Hundreds join fight to save Staffords

The Sentinel, July 10, 2012

The Sentinel, July 10, 2012

ARMY supporters from Texas to Ireland and across the UK are backing a campaign to save the Staffords’ name.

More than 500 people have so far signed The Sentinel’s Save Our Staffords petition, which calls for the 300-year link between Staffordshire and the Army to be continued.

The Government announced last week that The 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Staffords) would be withdrawn from the Army’s Order of Battle as part of a raft of defence cuts.

Barry Hill, whose father Harry Hill served with the South Staffordshire Regiment during the Second World War, has signed the petition.

Harry, who died in 2000, was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery at the Battle of Caen in France in 1944.

Because of this, Harry’s family has always felt a strong connection to the Staffords, and his son is “disgusted” that the unit will soon be no more.

Barry, aged 71, of Pemberton Drive, Meir Heath, said: “My dad was fighting at Caen when he came under very heavy fire. I think most of his platoon were killed, and he was hit in the head with shrapnel. He was going to be taken back to the medical station but he refused to go. He carried on fighting until he was exhausted.

“Dad was very proud of his service with the South Staffords, and I think it’s absolutely disgusting what they’re doing to 3 Mercian now. But it’s not just about the Staffords. They’re making far too many cuts to the Army.”

The Staffords marched through Leek town centre in 2009.

Andrew Stevenson also has family connections to the Staffords.

His father Graham served for 26 years with what was then the Staffordshire Regiment.

Andrew was born in Kenya in 1964, where the regiment was serving at the time, and for the next 15 years he would follow his father around the world, with subsequent postings in Berlin, Osnabruck and various bases in England.

Andrew sees the Staffords’ as his extended family, and was shocked to hear they would be withdrawn.

The 48-year-old, of Wain Drive, Trent Vale, said: “My dad died a few years ago but he would be absolutely horrified at what the Government are doing. He was so proud of being part of his county regiment.

“The Government are just eroding the history and identity of our armed forces, undermining our defence capability and destroying the morale of our brave soldiers.”

His mother Anne Stevenson, aged 69, also of Wain Drive, said: “I think it’s disgusting. The Staffords are part of our family. And once you made a friend in the Army, they were a friend for life.”

Support for the campaign has not been limited to residents of Staffordshire, or even the UK, with Tony Boulton, of Grapevine, Texas, among those to sign the petition.

Mr Boulton wrote: “My grandfather served in the North Staffordshire Regiment in the First World War. I still remember him telling me how they marched through Mesopotamia. It was there, he used to say, that he ‘met his Waterloo’. He was injured and lost his left arm at the age of 19.

“That special tie between the people of Staffordshire and the regiments of soldiers who have served over the last 300 years should not be broken.”

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End of the Staffords ‘an insult to those who died’

The Sentinel, July 9, 2012

The Sentinel, July 9, 2012

 PRIVATE William Shaw died while serving with the North Staffordshire Regiment during the First World War.

His niece has now joined the increasing chorus of voices calling for the Staffords’ historic name and identity to be saved.

Trixie Bennett says she was ‘disgusted’ when she heard the Government was scrapping The 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Staffords), as part of plans to reduce the Army by 20,000 soldiers.

She believes the Staffords’ name should be retained to honour the memory of her uncle William and all others who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving with the unit.

Trixie, aged 76, of Brownley Road, Smallthorne, said: “When I read in The Sentinel that they were going to disband the Staffords, I was so mad.

“They’ve been going for more than 300 years and now this Government decides that they’re going to get rid of them.

“How many other units in the Army have been around for as long as the Staffords?

“It seems that Staffordshire is always being pushed to one side and this is the final straw. To think of all those men and women who have served, and those who have died, and now the Government is doing this – it’s disgusting.”

Trixie Bennett

Trixie Bennett

William was just 18 when he died, along with 50,000 other British soldiers, at the Battle of Loos in France in the autumn of 1915.

Like many teenagers, he had signed up at the start of the war and was serving with 1st/5th Battalion of the North Staffords when he died.

