Soldiers past and present who have served at Shrewsbury’s Copthorne Barracks today told of their sadness following the announcement that part of the base is to be sold off.
Around 80 military and civilian staff serving with The Headquarters 143 (West Midlands) Brigade at the Copthorne Road base will transfer to Donnington in Telford by 2015.
The move signals the end of the regular Army’s 138-year presence at Copthorne Barracks and throws into doubt the future of base, which was built in 1877.
For a large part of its life, Copthorne Barracks was used as a training depot for the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, drilling recruits from all over the country.
Mementos of the base’s colourful history can still be seen today, including an eagle statue which was taken by officers of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry from Minden Barracks in Cologne in 1925 as a souvenir – but never returned.
Today, retired servicemen from the KSLI regiment said there would be a ‘period of mourning’ if the barracks were to close completely.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel of the KSLI, Richard Osborne, 87, said soldiers from all over England who did their training at the base would be saddened by its potential loss.
“Our recruits mainly came from all over the UK but mainly from Shropshire and Herefordshire,” he said.
“We had our own staff for cleaning the barracks, are own cooks, and even are own pig farm.
“It is a great sorrow because a lot of regimental soldiers from all over England did their training here and that is why we get such a large attendance coming back.
“The closure of the barracks will be to them like losing a member of the family.
“We will be in a period of mourning,” he added.
Lt Col Osborne spent 12 years as rifles regiment secretary and was responsible for organising a series of royal visits.
The Queen Mother visited Copthorne Barracks on five occasions in her role as Colonel in Chief of the Light Infantry.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Bevan MBE, 74, served as camp commandant at Copthorne Barracks between 1993 and 2004.
He now organises an annual reunion of the Light Infantry and Rifles veterans which is attended by 2,000 ex-servicemen. But he said this week’s announcement about the partial closure of the base had left retired KSLI servicemen worried about the future of the popular reunion event.
He said: “Since the announcement we have had lots phone calls and emails asking what is going on.”
The future of the Territorial Army unit and other smaller units based at Copthorne Barracks has not yet been decided but Army chiefs admitted they could also move away from Shrewsbury, bringing about a full closure of the barracks.
Rifleman Les Oliver, 26, from Belvedere and Lance Corporal Dan Coley, 25, from Sutton Farm, are TA reservists with the 4th Mercian battalion based at Copthorne Barracks.
Both men have served their county in Afghanistan and now work as recruiters at the base, carrying out their TA duties alongside their full-time jobs.
Lance Corporal Dan Coley said: “We are riflemen and we are proud of that. When you go recruiting in the town there are so many people who have either family in the KSLI or had a link to it. There is such a strong connection in the town.”
He added that servicemen were in the dark about the future of the TA at Copthorne Barracks. He said: “We don’t know what will happen.
“It is sort of worrying, we have got local ties to this place because we have been here so long.”
Rifleman Oliver said: “We are infantry and we get deployed with other infantry battalions – basically whoever needs us.”
The soldiers said that over the years the Army had increased its reliance on the TA.
Rifleman Oliver said: “We are now more integrated with the regular Army and they have boosted our numbers so it is better for us now.”