The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester, Dorset
Werl 1991-1994 (including Belfast 1993)
The collapse of Communism and the resulting dissolution of the Warsaw Pact prompted a radical reappraisal of UK defence policy, so-called 'Options for Change'. The implications for British forces in Germany were far-reaching. Three divisions were reduced to just one, which would now become part of the Allied Command Europe (ACE) Rapid Reaction Corps, an international formation under a British commander. The British Army would be reduced in strength from 156,000 to 120,000, leading to redundancy programmes and regimental amalgamations. It was ironic that, just a week after the government's initial announcement on 25 July 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Nevertheless the die was cast and the government pressed ahead with its reforms after the first Gulf War. In fact British Army strength was soon revised down to 116,000 and, by 1997, had been reduced once again, to just 104,000.
For much of its time at Bulford the 1st Battalion had been equipped with the wheeled Saxon, a lightly armoured 'taxi' with limited off-road mobility. The tracked Warrior was a quite different proposition with excellent cross-country performance and much better armoured protection than either the Saxon or the AFV 432, with which the Battalion had been equipped on earlier tours in BAOR. To some extent, Warrior could also fight 'closed down' using the Rarden 30mm cannon and chain gun. When the Battalion arrived in Werl in August 1991, the Warriors were still sandcoloured and battle-scarred from the Gulf War. Effective use of Warrior would require both mental adjustment and familiarisation training and, for the rest of the year, the 1st Battalion worked hard to ensure that it was 'fit for role'. Early in 1992 the Battalion moved en bloc, with the Warriors aboard rail flats, to Sennelager for three weeks of intensive exercises. This was an opportunity to put into practice everything that had been learned during the previous four months and the finale was Ex Rhino Express, a twenty-mile speed march. There was then hardly time to draw breath back at Werl before everyone went to Soltau for a further three weeks of tactical work-up, accompanied by a squadron from 5 Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and sappers from 26 Engineer Regiment. Once the Soltau phase had been completed, the Battalion took part in Ex Rhino Express II, run by 6 Armoured Brigade, at Hammelburg.
In early March 1992 Lieutenant Colonel Simon Young, son of Guy Young, the first CO of the 1st Battalion, assumed command from Lieutenant Colonel Biles. Soon some 400 members of the Battalion - two reinforced companies, A and B, and a strong echelon element - were preparing to go to Canada as part of the Life Guards Battle Group. After gunnery training and testing at Bergen-Hohne ranges, thus completing conversion to the armoured infantry role, they flew to Canada in late May. With an almost brand-new fleet of Warriors, they soon settled down to a series of progressive fire-and-manoeuvre exercises on the huge training area. On 3rd July, just back from Canada, the 1st Battalion took part in the 6 Armoured Brigade disbandment parade, the first tangible sign that times were changing. After a hectic first year, the pace slackened slightly in the autumn although there was another spell at Soltau in October.
The Battalion hosted a most enjoyable visit from 85 Old Comrades while there were opportunities for adventure training, with modest numbers getting away to far-flung places such as the Himalayas and Patagonia. The following year was taken up almost entirely by the next tour in Northern Ireland, due to commence in early May. During January the Warriors were inspected before being 'put to bed'. On 1 February 1993 the Battalion's order of battle was adjusted to reflect the forthcoming commitment. The Recce Platoon was strengthened and Support Company became a rifle company once again. At this time news came through that C Company had been awarded the 'Warrior Sword', the prize for the best Warrior live-firing in BAOR the previous year. The countdown for Ulster took a now familiar form, briefings, specialist training and a detailed reconnaissance of the TAOR. This was also a period rich in sporting success: the 1st Battalion won the Infantry Rugby Cup, were runners-up in the BAOR Football Cup and were also runners-up in the Army Boxing, beaten once again by 1 Kings.
The Advance Party left for Belfast on 27 April 1993, with the Main Body arriving on 5 May. Northern Ireland tours had now been extended from four months to six months, reflecting the reduced intensity of operations. HQ Company and C Company (Major Barnes) were at Grosvenor Road East and North Howard Street Mill, A Company (Major Blewett) was at Ballymurphy, B Company (Major Sharpe) was at Whiterock and Echelon was based at Musgrove Park Hospital. Compared with previous tours, incidents were few and far between; nevertheless there could be no relaxation of vigilance. On 10 May A Company made an initial find that exemplified the nature of the job. A pair of surgical gloves was discovered in a coal bunker; closer examination revealed a coiled-up command wire, prompting an intense search, which in turn unearthed an IRA Mark 12 horizontally-fired mortar, complete with mortar bomb. All was quiet in B Company's area until the local elections of 19 May. As polling boxes were being collected, a device, which fortunately failed to explode, was thrown at an RUC Inspector. C Company's first 'incident' was unconnected with terrorism. A patrol saw a woman running from her house with her clothes on fire as a result of a chip pan accident. Although the woman suffered fifteen per cent burns, Private Povey managed to put the fire out with his bare hands and duly received a GOC's Commendation. It was through such actions that the Battalion maintained exceptionally good relations with the local population. Even July's Protestant marching season passed off quietly. Although everything seemed fairly low key, C Company conducted eighty-five searches and experienced five shooting incidents during those six months. The only casualty was Lance-Corporal Steve Kerslake, who was shot and wounded at Beachmount. The Colonel-in-Chief visited Belfast on 23 September 1993 and the Battalion was back in Werl by early November.
The 1st Battalion now had to get the Warriors out of mothballs, relearn those rusty armoured infantry skills and run training cadres, both to select future NCOs and also to teach low-level tactics to others. In March 1994 there was a last, almost nostalgic, trip to Soltau for Ex Janners' Return. After forty-five years Soltau was finally closing as a British Army training area. The following month there was a gunnery camp at Bergen-Hohne, part of the work-up for Ex Medicine Man 3 in Canada. In May, as an indication of how dramatically the European military landscape had changed in just five years, the Battalion took part in Ex Outreach in Poland. As part of the Army's restructuring there was a more serious loss, at least from the Regimental point of view - the Band was to be disbanded. The contribution made by the Regimental Band during the previous thirty-six years cannot be overstated; not only did they have a military role, as was amply demonstrated during the first Gulf War, but they helped knit the Regimental family together through their distinctive contribution. No parade, church service, Regimental boxing evening, Guest Night, Freedom march or KAPE tour would have had the same sense of occasion without their presence. Some of the Band members went to the Prince of Wales's Division Band while others joined the TA Band in Exeter. However, that was not the only major change: as part of the downsizing of BAOR, the British Army was leaving Werl, which had been a very happy single battalion station, and the 1st Battalion moved in stages to Paderborn, a much larger garrison.