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The Wider Regimental Family and TA 1990-1997

In the immediate aftermath of the 'Options for Change' review the 1st Battalion in Germany was relatively unaffected. Although major units had been disbanded and some long-standing training areas returned to local interests, the Battalion had only been affected by an unanticipated move from Werl to Paderborn and the loss of the Regimental Band. This relatively charmed life was a tribute to the new Colonel of the Regiment, Lieutenant General John Wilsey, who had succeeded Major General Colin Shortis in May 1990. At that time the Regiment, with one regular and one TA battalion, coupled with a strong regional recruiting base, faced the future with justifiable confidence. This was misplaced. Within months it was announced that no less than seventeen infantry battalions were to be disbanded over the next few years. Regimentally, we had our backs to the wall and, with the help of RHQ, the Colonel of the Regiment prepared his arguments: the Regiment had a proven ability to recruit and retain both officers and soldiers, there were very strong links with both counties, the Regiment had already suffered an earlier amalgamation, there were distinct benefits in having paired regular and TA battalions, the Regiment's proud record of service and, lastly, the seniority of the Regiment, deriving from the 11th Foot. This time the Regiment did survive but, according to General Wilsey, it would not have done so 'without the Herculean efforts of a very large number of people'.

In fact the Regiment not only survived but the 4th Battalion was actually strengthened as D Company, 1 Wessex at Poole became D Company, 4 D and D, rebadging in June 1992. On 28 September 1991 the 4th Battalion was presented with Colours by the Colonel-in-Chief and, by late 1992, it was close to establishment. They were equipped with the SA80 assault rifle and light support weapon and, by April 1993, had become a light role TA infantry battalion. Following the demise of the Regimental Band, the Volunteer Band assumed a far greater importance. During the summers of 1994 and 1995 there were a succession of parades to commemorate the momentous events of the liberation of Europe from Nazi domination fifty years earlier - the Volunteer Band played an important part at all of them.

Although RHQ had escaped 'Options for Change' unscathed, there was now an urgent requirement to establish a single Regimental Museum. It was agreed that The Military Museum of Devon and Dorset would be in the Keep at Dorchester. The chairman of the Regimental Museum project was Major General Shortis and, in April 1993, the Colonel of the Regiment launched a Regimental Appeal to pay for the refurbishment of the Keep, which was looking extremely 'tired'. In the event a total of £180,000 was raised from the Regimental Appeal and The Military Museum of Devon and Dorset was formally opened by HRH The Duke of Kent on 27 May 1994. At the same time the Colonel-in-Chief launched the Public Appeal for Phase 2 Development, orchestrated by General Sir John Archer. The total sum raised by both appeals was £485,000 and the result is a Regimental Museum that stands comparison with any in the country.

At the end of his Colonelcy on 31 December 1997, General Sir John Wilsey said: 'I want to thank RHQ on my own behalf, and on behalf of the whole Regiment, for the key part they play at the very centre of the Regiment. Seldom does one read in these pages [of the Regimental Journal] about the work of those at RHQ. But that tiny dedicated staff, headed up by Colin Pape, is immersed in every aspect of Regimental life. It is through RHQ that we get our officers; RHQ co-ordinate our soldier recruiting effort, they run our outstanding Regimental museum and out-stations, they are at the very centre of our Regimental Association and are the link with the Devon and Dorset ACF and fourteen CCFs. They are the interface with our twelve Freedom Cities and Towns. In short, they fly the flag for the Regiment outstandingly well in every corner of the counties, and provide our formal link to the Colonel-in-Chief and Prince of Wales's Division HQ. We all owe them a great deal of gratitude, and as my last act as Colonel, I pay my own tribute to them through the pages of this fine Journal which - yet another task - the Regimental Secretary himself edits.'