Trixie was born two decades after William’s death and did not know much about him when she was growing up.

But in recent years, the internet has allowed her to learn more about her uncle, his service with the Staffords, and his sacrifice.

Trixie added: “A friend was able to look up William on a list of all the soldiers who died in the war, and I’ve found out he was 18 when he was killed on October 13, 1915. “He must have been around 16 and a half when he signed up with the Army.

“My uncle’s parents both died some years before the war and so him and his brother were raised by my mother, Selena. William and his brother Ernest both joined up with the North Staffordshire Regiment at the start of the war.

“I think Loos was the only battle William took part in. Ernest survived the war and won a medal while serving at Baghdad. I remember seeing a picture of William in his uniform. It must have been taken at the start of the war. I thought he looked very handsome.

“His name was on a memorial at Moorland Road School. I wanted to take some flowers there once but sadly, it had disappeared.

“With the Staffords going now, it seems we’re losing even more of our history.”

The Staffords are set to be withdrawn from the Army’s Order of Battle in October 2014 – exactly 99 years after William’s death.

The Government, which is cutting 17 Army units in total, says the changes are needed in order to modernise the service and save money.

Doug Green, chairman of the Friends of Tunstall War Memorial Committee, said: “I think it’s disgusting. It should never happen. What about all those people who lost their lives?

“In my view, the people who have decided to get rid of the Staffords are traitors to their own country.”

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‘We’re enormously and rightly proud of where we come from’

Three hundred years of loyal service are set to come to an end with the withdrawal of the Staffords from the Army’s Order of Battle. The Sentinel is backing a campaign for the battalion’s name, and what it stands for, to be continued. Phil Corrigan reports

POLITICIANS, former soldiers and families are today calling for the Staffords’ name and traditions to be saved.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told MPs yesterday that the Staffords would be withdrawn from the Army’s Order of Battle along with 16 other units.

The changes are part of plans to reduce the Regular Army by 20,000 soldiers by 2018.

Mr Hammond insisted that the 650 soldiers of The 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Staffords) were at no greater risk of redundancy than any other soldier in the Army.

But Staffordshire’s MPs were furious that the Staffords’ 300 years of history would be coming to an end.

They told Mr Hammond that his decision to withdraw 3 Mercian would be a major blow to Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, and demanded to know how the decision had been reached.

Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley said: “The Secretary of State should know that this announcement to withdraw 3 Mercian will be met with anger and dismay in Stoke-on-Trent. Considering what he has said about the importance of units’ affiliation with their local counties, how could he have arrived at this decision?”

Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt said: “There is real anger in Stoke-on-Trent, which is a key recruiting area for 3 Mercian. How can the Secretary of State allow a battalion, which has gained such expertise in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be removed from the Order of Battle.”

Following the Staffords’ planned second tour in Afghanistan in 2014, the battalion will absorbed into the rest of The Mercian Regiment.

The regiment’s 1st Battalion, formerly the Cheshire Regiment, will be retained, but the Queen’s Royal Lancers, which recruits heavily in North Staffordshire, will be merged with 9th/12th Royal Lancers.

Whether individual soldiers will be made redundant will depend on their experience and skills, rather than their current unit.

Mr Hammond said the changes were needed in order to modernise the Army and fill a ‘£38 billion black hole’ he claimed the previous Labour administration had left at the MoD. He explained that in identifying the units to be cut, the Army had considered their recruitment rates over the last 10 years, as well as projected birth rates in their recruitment areas.

The idea of keeping battalions such as 3 Mercian but reducing their size was dismissed as being inefficient.

Mr Hammond said: “I can understand the dismay felt, particularly by former members of the units being withdrawn, many of which have proud histories.

“But the Army needs to be a forward-looking, modern fighting machine. We should respect the past but look resolutely to the future, with the principle focus being on those soldiers who are currently serving.”

With the number of full-time soldiers being reduced to 82,000, there will be a much greater emphasis on the Territorial Army, which will be increased to 30,000 and become more integrated with the regulars.

