Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Column, March 1, 2005

I WONDER if the men of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in its three glorious centuries of history used the language deployed by Army top brass today?
I suspect that, had the men of the Royal Welch talked like the pencil-necked, paper-pushing desk jockeys that obviously hold sway at the Ministry of Defence, the regiment’s roll of honour would have been curtailed more than somewhat.
You only have to look at the mealy-mouthed way they have done away with the Royal Welch’s name to know that these are not the sort of soldiers you would want at your side when the bullets started to fly.
The Ministry of Defence said the new “Royal Welsh” regiment “would offer a strong brand image and an effective way of maintaining a distinct Welsh identity for the future within the British infantry.
The MoD added: “There is also real enthusiasm within the Army for pressing forward with all the changes, rather than looking back.”
So we get to keep a Welsh identity, but not a “Welch” identity. But imagine if you will the scene at Waterloo, as the French cavalry thundered toward the tiny British squares of red-coated infantry. Do you think the officers spoke like that as they sought to stiffen the resolve of their men against the onslaught that approached?
“Look men, I know there’s a lot of hairy Frenchmen approaching who want to cut you to ribbons, but do well today and it will do wonders for the brand image of the regiment.”
Likewise, when the Royal Welch raised 42 battalions to send to the trenches of World War I, do you think the rallying call as they stormed the Huns’ machine guns was: “Off we go chaps, I know you’re all very enthusiastic to press forward.”
If the MoD is really serious about brand image, then it might do something to stop soldiers in Iraq torturing prisoners. Torture that only came to light and was only subject to a court martial because one of the torturers was stupid enough to take the pictures to a photo shop to be developed.
The British Army’s ‘brand image’ was developed over centuries in which it built an empire the like of which the world has never seen. You might not approve of that, but it certainly did the job that was asked of it by its political masters.
Then it fought two world wars, the latter of which was to defeat probably the most evil regime ever spawned.
And wherever those battles raged you will find the Royal Welch were at the thick of it.
Not an entirely bad track record then and certainly not one to be tinkered about with in the name of developing ‘brand image.’
But then it’s not really about branding is it? This is about squeezing every last nit of cost out of the armed forces. And this bizarrely manifests itself as cutting back on the numbers of the ‘poor bloody infantry’ while spending £19billion on the Eurofighter – a plane which is going to have to have a lump of concrete fitted where its machine gun should have been because the vibration from the gun upsets its delicate computers.
And lets remember it was a fighter that was designed to tackle our erstwhile Cold War enemies – who no longer exist. Now the threat comes from nebulous terrorist cells, against which this £19 billion turkey is completely useless.
All that cash spent, remember, when soldiers were marching through the battlefields of Iraq in boots that melted, with guns that jammed, radios that were useless and without proper body armour.
Of course what is of use against terrorist cells is a battle group of British soldiers landing in whatever God-forsaken country they’re holing up in and making life very unpleasant for them. But then that’s exactly what we’re cutting back on.
It’s not for nothing that the Secretary of State for Defence is known among the ranks as “Buff” Hoon.
But what’s in a name, you may ask, particularly when its only one letter different.
Well, the British army’s regimental system has served the country well over hundreds of years and this Government should know that better than most.
It has been happy to send troops off to Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and it has been happy to use them to break the firefighters’ strike.
This Government is as trigger-happy as any in living memory, but perversely while throwing soldiers at a problem, its happy to see the number of recruits dwindle so that Gordon Brown can balance his books and give us a nice tax break in the Budget so those with short memories and thin wallets will vote them in again.
The loss of the “Royal Welch”name is just a symptom of a greater problem. Of course the new regiment will carry on the traditions of its predecessors, including serving their country with honour.
The British Army was once described as ‘lions led by donkeys’ – it’s as true now as it was then.

QUANTUM theory tells us that the very act of observing something affects its properties.
I think the same applies to Welsh rugby.
There I was on Saturday, glued to the screen and the French were running all over us. Wonderful to watch unless you wanted Wales to win.
So by the end of the first half, 15-6 down, various pressing DIY tasks summoned me elsewhere chez Banks, but I was still listening for the occasional roar from the TV set.
And then Wales go and score a try, I managed to catch the replay having downed tools and raced to the lounge.
So I decided to put the theory to the test and resumed hammering, drilling, sanding or whatever other job was required – and they go and score another try.
Then I watch for a while, and France go and score.
So if I sit there giving them my rapt attention, I’m like a jinx, if I pretend to be uninterested, they run riot.
So, if by Quantum rugby rules, I only watch them out of the corner of my eye for the next couple of weeks, the Grand Slam is ours – for the first time in 27 years.

NEEDLESS to say after Saturday most Welsh people have a great big cheesy grin on their faces.
And what a great gift for St David’s Day.
I hope you all have a very happy one.

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