Axe hovering over Army musicians

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS of British Army musicians are due to be axed today under cover of publicity surrounding the Chancellor's Budget statement.

Many of the 60-plus smaller military bands attached to fighting regiments are expected to disappear, to be reformed into larger units linked to Army divisions employing fewer personnel.

But some small bands, including the bands of individual cavalry regiments of the Royal Armoured Corps, could be scrapped altogether.

MPs expect the 2,000 or so bandsmen to be cut by half in an announcement by Malcolm Rif kind, Secretary of State for Defence. The decision will come as no surprise - it was given the go-ahead under Options for Change, which will see an Army manpower reduction from 156,000 to 119,000 by 1995. The shake-up may also be phased over the next two years.

But it will provoke strong protests from some Tories, who believe the bands play a crucial role in fostering regimental spirit.

The five bands of the five regiments of the Queen's Foot Guards are likely to escape the cuts because of their ceremonial role during State visits and Buckingham Palace garden parties.

Bandsmen are trained to work on medical duties and stretcher bearing. A number of regimental bands helped to man desert hospitals during the Gulf war.