The Army will be split into a reaction force, made up mostly of full-time soldiers and capable of deploying up to a brigade at short notice, and an adaptable force, made up of Regular and Territorial Army soldiers, to provide support for enduring operations.

Speaking after the Commons debate, Ms Walley said the Staffords, and other English units, had been sacrificed in order to save Scottish units, for political reasons.

She said: “This is not the strategic review that we needed. It’s very clear that the Secretary of Defence was hiding behind the chiefs of staff.

“Maybe if Staffordshire was going to hold a referendum on independence, we would have seen the Staffords saved along with all the Scottish battalions.”

 A Warrior amoured fighting vehicle on patrol with B Company, 3 MERCIAN in Helmand, Afghanistan

A Warrior amoured fighting vehicle on patrol with B Company, 3 MERCIAN in Helmand, Afghanistan

The Staffordshire Regiment, which traces its history back to 1705, was merged with the Cheshire and Worcester and Sherwood Foresters Regiments within the newly formed Mercian Regiment in 2007.

Any decision on how the Staffords’ name, history and traditions can be continued will be in the hands of the regiment. Some elements of the Staffords’ traditions, such as the Staffordshire Knot, were incorporated into the Mercians’ uniform following amalgamation.

Major General Andrew Sharpe, Colonel of the Mercian Regiment, has written to all the soldiers under his command, saying how the regiment would cope with the withdrawal of the Staffords.

He said: “We have taken huge strides as a regiment since 2007, and that fact makes this new set of circumstances more difficult to absorb. I can think of no other regiment that has so robustly and professionally, yet quietly and without fuss, carved such an outstanding operational reputation as The Mercian Regiment.

“We are enormously and rightly proud of where we come from. This must not, and will not, change. We will still recruit our soldiers from the counties of Mercia and our relationship with the people of Mercia remains a crucial part of our DNA.

“We fight for each other, and we fight for them. But our fighting ethos also depends upon a sense of identity that is based upon, and drawn from, over 300 years of service to the Crown.

We must preserve every strand of golden thread of that heritage as we absorb this new change.”


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Father of soldier killed in action calls for regiment’s name to live on

THE father of the last 3 Mercian soldier to be killed in action has led calls for the Staffords’ name to be saved.
Private Gareth Bellingham, aged 22, was shot by insurgents in Helmand Province last June, during his first active deployment with the battalion.
The Sentinel revealed on Thursday that the Staffords are to be disbanded along with 16 other units as part of plans to reduce the number of soldiers in the Army by 20,000 by 2018.
Pte Bellingham’s father Les Bellingham believes that saving the Staffords’ name will help keep the memory of his son’s sacrifice alive.
Les, aged 51, from Clayton, said: “I think it’s terrible that the Staffords are being withdrawn. Staffordshire has a long history of providing good soldiers to serve queen and country, and to think that the Staffords will be no longer is disgusting.
“The Army has told us that Gareth will never be forgotten, and obviously we will never forget him, but if the Staffords aren’t around any more, who will keep his memory alive?
“Gareth was immensely proud of being in the Staffords. He told me that he’d chosen to join the Mercian Regiment because that’s where the Staffords went after the amalgamation.
“If there is any way of keeping the Staffords’ name they should do it, even if it means attaching it to another unit.”

Private Gareth Bellingham
A campaign has been launched to save the battalion’s name and its 300-year history.
Members of Stoke-on-Trent City Council have voted in favour of raising the issue with the Ministry of Defence.
Council leader Mohammed Pervez said: “We’re deeply saddened to hear the announcement that Third Battalion, The Mercian Regiment (Staffords) is to be disbanded.
“The armed forces not only play a vital role defending this country and ensuring we are kept safe but also provide skilled employment for large numbers of people in the area.
“As outlined in our Mandate for Change, we want Stoke-on-Trent to be a great place to live and work so ensuring roles remain in our armed forces is of paramount importance.”
Staffordshire’s MPs have also vowed to work together to fight for the name to be saved.
Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt said: “Having a badge worth fighting for and being part of something historic makes a difference in terms of potentially giving your life to something.
“We have to convince everyone the Staffords have to be kept.”
The Staffords are due to be deployed on a second tour of Afghanistan in 2014.
After that, the battalion is set to be absorbed into the rest of The Mercian Regiment. The 1st Battallion, formerly the Cheshire Regiment, is being retained.
Mr Hunt has suggested the Staffords’ name should be included in the 1st Battalion. Any decision on how the Staffords’ name, history and traditions can be continued will be in the hands of the regiment.

