An eventful year for army

Salisbury Journal: The Duchess of Cornwall talks to Rifles members and their families The Duchess of Cornwall talks to Rifles members and their families

THE past year has been one dominated by the operational tour in Afghanistan of 1st Mechanised Brigade, the new Army Basing Plan and the announcement of planned changes to the Territorial Army.

* January, as usual, was fairly quiet, with units making final preparations for their deployment. The Duchess of Cornwall visited 4 Rifles during their training and met families.

In the New Year Honours list, Sergeant Alex Buchanan from 32 Regiment was awarded the MBE for his work with unmanned aeriel vehicles.

* During February, married quarters at the newly rebuilt Canada Estate began to be handed over to their new tenants. 1 Mech Bde had their final pre-deployment exercise on the Plain, final leave was taken, and the first deployments started.

*In March, the Royal Wessex Yeomanry began a recruiting drive with a display in the Guildhall Square, and the Army Basing Plan was announced. This expanded the number of troops in the area by 3,000 and concentrated all of the army’s immediate readiness brigades on Salisbury Plain.

It included an additional Challenger 2 equipped regiment coming into Tidworth and four additional artillery regiments in Larkhill.

The 100-tonne railway gun at Larkhill was lent to Utrecht to become the centrepiece of an exhibition to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. Where the gun will go on its return was the subject of much discussion.

In the Operational Honours Awards, Brigadier Patrick Chambers was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his command of 12 Mechanised Brigade in Afghanistan.

* April saw the takeover in Afghanistan by 1 Mech Brigade and the retirement of the very popular Tidworth Garrison commander, Colonel Paddy Tabor. The rebuilding of the Tidworth Garrison Theatre began with a time capsule being placed under the foundations.

* Faces changed in May, with the commanding officer of King’s Royal Hussars, Lt Col Alex Potts, being towed out of barracks, and at Boscombe Down a new chief test pilot, Group Captain Rob Humphries was appointed.

The Ten Tors Challenge took place in some of the worst conditions for many years, but thanks to the first class organisation by 43 Wessex Bde, all the participants finished safely.

* We saw the end of the old Garrison Radio in June, with British Forces Broadcasting Service taking over and immediately making a marked change in the output.

Another H4H Battlefield Bike Ride was completed with a huge ‘cyclepast’ in Westminster.

Both 4 RIFLES and 2RTR took part in very successful operations in Afghanistan working with the Afghan National Army.

* In July, the annual army vs navy polo match, the Rundle Cup, was won by the army in a thrilling game.

* In August, the Army Recovery Centre at Tedworth House hosted a two-day event spotlighting Paralympic sports, which allowed many injured soldiers to try their hands at new sports prior to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

It was announced by the MoD that Salisbury’s VC winner, Tom Adlam, was to be commemorated with a special paving stone to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

* During September a dig on the Plain organised by MoD archaeologist Richard Osgood recovered much of a Second World War Spitfire that crashed near Upavon after its pilot bailed out safely.

The dig was watched by the pilot’s daughter.

She had never met her father, who was killed in battle a few weeks after this crash.

In Afghanistan, 32 Regiment clocked up 70,000 successful flying hours with the Hermes 450 Unmanned Ariel Vehicle - quite a feat.

* And in October the Royal Wessex Yeomanry held a very successful annual camp on the plain where they operated Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks to prepare themselves for their new role in support of the three regular armoured regiments on the plain.

The first gruelling Ghurkha Run was held on the Plain and was a great success; we look forward to next year’s event. As the month drew to an end, the first troops began to return from Afghanistan.

* November saw the safe return of 1 Mech Bde from Afghanistan. The usual flight disruption meant some of the welcoming celebrations had to be cancelled, but they were home.

1 RRF were the first to hold a medal parade, a day tinged with sadness as the spectre of the axing of 2 RRF hung over them. The Army Arts Society held a very successful competition and exhibition at Salisbury Library, selling more paintings than ever before.

The new Tidworth Garrison Theatre was opened; the last building to be completed in the Garrison rebuild. 2RTR held their last ever Cambrai Parade, as they are due to merge with 12 RTR next spring to form The Royal Tank Regiment.

* In December some 1,300 soldiers from 1 Mech Brigade held a thanksgiving service at Salisbury Cathedral to mark their safe return and 4 Rifles gave us all a thrill as they proudly marched through the city. Later in the day, much as the year began, they were visited by the Duchess of Cornwall, who presented them their operational medals.

The Wiltshire Assembly met at Tidworth to discuss the implications of the influx of soldiers and families to Wiltshire in the next few years, which neatly allows us to look at 2014 when the expansion of the Salisbury Plain garrisons begins in earnest with the first new regiments moving in.

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