Lowland Gunners march into sunset as axe falls on Scottish battalion

Angus Robertson turned his fire on UK government. Picture: Julie Bull
Angus Robertson turned his fire on UK government. Picture: Julie Bull
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A FAREWELL parade is being planned for the Lowland Gunners, the artillery regiment that has been disbanded as part of the Ministry of Defence’s Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The Gunners – officially 40 Regiment Royal Artillery – is believed to be the first of at least three Scottish battalions to go as the Ministry of Defence seeks to cut army numbers by 20,000.

The army plans to hold a farewell march for the regiment in Edinburgh.

It is understood 40 Regiment, which was formed in 1947 and is based in Northern Ireland, will be joined by one or two of the five infantry battalions in the Royal Regiment of Scotland. It has been suggested either the Highlanders or Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – or perhaps both – could face the axe.

There is also speculation over the future of tank battalion the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the oldest serving cavalry regiment, most famous for the capture of Napoleon’s Imperial Eagle when it was the Grey’s.

Both the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the Highlanders are based in Germany, from where the army is being withdrawn over the next five years, and insiders believe that makes them both vulnerable to the cuts.

The Lowland Gunners, which has just completed a last tour of duty in Afghanistan, was disbanded as it is heavy artillery, and the government wants to move away from that.

The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, based in Canterbury in Kent, is the most junior battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and that has been the basis of decisions to impose cuts in the past.

Critics of the SNP’s push for independence have accused the party of wanting to take “Scotland out of the British military”. But the party’s Westminster leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson MP said the UK government was already removing Scotland from the army, along with the RAF, which has pulled out of two out of the three air force bases north of the Border.

He said: “The disbandment of the 40th Royal Artillery Regiment brings into focus the shocking decline of Scottish-recruited regiments and starkly exposes the extent to which the UK government are running down Scotland’s defence capabilities and centuries-old units.

“With the disbandment, only eight of 140 regular units will be Scottish-recruited and only three of those, or a measly 2 per cent, are actually based in Scotland.”

But the MoD pointed out there were plans to more than double the size of the army in Scotland, to 6,500 troops, and it dismissed talk over the future of battalions as “idle speculation”.

An army spokesman said: “A review of the future structure of the army is ongoing and no conclusions have yet been reached.

“Idle speculation on the possible outcomes of that review only serves to bring about uncertainty for serving soldiers and their families.

“The army will be restructured to an integrated regular and reserve force of 120,000 personnel by 2020. This is in line with the agreement between the Defence Secretary and the Chief of the General Staff for a gradual move towards the new army structure so operations are not adversely affected by necessary changes.”

Proud regiment saw action on three continents during its 65-year history

The Lowland Gunners, or 40 Regiment Royal Artillery, was raised in 1947 as part of an overall reorganisation of the Royal Artillery after the Second World War, at a time when the army was downsizing to a figure of more than 200,000. Now it has in effect been disbanded as the army’s numbers drop to about 80,000.

The regiment saw its first major action in the infamous Suez Crisis of 1956, which saw the then Tory prime minister Anthony Eden forced to resign because of his failed efforts to get rid of the Egyptian leader Colonel Nasser.

Its next major action was the Borneo Crisis of the mid-1960s, when it helped defeat the Indonesian Infiltration.

In 1990, it took part in the first Gulf War and was involved in tours of duty in the former Yugoslavia, in both Bosnia and Kosovo, as it descended into war.

The battalion’s final tour of duty was Afghanistan and it has recently had a homecoming parade in Northern Ireland, where it is currently based.

It has always specialised in heavy guns and was originally created with the Yorkshire 60th West Riding Regiment at its core. But its recruitment base has long been Scotland, and it was one of two artillery battalions, along with the Highland Gunners, among nine battalions overall that were raised north of the Border.

It became the first Royal Artillery regiment to have its own pipe and drums band, which was based in Edinburgh where it had an instructor.