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Sign the petition to Save Our Staffords!

After 300 years the British Army’s links with the county of Staffordshire are to be severed as part of Ministry of Defence cutbacks.

The 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, or Staffords as most people know them, will be withdrawn from the Order of Battle by October 2014.
The Staffordshire Regiment traces its roots to the formation of a Regiment of Foot at Lichfield in 1705 and is unique among infantry regiments because of its continuous identity with a single county.

The Staffords’ motto is: Stand Firm, Strike Hard.

Over thirty decades its soldiers saw service in the West Indies, took part in battles against Napoleon’s armies in Flanders and Spain, did police duties in England and Ireland, played their role in Queen Victoria’s conflicts across the globe, were at all the major battles of both World Wars, and have helped to keep the peace and defend our country ever since – most recently with tours of duty to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Sentinel newspaper believes it is vital that we preserve this piece of our heritage and asks you to sign this petition to help keep the Staffords name alive within the British Army.

Join us for their last stand…


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Staffords scrapped in Government defence cuts

By Richard Ault

The Sentinel. July 5, 2012

The Sentinel. July 5, 2012

THE Staffords are to be scrapped by the Government, The Sentinel can reveal.

The demise of the Third Battalion, The Mercian Regiment (Staffords) was due to be confirmed in Parliament this afternoon.

It is one of five infantry battalions to be disbanded by the British Army by 2016.

Now senior Army officials are waiting to find out the exact fate of the Staffords.

It was not known last night whether they would be removed completely from the British Army’s Order of Battle, or be merged with another battalion.

Ruth Chambers, aged 24, of Uttoxeter, whose 33-year-old husband, Corporal Simon Chambers, is currently with the Staffords at their Germany base, said: “We don’t know if this means my husband will be out of a job. We are hoping the regiment can be merged.

“It’s a shame it will be the end of the Staffords because it means there will be no regiment linked to this area.”

Steve Sturge served with the Staffords between 1971 and 1985 and has set up two campaigns to try to save the battalion.

The 57-year-old, of Weston Coyney, said: “I’m gutted and everyone else will be too.

“The campaign won’t stop. It is not fair on all those soldiers who gave their lives fighting in wars.

“I can’t see how they could merge the Staffords with another regiment.

“So, I think they will be made redundant. It is a cost-cutting exercise. They are expecting younger soldiers to go before getting a pension.”

The Staffords can trace their history back to 1705.

The Mercian Regiment was formed in September 2007 following a merger with the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment and The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment.

The Staffords only returned from their first tour of Afghanistan last autumn.

Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello said: “When the Staffords were merged into the new regiment, it was very much on the basis that all the historical honour that the regiment had would be retained.

“I have been to Iraq and to Afghanistan to meet the Staffords and their bravery can’t be put into words.”

Newcastle MP Paul Farrelly said: “Within moments of this news, I had a constituent telephoning me to express his outrage. The British Army has a long and proud tradition which includes the Staffords.”

The Army is reducing its troop numbers from more than 100,000 to 82,000 by 2020.

The other affected infantry battalions are 5 Scots – The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, one battalion of The Yorkshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh Regiment.

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More Armed Forces cuts will put Britain’s security at risk

Sentinel columist Martin Tideswell writes of his fears over cuts to the Armed Forces. Published in The Sentinel on June 12, 2012.

