centre in Galashiels on Tuesday as part of a Scotland-wide tour to inform and update interested parties on the Royal Regiment’s first five years.
He also provided an insight into possible outcomes and implications of the Ministry of Defence’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, with specific regard to the seven Scottish infantry battalions (which include two TA battalions), the antecedent regimental home headquarters and army museums.
“The Royal Regiment of Scotland was born on March 28, 2006. That was a sad and difficult period, but we are moving forward,” he told Tuesday’s gathering.
“I do not command a single soldier in the regiment but I do influence what they do. They are mostly young men, but they have over 2,500 years of martial tradition on their shoulders and they take that responsibility seriously.
“Five years ago we were ordered to amalgamate. It was just that – an order – and we had to do as best as we could.
“But the quality of infantrymen in the regiment is unsurpassed.”
The general recounted that since its inception, the regiment had lost 16 soldiers killed, plus five who suffered life-changing injuries and 67 wounded badly enough to be airlifted to hospital and returned to UK for treatment. Some were also killed and wounded during training.
Three years ago, he said recruiting numbers coming into the regiment were in a trough. Scotland, he highlighted, provides 11 per cent of the army’s soldiers from eight per cent of the UK population and that those figures were now holding up.
“Between 36 and 45 per cent of the Scottish infantry comes from the Argylls and Borderers and we are on track to be fully manned by April. We had a bit of a dip in 2004 and 2005, which was probably due to changes with the Scottish regiments and the Iraq conflict, which was an unpopular war with the public.
“But the numbers have come back again.”
Speaking to TheSouthern afterwards, Lt Gen Graham said he did not have the “gospel” when it came to answers about what the future held for the regiment.
“But a lot of change is afoot in a number of key areas, including regimental headquarters, museums and home bases.
There are the implications of the Strategic Defence Review and the withdrawal from Afghanistan. There is to be no change to the size of the Army apart from the reduction by 7,000 by 2015. Then there would be another fresh look, this time to 2020.
“Then there is the move out of Germany which will release one of our battalions,” Lt Gen Graham said. “There are lots of moving parts to all of this. We don’t know, clearly, what the conclusions of all this will be but as a regiment and as a community we need to be alert to the fact these things are happening.
“We need to be prepared to give our opinion on matters we, in a sense, are well placed to give an opinion on. We need to be clever and collaborative in how we come to conclusions that work.”
On the plus side, the general said that, after five years, the regiment was manned by a high quality of soldiers doing a really good job, very well led and enjoying their soldiering.
“The Jock, as usual, is proving his flexibility, adapatability, competence and military skills and will continue to do that because that is what we are paid for,” he said.
“These others things are things we must deal with and handle while continuing to provide what the country needs. There were very useful questions from the floor, demonstrating Borders interest in the army and also worries about our footprint here being lost and, once lost, never regained.
“Regimentally, we are determined not to lose our links, regionally and locally. The antecedent regiments are absolutely crucial.”
Asked if he felt frustrated that the issue of the mergers still had not died away, Lt General Graham said: “I absolutely respect everybody’s view.
“But as Winston Churchill said, if the past and present spend all their time fighting each other, you forget about the future.
“I try to encourage people to deal with the situation you are in rather than the one you wish you were in.”