Stoke & Staffordshire

Campaign to save the Staffords name in Army re-organisation.

Staffords final march
Image caption Soldiers marched under the Staffordshire Regiment banner for the final time in Stoke-on-Trent in 2007.

For more than 300 years soldiers from Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent have fought on many fronts including both world wars, and recent tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the name of the former Staffordshire Regiment, now known as the 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Staffords), is to disappear as part of a re-organisation of the army.

By the year 2020 the number of troops will be reduced by a fifth from 102,000 to 82,000 with a total of 17 major units to be abolished.

"I think it's disgusting," said Les Bellingham, 50, from Newcastle-Under-Lyme.

His son Gareth was a private in the Staffords and died from a single gunshot wound through the neck in June 2011, while on patrol in Helmand Province.

"They're scrapping 300 years of history and that's something you can't just wrap up in mothballs and leave."

His stepmother Kim Bellingham said: "One of the reasons Gareth joined was to be a Stafford and to wear his uniform and his badge with great pride.

"He even had the Staffordshire knot tattooed on his arm and you'll find that a lot of the other lads in the regiment have got the same tattoo.

"They're proud of their regiment and proud of the heritage and they'd give up their lives for it which sadly Gareth did."

The Staffordshire regiment was formed in 1959 when The South Staffordshire Regiment and The North Staffordshire Regiment (Prince of Wales') were merged.

But the history of the Staffords can be traced back to the Kings Head pub in Lichfield in 1705 when a regiment known as the 38th Foot (1st Staffordshire Regiment) was formed by Colonel Luke Lillingston.

'Struggle to recruit'

Dave Lovell is a former soldier in the Staffords and is now the chair of the Staffordshire Regimental Association, which has started an online petition to save the Staffords name.

He said: "If a young man from Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent wanted to join the Army he's either followed family into the regiment or asked to become a Stafford so the county's tradition of 300 years is being dramatically let down.

"We're going to fight to ensure the name of the Staffords is kept going, and the Army continues to carry the Staffordshire knot."

In making the announcement on Thursday, the defence secretary Philip Hammond told MPs the changes were needed to modernise the army and fill a "£38 billion black hole", that he claimed the previous Labour government had left in the MoD budget.

Mr Hammond insisted that none of the 650 soldiers in the regiment were under greater risk of redundancy than other soldiers in the Army, but Dave Lovell said that the army would "struggle to recruit in this area" in the future.

Image caption An internet petition has been launched to save the Stafford's name

"If soldiers go to sign up and they're told there's no Staffordshire regiment there's no way I can see young people who want to go into the forces from this area becoming a Cheshire or a Worcester and Sherwood Forester."

With the number of full time soldiers being cut there will be a greater emphasis on the Territorial Army which the government said would be doubled from 15,000 to 30,000 and become more integrated with regular troops.

Captain of the North Staffordshire TA, Eric Teague-Hellon said: "TA members currently have to do 27 days per year including training each week, but the regular army is 24/7 living and breathing it.

"At the moment it doesn't add up. It may work in the future but with training and deployment at the moment there's no way we can make up the difference and match our regular army counterparts."

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