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Soldiers are on the move

ALDERSHOT'S historic ties with the Parachute Regiment have been dealt a major blow with the news that the town's remaining maroon berets have been given their marching orders.

In May next year, 9 (Para) Sqn, Royal Engineers and 7 (Para) Rgt, Royal Horse Artillery, will move to Colchester in Essex as part of Army reorganisation.

They will join the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Parachute Regiment, which moved there in July 2000 to become 16 Air Assault Brigade.

The announcement is not the only bombshell to hit Aldershot's military heritage this week.

Bosses at the town's Airborne Forces Museum, which chronicles the history of the Paras, confirmed it is to be relocated to another part of the country.

This newspaper first reported speculation about the museum's future two years ago when it emerged that it could be moved away from the town.

Various locations have been considered, including Colchester and Duxford, Cambridgeshire, but a final decision is still to be made.

But last week spokesman Major Fergus Smith confirmed the museum is to be uprooted as part of plans to upgrade the barracks.

He said maintaining links with airborne battalions, former soldiers and where it would be most accessible to the public were key to the outcome of the museum's relocation.

But he added that the future of the famous Dakota outside the museum was still to be decided.

Aldershot MP Gerald Howarth, who has always opposed changes to the military presence in the town, claimed he was not surprised by the news about the relocation of 9 Sqn and 7 RHA.

He said: "The battle was lost some time ago when the infantry battalions moved.

"I know many in the army who say it's a nonsense and that I was right to oppose it."

Mr Howarth said it was sad but did not think the military links would ever be completely lost.

He added a lot of former paratroopers were still living in Aldershot and that there was a lot of affection for the regiment locally.

"You can't have a unit in a town for over 50 years without leaving an impression," said Mr Howarth.

It was shortly after the Second World War that 9 Sqn first came to Aldershot.

It has taken part in many campaigns, including Suez, the Falklands and Bosnia, and currently has units deployed in Afghanistan.

The 7 RHA was formed in 1962 and came to Aldershot in 1984.

It played a key role in the Falklands, Egypt and Palestine.

A former sapper, who served with 9 Sqn during the 1950s and 60s when it was part of 16 Independent Parachute Brigade, said: "I suppose it was inevitable that they would have to go really because the brigade can't function without them.

"We thought it may not happen for three or four years though.

"The Paras aren't trained to handle explosives and infrastructure and there is a working rapport between the squadron and other airborne soldiers that isn't there with ordinary Royal Engineers."

Like many other former 9 Sqn soldiers he stayed in the Aldershot area after leaving the Army.

"It's rather sad that the squadron is leaving the town because it has been its home for at least 50 years," he added.

The Airborne Forces Museum first opened in 1947 and was officially opened by Field Marshal Montgomery in 1969 when it moved to Browning Barracks in Alison's Road.

The museum celebrates the history of the Parachute Regiment and bosses still want people to visit before it moves to another town.

"There are displays in the museum from the regiment's recent operations in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Macedonia. Shortly there will be a display on Afghanistan," said Major Smith, who stressed that it is still open for business as usual.


Charlotte Neal
Chief Reporter (Aldershot)
Joshua Smith
Farnborough Reporter
Jon Couch
Sport Editor
Stephen Lloyd
Fleet & Yateley Reporter
Ros Collins
Junior News & Mail
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