The Sentinel’s campaign to save the name of the Staffords is going from strength to strength and it has prompted me to delve into the archives.
I was proud to discover that this newspaper’s association with the Staffordshire Regiment goes back a long, long way.
In actual fact, Sentinel writers were reporting on the exploits of soldiers from our neck of the woods as far back as the Zulu War of 1879.
At the time it was known as the 80th Regiment of Foot (the Staffordshire Volunteers).
Our lads formed the front of the British square at the decisive Battle of Ulundi – with two of its soldiers, Private S. Wassall and Colour Sergeant A. Booth winning Victoria Crosses during the campaign.
Fast forward 100 years because I was particularly interested in what the Staffords were up to during the Eighties.
At the decade came to a close the 1st Battalion, The Staffordshire Regiment, as it was, was described ‘as a standard infantry unit of 650 men’.
Within the British Army in Germany it was known as an Armoured Infantry Battalion as every soldier was part of the crew of an Armoured Fighting Vehicle.
They completed two tours of Northern during the 1980s.
Indeed, that is how the decade began for the boys with the Staffordshire knot on their cap badges.
In September 1979 the First Battalion moved to Londonderry for sixteen months, accompanied by their families.
It was during this tour, on January 20, 1981, that Private Christopher Shenton was killed by an IRA sniper in the Bogside area of Londonderry.
In July of that year the Battalion and its families moved to Gibraltar for a two year tour which had to be reduced to 20 months because the Falklands Crisis and the Spanish elections limited the training opportunities.
The highlight of the tour to The Rock was the role played by the Battalion in the evacuation of British nationals from The Gambia.
After receiving new colours from the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire in 1983, the Battalion went on a training exercise to Canada to make up for training lost in Gibraltar.
The Battalion then returned to Northern Ireland in February 1984 and was deployed in South Armagh until June and during that time suffered another tragic loss.
On May 29, 1984, Lance Corporal Stephen Anderson was killed by an IRA landmine in Crossmaglen.
It was then off to Germany for our boys in the autumn for Exercise Lionheart – the biggest post-war exercise undertaken by the British Army.
The following year saw the Battalion deploy to Seattle in the U.S. for training and, on its return, it received the new Saxon Wheeled Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC).
The autumn of that year was dominated by exercises; Exercise Brave Defender saw the Battalion deployed to northern Scotland and this was followed by Exercise Purple Warrior when the Battalion played enemy to 5 Airborne Brigade at Otterburn in Northumberland.
In January 1987, the Battalion deployed to Fallingbostel, West Germany as part of 7 Armoured Brigade. During the first three years of its tour, it repeatedly trained at BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) in Alberta, Canada.
By late 1988 the Staffords had been re-equipped as an Armoured Infantry Battalion using the new Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle.
In April 1988, the 3rd (Volunteer) Battalion of the Staffordshire Regiment was formed from the 1 Mercian Volunteers who were disbanded.
They were the direct descendant of the old 5 South and 5 North Territorial Army battalions who were disbanded in the 1960s to form the Mercian Volunteers.
1988 was also the year that the 1st Battalion were named the Army’s Grade 3 boxing champions.
In April of 1989, Her Majesty The Queen appointed her second son, His Royal Highness The Duke of York, as Colonel in Chief of the Regiment.
He visited the Battalion in Fallingbostel in Germany in July of that year.
Whatever decade I researched the stories were the same – reflecting gallantry and unstinting service which echoed the Staffords’ motto of ‘Stand Firm, Strike Hard’.
I would suggest the lads currently serving with 3 Mercian and the thousands who went before them, many of whom gave their lives for this country, deserve better than to be wiped from history at the stroke of a civil servant’s pen.
*If you agree with Martin you can sign our petition to save the name of the Staffords by logging on to: http://www.saveourstaffords.com
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