Around 100 veterans from the North West marched on Westminster in protest at the government’s plans to axe the Second Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
Proposals to scrap the famous battalion, which has served in every major military campaign since 1674, were announced in July as part of the government’s defence cuts.
Veteran Fusiliers from Bury, Salford, Radcliffe, Rochdale and Oldham were among 450 people who marched along Whitehall and into the Palace of Westminster.
The historic protest represented the first in the history of the British Army – the last time soldiers demonstrated in London being in 1649.
The demonstration was followed by a Commons debate with a motion for the reversal of the decision supported submitted by 57 votes to three.
John Baron, the Conservative MP who put forward the motion, said there was a political motive behind the cuts.
Speaking during the debate, he said: “We contend that 2RF has been felled by political considerations to save more poorly recruited Scottish battalions ahead of the 2014 Scottish referendum.
“If there have to be cuts then those cuts have to be based on military logic, not political calculation.”
Dennis Laverick, a veteran fusilier and campaigner who handed an 8,000-signature-strong North West petition to Downing Street, said there is now even more pressure on the government to reconsider.
“What we’re saying now is we’ve won the battle – now we’ve got to win the war.
“The MPs voted in favour yesterday but now it has to go to full parliament. There will be those who are on our side as well as those who aren’t, but the fight will go on,” he added.
Mr Laverick said it was apparent there was a huge sense of public pride for the Fusiliers.
“The people of London were cheering us on, it was unbelievable,” he said.
James Frith, a Labour councillor who attended the march on behalf of Bury Council, said the motion passed yesterday speaks volumes for those in Bury who want to see the Fusiliers saved.
The historic Second Battalion has strong ties to Bury’s identity with a regiment based in the town.
Cllr Frith said: “Whether it’s the support of Bury people, the support of the North West, of 450 nationally who descended on parliament, the huge support it received as we marched through the streets of Westminster, or the overwhelming result in the Commons: if the government was looking for an indication as to where it was going wrong it’s got about seven or eight indications there.
“It is not sensible to get rid of infantry forces in an uncertain world, particularly when there are other things that could be done to ensure that the Fusiliers Battalion that’s at risk is sustained.”
Cllr Frith added that it was an ‘extremely humbling experience’ to represent the people of Bury and to witness those who had given multiple decades of public service.
“A lot of the issue is about the integrity of how we treat people who have fought for something that we take for granted, our freedom.”
Cllr Frith said the government had not thought the policy through.
“It’s under a smokescreen of the economic deficit but they’re not attacking that either they’re borrowing more money than they ever have,” he said.
Colonel Brian Gorski, chairman of the Fusilier Museum in Bury, said that political interference to save poorly-recruited Scottish battalions smacked of a ‘grubby political fix’ in the lead-up to the Scottish referendum.
Col Gorski said: “If the Government cannot do the right thing within the MOD budget, then it should source funding from elsewhere, such as from our ballooning EU budget contributions.”
Manchester City Council has also pledged its support for the campaign, with each member of the executive signing the petition.
To join the HM Government epetition visit http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/35724