'Staffords' name has been saved for all time now'
CAMPAIGNERS, veterans and politicians have welcomed the news that the Staffords' name and traditions will live on.
When the Government announced in July that 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Staffords) would be disbanded as part of an Army reorganisation, there were fears that hundreds of years of history would be coming to an end.
But The Mercian Regiment is now set to change its official title to include the Staffords' name, ensuring the unit's traditions will continue.
Once the reorganisation takes place, the regiment will be known as The Mercian Regiment (Cheshires, Worcesters and Foresters, and Staffords).
This will reflect the names of the three historic infantry units which merged to form the Mercian Regiment in 2007.
Each of the regiment's three surviving battalions will also bear the Staffords' name in the same way, meaning all the regiment's soldiers will become part of the Staffords' ongoing history.
Ever since the announcement, thousands of people, including many with a personal connection to the Staffords, have joined The Sentinel's campaign to save the Staffords' name.
They have included members of the Staffordshire Regiment Association, who helped persuade more than 17,000 people to sign a petition, which veterans eventually took to 10 Downing Street.
Fred Williams, secretary of the Stoke-on-Trent branch of the Staffordshire Regiment Association, believes the result is a great victory for those who fought so hard to save the Staffords.
The 70-year-old, from Fegg Hayes, left, said: "This is a great result. It just shows what we can achieve when all the branches pull together. The Sentinel has probably played a bigger part than anyone in this, so they deserve a lot of credit.
"People across Staffordshire feel very strongly about the Staffords. Whenever we went out to supermarkets and other places to talk to people about the Staffords, everyone was always right behind us.
"While its no longer just a county regiment, as the Mercian Regiment covers a wider area, it was so important to keep the Staffords' name. It was one of the oldest regiments in the Army.
"This result means that the Staffords' name has been saved for all time now."
Veteran Ray Kimberley trained with the North Staffordshire Regiment before going on to serve with the South Staffordshire Regiment in Egypt and Cyprus.
He believes that retaining the Staffords' name will not only be of symbolic value, but will have practical implications as well.
The 78-year-old, of Macclesfield Road, Leek said: "Keeping the Staffords' name will be so important for recruitment in the area. I was just speaking to a young lad at an event at Catterick the other day. His dad and grandad had both been in the Staffords, and he was determined to follow them. It was a family tradition."
The Staffords trace their history back to March 26, 1705, when General Luke Lillingstone raised the 38th Regiment of Food at Kings Head, Lichfield during the War of the Spanish Succession.
Over the next three centuries a number of further regiments would be formed in Staffordshire, which would serve in theatres from the West Indies to Africa and Europe.
In 1959 the North Staffordshire and South Staffordshire Regiments merged to form the Staffordshire Regiment, which would be amalgamated into the Mercian Regiment in 2007.
The Staffords became a battalion within the regiment, and last year they completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Throughout this long history there has been an unbroken link between the various units and the county of Staffordshire – a connection which many feared would be lost in the latest reorganisation of the Army.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced in July that 3 Mercian, along with 16 other units, would be lost as part of plans to reduce the Regular Army by 20,000 soldiers by 2018.
Since then the Mercian Regiment has been looking at how it can maintain links with the geographic area from which it draws it recruits – work that has culminated in today's announcement.
A spokesman for the Army said: "The Army 2020 announcement outlined that The Mercian Regiment would reduce by one battalion, named as the 3rd Battalion under the impending reorganisation of the Army.
"To achieve this, The Mercian Regiment will conduct a Regimental reorganisation. This includes detailed work on wide ranging manning considerations and how best to preserve key aspects of Mercian and antecedent heritage.
"This work is underway and will result in a plan by which three regular battalions move into two. As part of this, The Mercian Regiment has considered how it can best preserve the linkages it enjoys with all the counties from which it draws, and will continue to draw, its soldiers and which provide such outstanding support."
The regiment's proposals still have to be endorsed by the Army, and will be subject to formal scrutiny in the near future.
The fate of the 650 soldiers currently serving with 3 Mercian still remains uncertain, although Mr Hammond has insisted that they will not be at any greater risk of redundancy than any other soldier in the Army.
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley has been highly critical of the approach the Government has taken in reorganising the Army.
But she has also welcomed the news that the Staffords' name and traditions will not be consigned to the history books.
She said: "This decision to retain the Staffords' name is long overdue, but it is to be welcomed, and it is a tribute to all those who have campaigned over the last few months.
"I believe that the reorganisation of the Army has been flawed. But at least now we will retain the Staffords' history and heritage."