Barnsley men unite to lead 2 Rifles B Company

Kenya may be a long way from Barnsley but two local men have distinguished themselves as they lead a company of an infantry battalion in the African nation.

The Co Antrim-based 2 Rifles, known by their motto “Swift and Bold”, were created in 2007 following the amalgamation of several older regiments, and recruit soldiers from across the United Kingdom.

But among the wide variety of accents in the ranks, there is a strong Barnsley sound in B Company, where two of the leading men are from the South Yorkshire town.

Major Neil Watson is Officer Commanding of B Company and works closely with fellow Barnsley man Sergeant Major Daniel Long.

Askari Storm
Soldiers from B Company, 2 Rifles on Exercise Askari Storm in Kenya (Robbie Hodgson/Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright)

Talking to the Press Association while leading B Company on the intensive Exercise Askari Storm in central Kenya, the men said they have had to contend with gruelling heat, scorpions in the practice trenches, and herds of elephants close to camping grounds.

“It’s not exactly something you’d see in Barnsley,” they laughed.

The pair are both based at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, Co Antrim, and are set to lead B company on tour to Kabul in Afghanistan next year.

They have drunk at the same bar back in Barnsley, but never met until joining the former Light Infantry regiment, which became part of The Rifles in 2007.

“It’s only a small town,” added Sergeant Major Long.

Major Watson said that, with The Rifles having such a large recruiting ground, it is unusual to end up working closely with someone from your own town.

Askari Storm
A soldier from B Company, 2 Rifles takes part in Exercise Askari Storm in Kenya (Robbie Hodgson/Ministry of Defence/Crown Copright)

While Major Watson is a commissioned officer, Sergeant Major Long joined as a Rifleman.

“We both served together in the old second battalion of the Light Infantry, which was 3 Rifles when I was a 2nd Lieutenant, and he was a Lance Corporal,” Major Watson said.

“It’s been great to be able to come back together later on.

“The Rifles has got a big recruiting area, we recruit from south of the Tyne all the way down through Yorkshire, the Midlands, Birmingham, pretty much nationwide now.

“It’s quite unusual that you would have a company commander and a company sergeant major from the same place, but I think it proves the strength and depth in the Rifles – that it doesn’t matter where you start off, if you have got the capacity to be able to do your job well, then there is absolutely no limit to what you can achieve, be that joining as a Rifleman or joining as an Officer.”

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