AN EX-SERVICEMEN'S leader says a grassroots campaign to save the Cheshire Regiment cannot be ruled out.
Months of speculation about the future of the historic county unit were ended last Thursday when Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced that as part of a major re-shaping of the Army, it will be merged into a 'super-unit' to be known as the 1st Battalion of the Mercian Regiment (Cheshires).
The inclusion of the word Cheshire in the new regimental title retains at least the illustrious name of the last unamalgamated county regiment of the British Army.
This part of the package is clearly a gesture to those in the county who insisted the regiment should not lose its unique identity in the shake-up.
But George Statham, chairman of the Ellesmere Port branch of the Cheshire Regiment Association, said: 'I and other men who served with the Cheshires are not happy about this decision.
'Despite what has been said, we won't retain our identity in the new set-up because we won't be a separate regiment and we won't retain our cap-badge.
'Thursday was a bad day for us and there are a lot of people disappointed about how this has been handled.'
He added: 'Even at this late stage I can't rule out a grassroots campaign to save the regiment.'
Also in the Mercian Regiment will be the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters (2nd battalion) and the Staffordshire Regiment (3rd battalion).
It was a merger with the Staffords that was last headed off in 1991 following a campaign by regimental supporters across Cheshire.
The Worcesters and Sherwood Foresters are currently based at the Dale Camp in Chester.
Ellesmere Port & Neston's Andrew Miller recently led a delegation of Cheshire MPs who met Mr Hoon to discuss a paper they had jointly prepared, which said that in any larger grouping of regiments proposed, there would obviously be an advantage if battalions of 'similar culture and style' were linked.
Mr Miller said: 'The Army Board and the Secretary of State have obviously recognised the importance of our argument.
'The Army must be transformed to face the new threats in the world today. The best aspects of the regimental system will be retained but service families will have more stability and a chance to put down roots in their communities.'
Colonel of the Cheshire Regiment, Major General Keith Skempton, said: 'Given the required changes we are pleased with our new Mercian organisation.
'The regular battalion has remained intact, the regiment will move forward and we believe that the traditions, professionalism and character of the Cheshires will continue for many years to come.'
He added: 'I am grateful for the support we have received from across the county and representations made on our behalf by our MPs, county and local councillors.'
Gen Skempton and others connected with the regiment believe the Cheshires will feel at home in the new set-up as the unit was once part of a Mercian Brigade.
The Cheshires also regularly train alongside their new regimental partners, the Worcesters and Sherwood Foresters and the Staffords.
The merging of the Cheshires into a larger unit within the Prince of Wales Division is part of a much wider range of measures proposed by the Army Board.