Soldiers get three days to decide on Belfast move

Dreghorn Barracks. Picture: Joey Kelly
Dreghorn Barracks. Picture: Joey Kelly
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Soldiers serving in Afghanistan have been given three days to decide on their families’ future after their battalion was ordered to move to Belfast.

The troops on the front line are among 600 members of 1 Scots who have been told they must decide whether to make the move or apply to stay in the Capital by the end of today.

Palace Barracks in Belfast

Palace Barracks in Belfast

One army wife said her husband felt “sick” at the time-scale, and added: “He is on the front line. It’s just not fair to be put under that pressure when he is due home in a few weeks.” Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy demanded a rethink of the deadline.

He said: “It is totally out of order that our troops are being asked to make a decision about uprooting their families to Belfast with just three days’ notice.

“This is a shameful way to treat our heroes.

“Service personnel and their families should have time to make such important decisions with the full facts available. Rushing those who serve their country in this way is unfair and must be rethought.”

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond revealed on Tuesday details of the latest shake-up of military bases which includes a cut of around 40 per cent in army numbers in the Capital.

Although 1 Scots are being sent to Belfast, the soldiers’ families can apply to stay in Edinburgh and soldiers can request a move elsewhere.

The army wife, who asked not to be identified, said: “Some of our soldiers, my husband included, are still out in Afghanistan and they are expected to fill in a form by today, stating their preferred posting location, with little or no chance to communicate with family.

“He is struggling to decide what to do.”

She said the situation was made worse by the fact that her husband could only phone once a week for about 20 minutes.

And she said even if her husband decided to go to Belfast with 1 Scots, she and her young son wanted to stay in the forces home at Dreghorn where they have lived since 2007.

“My career is in Edinburgh – I work as a secondary teacher – and our son is in Gaelic medium education.

“I will have to fight and put in a claim to try to retain a roof over our head but there’s no guarantee the army will let us remain in our home.”

Jacqui Chauke, whose Lance Corporal husband Raymond is serving in Afghanistan, said communication could be difficult depending on where the soldiers were based.

“My husband phones home once a week to check on the kids and see how we’re doing. It works ok unless it’s raining but it’s just really slow.”

Yesterday, the wife of another serving soldier said her husband had been asked to make the decision “there and then” when he was told the news at a briefing in Afghanistan this week.

She said: “We want to stay in Edinburgh and had discussed it beforehand so he put in for a transfer. It’s horrible that they’re putting all this stress on them when they’re not even home yet.”

And another wife said her husband has applied for redundancy because he was tired of being “treated like dirt.” She said: “He’s had enough of it all. Even if he doesn’t get it, I’m not moving to Northern Ireland.

“There is no way I would take my child there.”

Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart said: “It’s good that a choice is being offered, but to be given three days to make it is just nonsense. No-one should be making a decision which potentially affects things like schooling when they can’t discuss it properly with the family.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The Royal Regiment of Scotland is being reduced by approximately one sixth.

“Every soldier within the regiment has been given the option to remain in their current battalion, move to another battalion or move to another regiment.

“While the deadline is short, every soldier was informally told several months ago that they would have to make this decision.”