Shock and sadness as regiment is disbanded

The Bicester-based 23 Pioneer Regiment celebrated their return from Cyprus and Afghanistan with a parade in Broad Street, Oxford, in April

Widow Heather Wood at the regiment’s base in Bicester

First published in News by

WAR widow Heather Wood last night launched a stinging attack on the Government over how it has treated “our heroes”.

Yesterday it was announced the 600-strong 23 Pioneer Regiment, based in Bicester in some form since 1941, will be disbanded.

Soldiers at the base were in shock last night after being told the regiment will cease to exist by October 2015.

No details of how many troops face redundancy or how many would join other regiments elsewhere have been released.

Mrs Wood, of Bicester, whose husband Warrant Officer Class 2 Charles Wood was killed in an explosion in Afghanistan in December 2010, said: “I’m absolutely devastated.

“Charlie was a massive Pioneer through and through.

“I’ll be honest. It’s because of the Pioneers and the way they are that got me through the last 18 months, and it is still a massive part of my life.”

Mrs Wood said she was angry about the announcement and said lives would be “ripped apart”.

She said: “I’m so angry – you’ve got people who don’t get paid much, who are doing a dangerous job in Afghanistan and this is how they are treated. Is this how we treat our heroes? I know Charlie would be absolutely devastated.

“The Government should take a hard look at itself and its finances.

“How much money has been wasted and lives lost, and now people’s lives and their families are being ripped apart.

“People are going to Afghanistan, facing the prospect of redundancy and the potential of losing their life as well.”

Norman Brown, of the Royal Pioneer Corps Association, said: “It’s just disbelief – the Pioneers have been here since 1941.”

He said he was sitting with soldiers in the sergeants’ mess at St David’s Barracks yesterday and added the mood was one of “shock”.

In a statement the Royal Pioneer Corps Association, which is preparing for its annual reunion this weekend, said: “The disbandment of any regiment is always felt with an acute degree of sadness among its soldiers. However, the men and women of 23 Pioneer Regiment, RLC, can rightly be proud of their history and achievements both on operations and at home.”

The MoD said a further decision over the Pioneers’ base, St David’s Barracks, and Army housing in Ambrosden, will be made towards the end of the year.

The base has no family quarters, but includes flats for single soldiers, a parade ground, offices and other regimental buildings.

Bicester Town Council leader James Porter said it was “sad news”, but the council would wait to see what the whole package was over the military presence in Bicester, where there is also a large civilian presence.

There is also a question mark over whether troops returning from Germany will be based at Bicester.

Bicester’s MP Tony Baldry said: “I think going to take a little time for dust to settle before we can understand the full impact.

“We will have to wait for some months before I start to have sensible discussions with MoD ministers to what uniforms they are anticipating having in Bicester at St David’s and St George’s Barracks.”

Restructuring will see the Army reduce from 102,000 to 80,000 troops.

Under plans for the redevelopment of MoD land at Graven Hill, Bicester, there will be 1,900 homes and an employment area, but the base was to be retained. St George’s Barracks, a former home to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, RAOC, in nearby Arncott, is now an Army training base. A bomb disposal training centre is being built at the site, which would see troops from the Royal Engineers and Royal Logistic Corps based there.

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