Man on a mission

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CHRIS Hall is a man on a mission – to give Alnwick its Army back.

The Territorial Army captain has set his sights on reviving the fortunes of Z Company, which has its headquarters on Lisburn Street, and is prepared to use everything in his arsenal to do so.

Chris is very much the picture of the modern TA soldier, balancing life in ‘civvie street’ with the commitments that his role as second-in-command of the unit demand.

He originally hails from Essex, but after school and scouts, made his life at sea as a Mine Warfare rating for eight years before gaining a commission as a Royal Naval Officer.

He then became an officer of the watch on frigates and destroyers culminating as a First Lieutenent and second-in-command of the patrol vessel HMS Severn.

By a twist of fate, it patrolled extensively off Northumberland, where Chris and his crew conducted fishery protection boardings.

A move into military media operations followed, with deployment to both Iraq and Afghanistan, before Chris finished his service with Naval Intelligence based in London.

Now, when he is not wearing the famous red and white hackle of the 5th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, he’s working on documentaries with his company, Northern Angel Media.

He also extends his love of the outdoor adventure associated with military life by running Thrills and Skills for Life, which teaches bushcraft, survival techniques, first aid and leadership skills to everyone from big corporations to schoolchildren.

But Chris also aims to radically raise the profile of ‘Alnwick’s Army’ and spark renewed interest in what is a centuries-old relationship between the community and the Fusiliers.

“There is a very strong, very old link between north Northumberland and the regiment,” says Chris. “It’s something I am very keen to revive. Back in 1968, when the regiment we see today was formed, there was massive support from the people up here and we had an extremely big presence in Alnwick.

“They paraded 50 to 70 on a drill night and used three lorries to take the troops on TA weekends. The Army was a lot lot bigger then!

“Over the years it has dwindled and the numbers have fallen for a number of reasons. We now have 11 parading at Alnwick, so we are one person under section strength.

“My aim, by this December, is to be up to platoon strength (around 30) and by December 2012, two platoons.”

To reverse the decline, Chris and the commanding officers have targeted closer involvement with the wider community, both by opening the TA Centre to other groups, including St John’s Ambulance and the Explorer Scouts, while forging closer links with the Army and Air Cadets who also meet in the building.

Further efforts are being made to welcome ex-servicemen and former TA volunteers still living in the area, with social events planned, while the latest networking tools are also being brought into play, including Facebook and Twitter.

And it’s already having an effect.

Chris said: “We have had two walk-ins, two returning personnel, and a soldier come back to us in recent weeks. It’s on the up and keeping its critical mass. It also has interest from the cadets as they get old enough.

“We’re keen to let people know we are here and have a very active role in the Alnwick area, as well as across Northumberland. We’re extremely proud of our strong local connections and history.”