Speculation over future of Coldstream Guards

Coldstream Guards Freedom March
Coldstream Guards Freedom March

RUMOURS that the Coldstream Guards are facing the axe as part of the current round of cuts to the armed forces have been met with a degree of scepticism in the regiment’s home town.

Some of the national papers last weekend claimed to have received information that the executive committee of the Army Board has targeted the regiment, and quoted a senior army source as saying “The feeling is that there can be no more exceptions made for older guards regiments”.

The Ministry of Defence insist that no decisions have been made, a statement reiterated by Borders MP Michael Moore, who said this week: “There is no substance to the suggestion that there are plans for the disbandment of regiments and battalions, including the Coldstream Guards.

“There are significant changes in prospect for the army, as announced by the MoD last week, and I recognise there will be speculation, but it is exactly that.”

A letter obtained by the Daily Telegraph that had been sent by head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall, to commanding officers, indicates that a further 5,000 British soldiers face losing their jobs by 2015 in addition to the 7,000 redundancies that have already announced, and this could well mean the loss of battalions and regiments.

And the latest speculation about the Coldstream Guards seems to have arisen from this, with the possibility of a protest march through London, already being considered - from Battersea Park to Parliament Square on St Georges Day next year, April 23, 2012.

Tommy Hermiston, an ex-Coldstream Guard and branch chairman of the Coldstream Guards Association is concerned, but others in the town feel the information is too speculative at the moment, althought they will be ready to fight to save the regiment, the only one named after a British town, should it prove necessary.

“I can’t believe they are wanting to axe the Coldstream Guards,” said Tommy.

“We are the most senior regiment in the British army still in existence and we can trace our history back to 1650 before we became known as the Coldstream Guards when General George Monck (our first Colonel of the Regiment) took his army to take part in the Battle of Dunbar.”

The Coldstream branch of the Coldstream Guards Association has bought a new branch standard to mark its tenth anniversary and the dedication and blessing of the standard is being held in Coldstream Parish Church on Saturday, August 6, at 2pm. Everybody is welcome along to the service conducted by Rev David J Taverner Minister of Coldstream and district.

“We are dedicating it to the town and people of Coldstream in honour of the pride and strong bond the town has with this great regiment,” said Mr Hermiston.

Links between the town and the regiment have never been stronger: when the Coldstream Guards were serving in Afghanistan, local residents sent parcels out to the troops, the flag at the town hall was lowered to half mast and a stone laid at the Coldstream Guards stone in the town’s Henderson Park etched with the name of the fallen soldier every time the Guards suffered a loss.

Last August many of the Guards who had returned from Afghanistan attended a ceremony in Coldstream where Lt Col Toby Gray, Commanding Officer of 1st Batalion Coldstream Guards described as “unique” the link between the Coldstream Guards and the town as he accepted a Book of Condolence presented to him by Martin Brims, chairman of Coldstream and District Community Council, on behalf of Coldstream.

A letter accompanying the Book of Condolence read: “The Book of Condolence signed by so many Coldstream residents is a reminder to the Coldstream Guards that the losses they have incurred and the dangers they have faced have not gone unnoticed by people in the town.

“By presenting this book to the regiment we hope that all Coldstream Guardsmen will remember that they are constantly in the thoughts of Coldstream people who hold the Coldstream Guards dear to their hearts.”

This isn’t the first time the Coldstream Guards have been in the spotlight when it comes to a Defence Review - the same rumours were around in 2004 when a Sunday paper claimed to have information that the Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Mike Jackson, was considering mering the five Guards regiments (Welsh, Irish, Scots, Grenadier and Coldstream) into one large regiment.

Should the rumours turn out to have some basis there will be many in the Borders who will echo Scottish Borders Council convener, Alasdair Hutton’s sentiments: “From a Borders point of view that would be utterly tragic given the place of Monck’s Regiment of Coldstream Guards in the restoration of the monarchy.

“This would be a savage thing to happen.

“I would definitely stand and fight that. It’s unthinkable that the regiment that played such a monumental role in the restoration of the monarchy should be under threat.

“The Coldstream Guards have played a role in some of the most important parts of British history.”

Athough unsure as to how big a threat there is to the Coldstream Guards, Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont has written to the Secretary of State stressing how strongly local people feel about the future of the regiment

“The Coldstream Guards is one of the most famous and distinguished regiments in the British Army,” said Mr Lamont.

“With battle honours won at almost every major conflict in the last 300 years, not to mention 13 Victoria Crosses, the regiment has a proud history at the forefront of the British Army. That tradition continues to this day, with the regiment serving bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

“The suggestion that the Guards could be sacrificed as part of plans to cut the size of the army is deeply worrying. Many people in Coldstream will be concerned about any proposals to disband the oldest regiment in the British Army, which enjoys a special relationship with our area.

“These reports are unconfirmed as yet and I hope that the regiment is spared from the current round of cuts when a final decision comes to be made.”