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Chief tells of moving 12,000 troops

The man responsible for orchestrating the move of more than 12,000 British soldiers and their families out of Germany has spoken of the huge scale of the task.

Major General John Henderson, commander of British Forces Germany, said if the military does not get the gradual movement of some 31,000 people right, it would take 1,000 furniture vans seven weeks to complete.

Maj Gen Henderson is in charge of the huge rebasing programme that sees more than 12,000 military personnel leave Germany after nearly 70 years in the country, as part of reforms to the armed forces under Army 2020.

Coupled with their families and civilian employees, some 30,000 people are set to return to the UK as part of the move, taking place over the next few years.

Maj Gen Henderson said British Forces Germany operates as "part military HQ, part diplomatic mission and part local authority", providing everything its community needs, from education and welfare to transport, housing, and hospitals.

A main task for him now is the rebasing of British troops - acting as the "grim reaper" telling people what is going to close and when.

"It is a little bit sad because I came to Germany first in June 1983 as a 19-year-old and so I now have to go round a lot of people and so, 'I'm really sorry...'

"We're now down to just under 12,200 soldiers and if you include their families and other key civilians who support us, we're probably about 31,000 people as a community in total.

"It's an enormous task - next summer when we most out of Hohne and Fallingbostel, if we don't get it right we're going to need 1,000 furniture vans for seven weeks just to move the families out of Germany and back to the UK.

"The UK's removal industry can't do that - not on top of everything else, that gives you a feel for the size of it."

Maj Gen Henderson's comments come after the UK's armoured division was renamed 1st (United Kingdom) Division, losing its armoured title, as part of restructuring under the Army 2020 reforms, with its headquarters set to move to York.

Asked about concerns over the withdrawal of British forces from Germany, Maj Gen Henderson said: "It's all part of a pattern of change through the centuries, the army's not the same army it was 20 years ago and it's certainly not the same army it was 100 years ago. This is just a part of a pattern of change.

"Was it the American chief of the army who said, 'if you don't like change you'll find irrelevance even harder?' "

For many soldiers based in Germany the move is a sad one as they leave behind somewhere that has left them with fond memories.

Captain Ben Collishaw, from the Royal Logistics Corps, has been based in Germany for just over four years.

The 33-year-old, from York, said: "People who have been in Germany understand the value that there is here and certainly the community in Germany since me and my wife have been here has been spectacular.

"There's a very good social life, a really good sense of bond and so much you can do whether it be locally or going out and exploring the rest of Europe; it's really just been a fantastic opportunity for us to do something different.

"Germany certainly will be missed by many, I think."

Sergeant Ben Moody, from 5th Regiment Royal Artillery, was in Germany from 2007 to 2009 and asked to return because he and his family liked it so much.

Sgt Moody, 35, from Beverley, Yorkshire, said: "I've been here for the last year and we're going back to Yorkshire in a couple of weeks.

"We've been lucky I've been able to serve in Germany and also our children as well. Not every child gets to go to Germany. We've done holidays in Holland, down in France - being in Germany has its perks.

"We'll look back with fond memories."


From Belfast Telegraph