So today I'm just going to ramble about something that I thought of last night as I was trying to get off to sleep (which probably explains why I had trouble getting off to sleep). For that reason alone you shouldn't expect the following to be a particularly coherent or well thought out article. It's going to be much more like the kind of post I originally intended for this blog, somewhere that I could write down some of the more spurious ideas that I sometimes come up with, which are then laid open for critical evaluation by others. So let's get to it.I was thinking about reserves, cadets and cap badges, which on reflection probably would have been a more catchy title for this post. See one of the things I take a side interest in is geography. Not in the sense of what they teach in schools, learning about layers of dirt and types of rivers etc. I mean in the sense of pouring over google maps looking at the layout of countries etc, and musing on the effect geography has on various aspects of our lives.
It's quite interesting. Honest.
One example to help explain what I mean is if you look at Afghanistan. Just go and have a look at Helmand province on google maps (satellite) at some point. Doing so gives you an idea of just how densely populated some of the areas of that province are and it gives you a perfect visual illustration of just why it has been such a challenge for ISAF forces to operate in that environment and bring security. The shear number of buildings and compounds you can see, compared to the number of soldiers deployed at various times, explains a hell of a lot.
But back to the UK and back to my inane ramblings. Because two things that came up as a result of the last Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) were the potential loss of cap badges among the ground forces as the size of the regular army was reduced, and the increasing role that the reserves were expected to take going forward.
Here is where geography comes back into play. One of the issues raised around which cap badges would survive (in the end they all did, at least among the infantry) was their performance in recruiting. When you sit back and take a look at the UK one thing you notice is that the modern make up of society varies greatly compared to when the county regiment system was first set up.
Back when it was first devised and the numbered regiments were assigned to various geographic areas there was a ready supply of candidates, as things like job seekers allowance didn't exist back then. There was always a pool of manpower that could be drawn from any region, including those who were out of work, disenfranchised young individuals, and those who were offered service as an escape from alternative criminal punishment.
The population spread of the day was also much wider. Even as the demands and opportunities of industry drew people towards cities, there was still a significant amount of people as a percentage of the total population living in rural areas. Combined with the supplementary effect of regiments still being permitted to recruit from large urban areas, each county regiment had far fewer problems with finding enough suitable recruits (although manning still didn't match the on paper establishments).
Looking at the UK today, things have changed. Society has various fall back programs for those who fall on hard times. The range of exciting career opportunities for young people is much more diverse. And significantly, a large proportion of the UK population lives in a much denser layout than before.
London and some of its bordering towns for example are home to well over 10% of the entire UK population. In the north, there is a belt (The Northern Belt perhaps?) of cities and towns that runs from Liverpool and Blackpool in the west, to Grimsby and Hull in the East. This includes some significant population centres (aside from those previously named) like Blackburn, Warrington, Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale, Stockport, Burnley, Huddersfield, Bradford, Leeds, York, Wakefield, Rotherham, Sheffield, Doncaster and Scunthorpe. Together they combine to almost match the greater London area for population, again more than 10% of the UK population along one band of the country about 100 miles wide.
Heading further north we come across a region, stretching from Darlington and Middlesborough in the south, taking in Stockon-on Tees, Redcar, Hartlepool, Durham, Houghton-le-spring, Washington (Tyne and Wear), Sunderland, Gateshead, South Shields, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and up to Blyth in the north, which accounts for another 2 million people all told. Another 2 million live in and around Birmingham. 3 million more live in and around the triangle formed by Derby, Nottingham and Leicester.
That leaves us in the odd situation where - for example - The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers recruits mainly from some of the most populous areas of the country, yet only has two regular battalions, while the far less populated geographic area of Scotland produces four regular battalions.
The argument then to produce a "Royal Corps of Infantry" that recruits across the whole nation and simply funnels men into whatever battalions have the most need for fresh recruits makes a lot of sense. It does beg the question of what to do with the cap badges though?
That's where I think the reserve element can come into it's own. There are a few regiments such as the Rifles, the Fusiliers and the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment which naturally lend themselves to nationwide recruitment, being as they don't carry any real geographic leanings in their name (it says "Princess of Wales's", not "Regiment of Wales", before you bring that up). You could even revive names such as The Duke of Wellingtons Regiment (leaving out the bit about West Riding), and even split the Rifles into it's previous constituent parts such as the Royal Green Jackets. The key is to keep the names geographically ambiguous, keep the number of battalions roughly equal and numerous (to avoid cap badge losses in the future), while still retaining the idea of a regimental identity that serving soldiers can connect to and old officers can drink port to.
Meanwhile those regiments that do carry geographic connotations, the Royal Welsh, the Mercians, the Anglians etc, seem to strike me as being more adaptable to the needs of the Territorial Army. The army will always need reserves and it will naturally draw these from all across the country, so this seems like a much more natural home to me for the various individual geographic cap badges. It's unlikely that in the future you would ever need to down size the number of TA battalions, being as they're not strictly speaking full battalions (with the associated costs) in the first place.
This method allows men to be recruited into a named battalion with a history that can inspire and cement men around it, without making them feel out of place for being a Yorkshire man drafted into the Duke of Lancaster's regiment or the Royal Anglian, while also preserving those all important (or at least important enough to cause spats a plenty in high places) geographic names, badges and histories.
Continuing my random thoughts related to geography, I move to cadets. Because I have a question for you;
Please explain to me why it is that Brightlingsea - home to a successful sailing club (which admittedly does seem to have a high percentage of w**kers as members from what I can tell) which has produced Olympic gold medal quality sailors - doesn't have a Sea Cadet unit, but nearby Clacton-On-Sea does, despite Clacton not actually having a harbour of any form from which to launch training boats (and not really having any kind of sea faring connection or history)?
I strikes me that something has gone a little wrong there?
Looking at the huge size of the army, navy and air force cadet forces I get the distinct feeling that there is a hell of a lot of money being spent in a rather inefficient manner. Not only do I suspect that there is a significant opportunity present for some rationalisation (hey, times are tough) but also to funnel resources into areas that might actually be more productive in the long term.
And lastly, while still keeping with the theme of geography, I can't help but notice there are some very large areas of the country that seem more than a little advantageous for development into military training areas. British forces have recently had the excellent opportunity to cross train with their French counterparts at a huge and highly advanced urban combat facility in France, which prompted many quotes from army officers of highly impressed (and barely contained) jealousy.
It often seems to be the belief that we over here do not have the room, but when you look around the country, particularly in many of the northern areas such as to the west of Sheffield and further north along the Pennine mountain range (well, hill range) you see terrain that seems absolutely ideal for a combination of both large firing ranges and infantry training areas. Not really sure if you could put an Urban training range there (re; probably no) but it certainly offers opportunities abound for the forces to keep their skills up, as I know from reading comments in the past by various soldiers (in various places) that there seems to be a general frustration about access to proper range facilities.
One wonders (because one has gone into ones posh mode again) if there isn't an opportunity over the coming years, especially with the draw down from Germany and the state of some of the militaries accommodation, to build new "super barracks" and other facilities in the northern half of the country, with particular attention given to acquiring new training areas and keeping these within a short(ish) driving distance of the new barracks facilities?
Maybe this post is turning about to be more coherent and "joined up" (ugh) than I previously thought.
(Maybe not then).