THE commanding officer of Bicester’s 23 Pioneer Regiment, which is being disbanded, has said 230 army staff face redundancy when they bid farewell to the town.
On Sunday, July 27, 150 troops from the regiment, based at St David’s Barracks since 1941, will make their way through the town for the last time in a farewell parade.
The 600-strong regiment is being disbanded due to cuts in the size of the regular Army, reducing troops nationally from 100,000 to 80,000.
“It will be an emotional day and our veteran community will also be there, proud as you like, with their blazers and regimental ties,” said the regiment’s commanding officer, Lieutenant David Clouston.
He met Bicester’s mayor Lynn Pratt on Monday to finalise the details for the parade.
Lt Col Clouston, 43, added: “It was humbling for the regiment to have the town’s new shopping centre named Pioneer Square a year ago.
“The regiment’s links with Bicester will never be forgotten.
“For many of my soldiers Bicester is their home. For many it is the only home they have ever known.
“Our troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and some of them were still deployed in Afghanistan right up until last year.
“There is an air of sadness – I wouldn’t say anger – but for some troops it is the only regiment they have ever known and they can not see themselves serving in any other part of the Army. There are about 230 redundancies in total, while 130 troops will go to other regiments.
“Then there are about 80 clerks, chefs and radio operators who will stay on in, and 80 Pioneers staying on in instructor roles.
“Hardly a day goes by when someone is not accepted for transfer.”
Lt Col Clouston said a programme had been put in place to help troops apply for jobs and prepare them for civilian life, such as help with job hunting and CV writing.
“Soldiers are used to encountering uncertainty but entering civilian life is alien to a lot of them.”
The commanding officer said troops who have died in conflict would continue to be remembered.
These include Warrant Officer Class 2 Charles Wood, killed in an explosion in Afghanistan in December 2010.
“Charlie has a memorial in the Sergeant’s Mess and he is remembered every Remembrance Day,” Lt Col Clouston added.
Army widow Heather Wood will attend the farewell parade
Warrant Officer Wood’s widow Heather, who still lives in Bicester, said: “I will be there on behalf of Charlie because he would have been there if he could. It’s sad that it has come to this – the regiment has been in Bicester for so long that it’s like a family being disbanded.”
The soldiers will march behind the Army Reserves’ Combined Band of the Royal Signals and the Royal Anglians at 12.30pm.
Before the parade, the troops will attend a service at St Edburg’s Church in Church Street at 11.30am, before parading down the Causeway to the Market Square.