Tuesday, 8 May 2012

What's in a name?

There have been rumours in the newspapers over the past few weeks that one of the battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland is to be disbanded. It may be 5 SCOTS or it may be 4 SCOTS. That is it might be the 4th (Highlanders) Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland, or 5th (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland. It is only to be expected.

Never mind excuses about austerity measures or the number of Fijians that fill the ranks; since the RRS was formed in 2006 it was only a matter of time until it would follow the practice of every large regiment formed since the 1960s and merge or disband one or more of its battalions just a few years after formation. To expedite this the MoD are probably going to remove the titles in brackets from the five battalions. This also follows the practice adopted in large regiments in England over the last forty-or-so years.

They have already removed uniform distinctions in the Royal Regiment of Scotland apart from the different coloured hackles; there are no Lowland regiments in the British Army only one Highland regiment. Apart from the historic names there is not much to distinguish the battalions. By removing even that distinction it will make it easier to remove one or more of the battalions. 

Scotland is relatively new to the large regiment. The Scottish Division was probably lucky there wasn't a Royal Regiment of Scotland in the late 1960s or at the very least a Lowland Regiment and Highland Regiment. Rumours say the Queen Mother had a hand in saving them to preserve the Black Watch but it was probably the operational needs in Northern Ireland in the 1970s which saved them. In England they were not so lucky and have been used to the large regiments for nearly fifty years.

The Queen's Regiment was formed in 1966 from four regiments from the South-East of England into a four battalion regiment. Two of those regiments had been only just been merged from four regiments in the preceding seven years so it was the inheritor of six famous regiments which had fought through the two World Wars. In 1968 the historic titles were dropped completely and in 1973 the 4th battalion was disbanded with every other 'junior' battalion of the large regiments.

Options for Change in the early 1990's under the last Conservative Government (which saw the merging of the Queen's Own Highlanders and Gordon Highlanders and nearly the end of the KOSB's) also saw the merging of the three battalion Queen's Regiment with the one battalion Royal Hampshire Regiment into the smaller two battalion Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (Queen's and Royal Hampshires). It has inherited the battle honours of twelve pre-1881 regiments and a staggering 57 VC's.

1968 saw the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers, Royal Fusiliers and Lancashire Fusiliers merge into the four battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. It is now down to two battalions, neither retaining any titles reflecting their predecessors.

Another regiment formed four battalions from four regiments in 1964 and is now down to two battalions. It has retained its local affiliations though and each of the eight companies across the two current battalions of the Royal Anglian Regiment reflects an old regimental title.

I think it is unlikely that the Royal Regiment of Scotland will ever merge with an English regiment but how long will it be before the Royal Regiment of Scotland is reduced in size again? How long before it is reduced down to a two battalion regiment like other large regiments; one recruiting in the old highland regiment recruiting areas perhaps and another in the Lowlands.

Would they follow the Royal Anglians and name companies after old regiments to retain and encourage local affiliations? Would that see a return to old names like the Seaforth Highlanders, Royal Scots Fusiliers or even the disbanded Cameronians? Probably not but without the old names and affiliations removed who would really care if 3 SCOTS or 4 SCOTS follow 5 SCOTS into history?

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