AN ARMY battalion has “come home” to Chester – and is already re-forging links with the community.
About 600 soldiers from 2 Mercian Regiment have set up home at Dale Barracks this week, taking the place of the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, which has moved to Tidworth in Wiltshire.
They have spent the last six years in Northern Ireland, but were based in Chester about a decade ago.
Lieutenant Colonel Shove Gilby, commanding officer of 2 Mercian, told the Leader it was an honour to be back in the city, and outlined his regiment’s plans in both Africa and Cyprus over the coming months.
He also said his troops had been reconnecting with schools and other organisations, including Chester Zoo which had asked for help training staff to use tranquilliser guns.
“Shooting is shooting, whether it's lions or anything else!” said Lt Col Gilby. “We’re delighted to have come home and want to fully embrace the local community.
“We've got many fond memories of Dale Barracks and Chester
The move is part of the Army’s controversial 2020 Future Structures plan, which will see the number of troops cut from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2019, while reservist numbers are boosted from 19,000 to 30,000.
As part of the plan, three Mercian regiments have been restructured into two, “fine-tuning” the force and making it “more operationally effective”, according to Lt Col Gilby.
A section of 2 Mercian will be taking part in peace-keeping operations in Cyprus between September this year and April 2015, while other soldiers will be travelling to East Africa to help train local forces.
“We'll be focussing on Malawi, Kenya and Uganda,” said Lt Col Rigby. The idea is to make sure the indigenous forces can hold their own in the War on Terror and deal with any other frictions. We have a huge amount of experience that we can impart.”
Troops from 2 Mercian said they were happy to be closer to home.
Private Richard Blackburn, 26, of Runcorn, said: “It’s been great so far. Previously, I could only come home at weekends but now I can go home every night to see my nine-month old son. My girlfriend’s happy too as it means I can help out changing nappies more often!”
Private Adam Dulieu, 22, from Hoole, in Chester, added: “It’s great being so much closer to home. My family and fiancée are over the moon.”
l The battalion deployed to Afghanistan on Operation Herrick in October 2011, returning in April the following year.