On Thursday the House of Commons Defence Committee visited Denison Barracks at Hermitage, the new home of 77 Brigade. The Committee was keen to see this interesting new addition to the Army’s Order of Battle. While it may be new, it has its roots in the bloody battles in Burma in the Second World War. Then as now it practised a different kind of warfare. This new Brigade aims to challenge the difficulties of modern warfare using “non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers” as a means to change the way an enemy or a potential enemy behaves. To use modern management speak, it thinks outside the box.
The HQ walls are covered with pictures of some of the historical figures who have always fascinated me. Lawrence of Arabia is there, alongside the Chindit commander, Orde Wingate. There are also lesser-known characters such as a Scotsman who despite advancing years was brought back to Army service in 1944 following the fall of Caan in Normandy. His quiet efficiency brought order to the post conflict town and saw water and electricity restored, schools rebuilt and the like. 77 Brigade at its best will prevent wars happening in the first place. They incorporate a number of quirky and innovative Army organisations such as the Security Assistance Group, the Military Stabilisation and Support Group, the Media Operations Groups and the Psychological Operations Group. It is hard to summarise exactly what they do because it is so multi-faceted but a visit there is uplifting. You see evidence of an Army that is really thinking about how war and conflict happens and how to prevent it. You see a real understanding that to achieve success a modern Army has to work with aid agencies, Non-Governmental Organisations, the private sector, religious and cultural bodies. In 77 Brigade you meet clever, creative thinkers who are also very much like soldiers you meet in any other unit in the Army. It is a highly operational unit with regulars and reservists working alongside each other with many deployed abroad.
I am proud to have this unique and ground-breaking organisation in West Berkshire. As it settles in to life at Hermitage, I am sure it will form as close a bond to our community as its predecessor, the Royal Engineers, did during their many years at the barracks.