DEFIANT veterans staged a peaceful protest urging people of the North East to help their fight against the Government’s plans to slash troop numbers.
Former soldiers, their families, politicians and supporters led a fresh protest as part of the call for ministers to reverse cuts to the British Army.
The 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which recruits heavily from the North East, is among the regiments to be disbanded as the army is reduced from 102,000 to 82,000 personnel.
Major Chester Potts, Chairman of the Fusiliers’ Association Northumberland, launched a petition campaign against the cuts, a move supported by thousands of members of the public, as well as Newcastle councillors and North East MPs.
Saturday saw the defiant fusiliers bring the fight to the public at a protest in Newcastle’s Old Eldon Square.
As veterans mingled with members of the public to gather their backing, Major Potts said: “We’re gathered here to launch the paper-based petition and also to hand out leaflets to encourage people who have internet access to sign the online e-petition and we really want to make the people of the North East aware of what exactly is at stake here, which is the survival of our local infantry regiment.
“The regiment has been designated for disbandment purely for political reasons. We have young lads from the North East who have been told they have to join another regiment or leave the army. We have got great support in terms of petition signatures and the public are right behind us.
“If we were poorly recruited we could understand the plans, but we aren’t. Around 2,000 are recruited a year here compared to just 800 to 1,000 in Scotland.”
Mary Glindon, Labour MP for North Tyneside, revealed a group of MPs plans to call for a Commons debate on the issue.
She said: “I feel so strongly about this. Four members actually asked the Leader of the House for a debate and were refused, but we’re hoping that forming a bigger group in Parliament will help us call for a debate.
“We really want to push the pressure up on this. We know it’s a political decision and it’s got to be reversed. This is about the future of the regiment.
“As a region, we are so proud of our connections with the armed forces and for many families it’s a tradition to serve for our country.”
Ian Mearns, Labour MP for Gateshead, also attended yesterday’s protest in memory of his father. The late James Mearns was a regular soldier in the Royal Northumberland Fusilier from 1937 until 1946. In 1941, during the Second World War, he was captured in Egypt and spent four years as a Prisoner of War before being released in June 1945.