There's money in military history

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The Independent Online

The other day I found myself on a train with nothing to read, and must have been sighing and fidgeting a lot, because the man opposite suddenly offered to lend me a book. He pushed one over. It was the regimental history of one of the more famous infantry regiments. I pushed it back politely.

The other day I found myself on a train with nothing to read, and must have been sighing and fidgeting a lot, because the man opposite suddenly offered to lend me a book. He pushed one over. It was the regimental history of one of the more famous infantry regiments. I pushed it back politely.

"Not really up my street," I said.

"Fair enough," he said. "But you may regret not reading it."

"Really?" I said. "Think I'll go on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and the vital question will be about the battle honours of your regiment?"

"Not my regiment," he said. "I was never in the Army. But if I hadn't once read a regimental history, it wouldn't have changed my life and I wouldn't be the millionaire I am now."

"You a millionaire?" I said. "Then what are you doing, travelling standard class, when you could pay a little extra and go first?"

"You meet a better class of person in standard," he said. "People in first class are generally company free-loaders, on expenses. But people in standard have paid for themselves. My kind of people."

"As I am your sort of person," I said, "perhaps you will tell me how you read an army history and became a millionaire."

He smiled amiably.

"When I was a young man and working in the City, I had an uncle in the Army whose library was entirely military. Staying with him one weekend, I was so bored I started browsing among his military histories. He came into the library and saw what I was reading, and said: 'One day all those regiments will be history.' I asked him what he meant. 'Oh,' he said, 'the glory days of the Army are over. Politicians will realise that lots of regiments have more history than future, and'll start closing them down. They won't call it that, of course; they'll say they're merging them. But that's what they will mean.'

"I pricked up my ears at this, because in the City I had seen how much money you could make from mergers, and it sounded to me as if this was one kind of money-making merger nobody had yet spotted.

"So over the next little while I made discreet inquiries into the finances of regimental mergers, and which regiments were likely to go first, and by being in on the ground floor and cornering certain of the arrangements, I began to make a lot of money out of them."

"I don't see," I said. "I don't see how you can make a lot of money out of regimental mergers."

"Does the word asset-stripping mean nothing any more?" said the man in the train indignantly. "Have you young people forgotten all tradition?"

"I am not a young man and I have not forgotten anything."

He peered closely at me.

"Nor you are. Not at all. Well, take it from me that there is a lot of money to be made from the business. But you have to be careful. In 1982 I nearly went bankrupt and got sent down for treason into the bargain."

"?" I said.

"At the time, I was engaged in the merger of the Queen's Own Borderers with some other regiment," he said, "and because of some crazy legal mix-up, I was for a couple of weeks the sole owner of the Queen's Own. Just a holding operation, you know, like a bridging loan. Unfortunately, before I could clear the ownership question, the Falklands War broke out, and the Queen's Own were ordered into battle. Well, I couldn't have that. They were a lucrative property. I didn't want it shot at. So I took steps to ensure they were not sent to the Falklands, which didn't go down well in certain quarters, and I was arrested on suspicion of treason."

"Good Lord," I said. "What happened then?"

But just then the train pulled into Reading, and the man said: "Ah - my station! Some other time, perhaps!" and, winking heavily at me, jumped out on to the platform.

If he should happen to read this, I would be pleased to hear the sequel from him by letter so I can pass it on to my readers.

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