The Sentinel, June 12, 2012

The Sentinel, June 12, 2012

The injuries suffered by Staffordshire Moorlands soldier Anthony Lownds are a grim reminder that, on a daily basis, somewhere in a foreign field there is generally a British serviceman or woman risking life and limb for Queen and country.
The 24-year-old Grenadier Guard was caught in the blast of an improvised explosive device (IED) planted by the Taliban. He is currently receiving treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and has so far had four operations for injuries to his right hand and legs. 
My thoughts are with Anthony and his family and friends and I wish him a speedy recovery.
While most of us have been enjoying the patriotic fervour generated by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and, to a lesser extent, the Olympic Torch Relay, Anthony and his comrades have been unable to relax and join in the celebrations.
 As we settle down to watch England’s exploits in Euro 2012, spare a thought for the almost 10,000 members of the British Armed Forces who are demonstrating incredible bravery and commitment day-in, day-out in Afghanistan.
To date, since 2001, 417 British personnel have been killed in operations in the place they called the ‘Graveyard of Empires’. It is a total that, heart-breakingly, is as sure to rise as the sun over that troubled land.
There are, of course, some who would argue that we should never have sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place – in the same way that we should have kept our noses out of Iraq’s business. But Britain’s Services personnel don’t have that luxury and always deploy and do their duty, regardless of any personal misgivings they may have, which is what makes them such remarkable people.
That is exactly what they are doing right now in Afghanistan and we should be immensely proud of their efforts in the most difficult of circumstances. But I wonder how Anthony Lownds and his mates felt when they learned a few days ago of more proposed cutbacks to the regular Army?
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond spoke of ‘difficult decisions’ ahead as the standing Army is reduced from 102,000 personnel to just 82,000. If you know your military history then you will know that this is significant because an Army used to be defined as being 100,000 strong. Anything less than that figure wasn’t considered an Army.
While the regimental system will not be abolished, Mr Hammond said it was inevitable that some units would be lost or forced to merge.
If the national papers are to believed, one of those units could be our own 3 Mercian – or the Staffordshire Regiment in old money – along with such prestigious names as The Coldstream Guards.
I have to say that, for me, enough really is enough. For years now I have watched Defence Secretaries slash and burn as they have wittered on about making our Armed Forces more ‘mobile’ and ‘adaptable’. Always the end result is the same: Fewer boots on the ground; Less hardware; More reliance on reservists or other nations; And, ultimately, less ability to react to crises around the world.
Britannia once ruled the waves. Now we will have to hope we don’t need an aircraft carrier until 2020. The RAF was once the only thing preventing the whole of Europe from falling under Nazi occupation. But in Afghanistan it was a chronic shortage of helicopters which actually added to the number of UK casualties. I could go on.
The bottom line is that penny-pinching at the MoD over the last two decades, at the behest of various administrations, has significantly undermined the ability of the UK’s Armed Forces to do its job. This has happened at a time when the actual number of global conflicts involving British Services personnel has risen. Where is the logic in that?
Whatever we think of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, there is no denying the world is becoming a more dangerous place – with revolutions and the rise of extremism fanning the flames of conflict.
Add to this the ever-increasing economic uncertainty and inevitable shortage of natural resources such as fuel, food and water in the coming years, and you have a recipe for decades of instability. So what does Whitehall do? Continue to reduce the number of Army, Navy and RAF personnel. This is madness.
I believe caution should be the watch-word with regard to the future of our military. We only have to look to history for guidance. Infantry battalions that were mothballed after the end of the Cold War had to be reconstituted for service in Northern Ireland.
Having scrapped Harrier Jump Jets and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal we realised both would actually have been quite handy for the Libyan crisis. Yes, times are tough and each Government department has to make savings and each will plead it deserves protection. But the MoD really is a special case involving tens of thousands of special people who do a very special and specialised job.
The UK’s Armed Forces personnel are our ‘go-to’ guys and gals at home and overseas for everything from industrial unrest and disaster relief to frontline warfare and their importance simply cannot be over-stated.
I firmly believe that for Britain to remain safe and secure and for our country to retain its position as an effective, relevant and respected player on the global stage then we must stop tinkering with our Armed Forces right now.

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