ALMOST 320 years of tradition came to an end on Saturday when soldiers of the Cheshire Regiment ceremonially exchanged their cap badges for those of the new Mercian Regiment.

The Army's newest regiment was officially formed with the amalgamation of three neighbouring county regiments - the Cheshires, the Staffordshires and the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters.

The Prince of Wales is the new regiment's Colonel-in-Chief and he attended a spectacular formation event in Tamworth, Staffordshire, chosen as it was the capital of the ancient Saxon Kingdom of Mercia.

Soldiers representing each of the three amalgamating regiments removed their old berets and cap badges and replaced them with the new beret and insignia of the regiment, the Mercian eagle.

Family, friends and supporters then clapped and cheered as the new regiment's troops marched through Tamworth's streets.

Also marching past Prince Charles were many former soldiers from the three antecedent regiments.

He told the soldiers: 'Having had the privilege of being Colonel-in-Chief of the Cheshire Regiment for the past 30 years, I have no doubt that the Mercian Regiment will stand firm and strike hard just as its predecessors did in all four corners of the world.'

The new regiment has four battalions, with the former Cheshires now being known as 1 Mercian. Under this name it is due to begin a tour of duty in Iraq later this year.

A select group of about 100 soldiers were given the honour of representing the Cheshires in the formation ceremony.

They included Lance Corporal Mike Chambers, 21, from Neston.

The former Neston Comprehensive School pupil has served in the Army for four years.

He said: 'This is an important day for the regiment and it's good that our company, B Company, has been chosen to represent our battalion in the ceremony.'

Also among the former 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment representatives was Lance Corporal Adrian Rotherham, 27, who grew up in Ellesmere Port and attended Sutton High School. He joined the Army nine years ago after a short spell working in a supermarket. Since then he has served in the Falkland Islands, Jordan, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

And he returns to Iraq later this year, having served when the Cheshires were last there in 2004.

He said: 'It is sad that the Cheshire Regiment has to go, but it's a new era. The Army is moving at a fast pace and we need to move with it.

'Changing to the Mercian Regiment and having three regular battalions is good for us. It gives us flexibility and the chance to move around the battalions in different postings.'

Another local soldier representing the Cheshires was Corporal Liam Varley, 29, from Elton.

The former Helsby High School pupil, who is married to Helen, has served in the Army for 12 years.

He explained that the support of people watching the parade means a lot to soldiers.

'It makes you feel really proud,' he said. 'You realise that people appreciate what we are doing.'

* The website of the Mercian Regiment is