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Warminster 1998-2000

During the previous seven years the 1st Battalion had been at the cutting edge of the British Army, serving in the armoured infantry role. At Warminster the skills honed in Germany, on the prairies of Canada and in Bosnia would now be used in training other British Army units as the Combined Arms Tactics Centre Battle Group (CATC BG). The 1st Battalion assumed responsibility for CATC BG on 16 February 1998. Apart from the Battalion, the Battle Group comprised a squadron of tanks, a recce troop, a Royal Engineer close support troop and a large REME Light Aid Detachment. CATC BG supported the various Warminster-based courses, which ran in three month cycles, by providing both friendly and enemy forces for the student officers. 'Friendly forces' comprised A Company (Major House), equipped with the old AFV 432; C Company (Major Uden), equipped with Warrior, together with elements of D (Support) Company (Major Gibb). 'Enemy forces' were represented by B Company (Major Messervy), who were equipped with disguised AFV 432s and wore distinguishing desert combats.

During the next two years the Battalion would become extremely familiar with exercises such as Iron Maiden, Phantom Bugle and Iron Fist. Perhaps the most demanding task was putting visiting units through TESEXs (Tactical Engagement Systems Exercises), for which every soldier, vehicle and weapon was fitted with laser transmitters/receivers. The opposing forces then engaged one another, using the resulting data to improve their understanding and employment of tactical doctrine. During the 1st Battalion's time at Warminster the Firepower Demonstration was resited from the edge to the centre of Salisbury Plain, involving a complete redesign of this very public 'performance'.

The role at Warminster was extremely high profile, with a seemingly never-ending stream of visitors, both from the UK and also from overseas. A particular advantage of the Warminster posting was the relative predictability of the diary: everyone knew months - if not years - in advance what would be happening. As must now be apparent to the reader that is a luxury seldom enjoyed by an infantry battalion in the British Army! This was relevant in that, after almost seven years in Germany, there was a great deal of catching-up to be done in the West Country. On 9 May 1998 Regimental Day was held in Torbay, with a march that marked the 25th Anniversary of the granting of the Freedom of the Borough to the Regiment. For the first time there was a real opportunity to establish a close relationship between the 1st and 4th Battalions. For example, there was a joint visit to the Bois des Buttes Memorial that May and a meeting of the Semper Fidelis Dinner Club at Babbacombe on 24 October 1998. Sadly it was announced in early 1999 that the short life of the 4th Battalion was coming to an end. On 5 June 1999 the Battalion paraded for the last time at the Regimental Day in Exeter before disbanding on 30 June. The good news was that C and E Companies became part of the new Rifle Volunteers: at the Freedom March through Bridport on 25 September 1998 guards from both these companies marched proudly alongside those from the 1st Battalion.

Two members of the Regiment deserve mention for their sporting achievements. Major Peter Underhill, Combined Services Sportsman of the Year in 1999, was Captain of the Army Combat Shooting Team while Lance-Corporal Tom Clemens, the 20 km Biathlon Army Champion, later became the National Champion. Adventurous training has always played an important role and the Regiment acquired its own adventurous training centre when the lease of Ligger House in Cornwall was purchased in 1999.

A particularly high profile task throughout the tour of duty in Warminster was The Combined Arms Firepower and Manoeuvre Demonstration (CAFMD). Brigadier David Shaw saw the Battalion's final performance: 'Manoeuvre is what shows the real professionals at work and our 1st Battalion was quite magnificent ... I saw a professional display of military competence, (of) weapon systems adroitly handled and with great confidence The Army is highly respected in this country and the 1st Battalion has contributed a great deal to that reputation.'

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