FUSILIERS who set themselves a mission to revive the fortunes of their north Northumberland unit have celebrated their ‘first birthday’ at the weekend – having almost doubled their numbers in the last 12 months.
The soldiers of Z Company, part of the Fifth Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, gathered at the Territorial Army Centre at Lisburn Street in Alnwick on Saturday to mark the occasion with a party for veterans and new recruits alike.
Last March, the Gazette began a series of features on the local men who make up the TA’s ranks, after it emerged that the number of active volunteer reservists there had dropped to just 11 – far less than a single platoon in strength.
We followed them throughout their manoeuvres, from the drill hall to the windswept hills of the Otterburn Training Area and finally at a gruelling two-week battle camp staged in the Welsh valleys and mountains, as they prepared for potential deployment to Afghanistan alongside the regular Army.
Captain Chris Hall, second-in-command of Z Company, says the publicity has had more than the desired effect, with a series of sign-ups now bringing the unit’s strength to over 20.
“We restarted Alnwick platoon a year ago with 11 Fusiliers and I have to say recruiting enough to make a platoon seemed daunting, but, Alnwick is in the heart of Fusilier country and we were confident we could do it,” said Chris.
“Since then, things have gone from strength to strength. We now have 20 and have more people interested from Alnwick and from the Army Cadets – I think we can be at 25 by July.
“A lot of people have helped us along the way, especially the Northumberland Gazette – we can track our expansion to its articles. I feel really proud, like we have achieved something great.
“Alnwick platoon is strong and getting stronger. It will soon have a medic and physical training instructor too, as the platoon gets trained up.
“These kinds of things seemed unthinkable a year ago.”
The Fusiliers have a long and proud history and tradition, dating back to the time of King James II in 1685 when he ordered Lord Dartmouth to form an Ordnance Regiment to guard the artillery.
Today’s battalion was formed from the amalgamation of the famous Royal Northumberland (Fifth of Foot) and the Royal Warwickshire (Sixth of Foot) to become the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in 1968 – otherwise known as England’s Finest.
While the First and Second Battalions are full-time soldiers, the Fifth is comprised of volunteers drawn from all walks of life.
At its peak, 50 to 70 would parade on a drill night and three lorries were needed to take the troops on TA weekends.
But Alnwick TA Centre is no longer only a base for Z Company – it’s also home to detachments of Army and Air Cadets, as well as the Scouts and a St John’s Ambulance group which teaches skills to children.
If you’re interested in what the Territorial Army has to offer, call 0845 600 8080.