Collateral damage: British troops are set to finally leave Germany, but what will be the effect of their departure?

After 70 years in Germany, our troops are coming home. But what happens to the places, and people, they leave behind? Kim Sengupta reports from Bergen

The return home of what was the British Army of the Rhine after 70 years is, says the Government, the inevitable consequence of the end of the Cold War and hard economic reality. For those whose lives would be changed by it forever, there are fond memories – but also regrets and recriminations at the parting of the ways.

Under current plans, 11,000 British troops based in Germany will return home by 2016, with the remaining 4,500 back by 2019. It is the responsibility of Major General John Henderson to ensure that the move for the largest British forces overseas – a third bigger than the Afghan deployment at its height – goes smoothly. This applies not just to the 15,500 troops and their families (around another 18,000) but also for the 3,500 local employees and in relations with the German government.

In the UK, up to £1bn will go towards 1,900 new houses and another £800m pounds will be spent on infrastructure and bases. Announcing the huge capital outlay, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond stressed that the move will, in time, lead to savings of £240m pounds a year as four bases will be shut and three others partly closed under the plans. Critics, among them Jim Murphy, the Labour defence spokesman, have asserted that the Government had reneged on a promise to put more of the troops in Scotland.

Major General Henderson, commander of the British forces in Germany, says the one worry he has is "the infrastructure building won't go according to plan or timetable in the UK. There is no reason to think that will be the case, but you can't be totally certain of everything, and that will be my concern. But then again, I don't think the Germans will mind if we hang on here for a few extra months. We are all aware of the economic implications."

This is the other half of the equation. For some in Germany the pullout was not expected for another 15 years. British forces contribute around £1.3bn a year to the local economy and for some of the communities here the implications are stark. In Bergen, for example, a third of the local economy depends on the UK forces.

Rainer Prokop, the Mayor of Bergen, describes the move as "the most severe upheaval for us since the Second World War". He continued: "We don't know what the effect will be on business; a lot of them will be affected, it could be up to 40 per cent of them.

"The British live among us; they are a part of everything here. They started out as an occupying force, but over time they became military partners, neighbours, friends and many started families here."

One of those was the father of David McAllister, until recently the premier of Lower Saxony, a soldier from Scotland who met his German wife while serving in West Berlin. He had held extensive talks with British ministers, the military and officials as well as their German counterparts to formulate measures to soften the blow.

"It has been a disappointment because not so long ago we expected the British forces to stay here until 2035, but we also have to accept the decisions of the British Government," he said. "It will obviously hit places like Bergen and Fallingbostel very hard and these places will need assistance."

There is a degree of puzzlement at the timescale of the withdrawal; Mr McAllister and Mayor Prokof have noted that new houses had been built for troops in Bergen with 15 year rental agreements; there are the thousands of local employees, many of whom have spent their careers with the British; and also the matter of pollution caused by fuel spillage in RAF Bruggen.

Maj Gen Henderson, who has been stationed in Germany several times in his 30-year career since the age of 19, says he understands the problems being faced by the Germans and the UK will do all it can to help. "Under German employment laws I am personally responsible for the employment of around 300 to 500 people. Some of them have been with us for over 40 years and the average age is around 51. Obviously we need to look after them," he said.

"But it helps that German industrial policies are not confrontational. Also there are very good assistance schemes for supporting the income of those who have become unemployed. We have negotiated that this is paid by the German government rather than us.

"We are hoping that the Bundeswehr [Germany army] takes over some of the accommodation. These are purpose-built single cabins, not the rather old-fashioned multi-occupancy ones the Germans are used to."

Maj Gen Henderson insisted, however, that there will be some hard bargaining and some of the cost could be covered by the complicated issue of unclaimed reparations from Germany. "I am fully aware of the duty I have to the British taxpayer," he said. "We are negotiating on the RAF Bruggen like all the other issues. I have got a very clever lawyer working for me and I am not going to letting go of him."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions