A series of farewell events to mark the closure of Joint Headquarters (JHQ) Rheindahlen has begun with a reception and musical ceremony.
JHQ and the Rheindahlen Military Complex began life in 1953 when the complex was built to house the HQs of the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force in Germany.
Over the years the occupants have changed as the military situation in Europe changed; currently the major occupant is HQ British Forces Germany (HQ BFG).
Following the move of HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps to the UK in 2010 and of HQ BFG to Bielefeld this year the site can be handed back, saving annual running costs of approximately £50 million.
The 470-hectare site, which has been home to tens of thousands of Britons, will be handed back to the German federal authorities at the end of this year.
A very close association has developed with the site’s German neighbours and there is genuine sadness being expressed in the local villages and in the nearby city of Mönchengladbach over the closure.
There are local civilians who have worked on the camp for as long as 40 years but a 2-year retraining programme has mitigated the loss of jobs.
On Thursday 11 July a reception and musical ceremony started the farewell events. Among the 350 guests were the Mayor of Mönchengladbach, Herr Norbert Bude, and Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS) Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, who has a close personal and military association with the area.
During the reception, General Officer Commanding (GOC) BFG, Major General John Henderson, said:
It is the end of an era, a definite turning of a page of history.
He thanked the Mayor and the people of Mönchengladbach ‘for welcoming us into your city and supporting us through thick and thin’.
The reception was followed by a spectacular array of music. The Crossed Swords Pipe Band opened the set, followed by the sunset ceremony played by the Band of the Prince of Wales’s Division and the German military band Heeresmusikkorps 300.
It was a fitting display emphasising the partnership between Britain and Germany which is also reflected in the 2 countries’ troops serving alongside each other in Afghanistan.
The next day, in the centre of Mönchengladbach, soldiers from 1 Military Intelligence Battalion and 16 Signal Regiment paraded in the bright sunshine.
The large crowd of both German and British spectators saw the Mayor, GOC BFG and VCDS inspect the immaculately turned out troops and hundreds of British schoolchildren excitedly waved German and British flags.
During his address VCDS recalled the words of Field Marshal Montgomery at the formation of the British Army of the Rhine:
We must build a new Europe from the ashes of the old. We must apply the same sense of duty to the common cause of freedom.
The Air Chief Marshal added:
As your friends and partners we have tried to do this. On behalf of all serving and former serving British forces and their families who have been associated with JHQ and Mönchengladbach I thank you and all the people of Mönchengladbach for including us as part of your family for the last 68 years.
We wish you good luck and best wishes for the future.
Whilst JHQ is closing, VCDS emphasised during an interview with British Forces Broadcasting Service TV that, for the British serviceman, ‘Germany is not closing for some time to come’ and heavily promoted a posting to Germany.