Tom Peterkin: An illustrious history stumbles to an end, but the troops of 5 Scots will take it on the chin as usual
TOWARDS the end of 2010 the men of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 Scots) were locked in a gunfight against the Taleban.
While inspecting some improvised explosive devices, they were ambushed just outside their Shawqat forward operating base in Nadi Ali South, Helmand Province.
For 12 hours they withstood machine-gun fire from the enemy, ushered by-standing Afghan families back into their houses to avoid the bullets, which were peppering compound walls.
That 2010-11 tour to Afghanistan was yet another chapter in the illustrious history of a famous fighting force. Yet, after yesterday’s defence announcement, it is now almost certain (barring the outbreak of a Third World War) that the Argylls will never again go on an operational tour as a distinctive unit.
By its final Afghanistan tour last year, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had already been downgraded from a full regiment to a battalion within the Royal Regiment of Scotland and soldiers simply referred to themselves as 5 Scots.
Despite this erosion of regimental history caused by Labour’s 2006 defence cuts, the soldiers still took pride in their roots. Many had fathers or grandfathers who had served with the regiment and the word Aden was written on one of their armoured cars.
This was a reference to the 1967 Aden Emergency when the Argylls under Lieutenant Colonel Colin Mitchell re-occupied Crater and brought order to a town that had been the centre of terrorist unrest as British rule over the colony came to an end.
The exploits of “Mad Mitch” catapulted his regiment into the public eye at a time when the Argylls were threatened with disbandment.
It is a sign of the times that the Save The Argylls campaign of the late 1960s received worldwide support and eventually a petition with more than one million signatures was sent to the then UK government.
Four or so decades later, the outcry over this latest round of cuts has been far more muted with the notable exception of the politicians. Yesterday’s political compromise has made The Thin Red Line that withstood the Russian Calvary at Balaclava in Crimea in October 1854 look positively emaciated.
But at least it keeps the Argylls’ name alive and is designed to silence some of the opportunistic attacks from Labour and the Scottish National Party.
That sort of politicking is not something that a serving soldier can comment on. But there did appear to be a rueful note in the voice of the GOC Scotland, Major General Nick Eeles, yesterday when he said: “I think that maybe the issue of cap badges has been made more emotive in the lead-up to the announcement today than it needed to be.”
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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