BATUS: Army's Canada training base to see 'change' but won't close, Wallace says

The British Army's training base in Canada will see "change" but will not be closing, the Defence Secretary has said.

Ben Wallace dismissed reports that troops would be completely leaving British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Alberta, Canada, the service's largest battleground in the world, to move to the Middle East.

British soldiers have been training at BATUS since 1972.

Mr Wallace spoke to Forces News during a visit to RAF Leeming, Yorkshire, to unveil a new joint UK-Qatari Hawk Training Squadron.

He said "BATUS is not being closed" but added: "Of course, we'll change what we do there because some of those forces we might use elsewhere but no we're not closing BATUS."

When pressed on whether there was a shift of focus towards the Middle East, Mr Wallace said: "We are being present where it matters, and the Middle East matters.

"We're also going to be forward and present in places like Kenya because Africa matters to our security and matters to our interests as well."

The former Army officer recently said he wants British personnel to "see the world", with training set to be increased around the globe.

Oman is tipped to be one of five of the UK's 'land hubs', which, Mr Wallace said "are about us increasing our training – Oman is one – Kenya another and there'll be others".

Mr Wallace reiterated that on Wednesday, saying: "There's no good sitting back in a British base – if you want influence, if you want to deter, if you want to provide resilience, you need to be out and around in parts of the world that matters.

"The Middle East is one of those parts of the world, Oman and Qatar, for example, would be one of those areas."

The Ministry of Defence earlier said: "Canada is one of the UK's oldest and closest allies.

"Contrary to reports today, we are not closing BATUS.

"It will continue to be a vital training base for the British Army."

Watch: In 2019, we were given special access to BATUS to find out more about the training ground.

'A tremendous experience'

BFBS writer and former Household Cavalry soldier James Wharton discusses his time at BATUS.

I spent four months at BATUS in 2008. It was a tremendous experience, my first tour away from home that wasn't an operational deployment. I was 20 years old.

The uniqueness offered by BATUS is its sheer size. When you're out there, on the prairies, there is so much more opportunity to push the limits of military training, allowing troops to have a taste of what a proper war against a conventional enemy might feel like. I recall having some incredible tank battles with other units for a few weeks at a time; it felt like we really went to war with those guys in our role as the enemy.

It is not without danger. You need only spend a few days there to notice the occasional white cross on a hillside that marks the spot a soldier lost their life while training. This underlines the level of realism offered by BATUS.

Away from the green side of things, Canada more generally gives soldiers a fantastic chance to participate in Adventurous Training. While I was based there, I rode a horse up the Rocky Mountains; others went glacier climbing. These are the awesome moments of a career in the British Army that stay with a person all their lives, and Canada has so much to do with that. 

Perhaps BATUS' only downside is the distance you have to travel to get anywhere; 40 minutes to Med Hat in the east, four hours to Calgary in the west. It makes planning for a night out away from base that little more challenging. Happy memories!