Army unit faces gender row as officials consider changing ‘craftsman’ rank to ‘private’

Forged in the heat of battle in the Second World War, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery said it was the corps that would ‘keep the punch in the Army’s fist’.

But now the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) are under fire for seemingly surrendering to political correctness.

The corps is considering changing the name of the rank ‘craftsman’ – its equivalent of ‘private’ – in case it is too gender-specific.

Former military top brass have described the Engineers as ‘obsessing with identity politics’ and ‘abandoning tradition’ – questioning why the terms ‘craftsman’ and ‘craftswoman’ could not simply be used if a change was ever needed. 

A memo seen by the Mail – and headed ‘REME gender-free nomenclature’ – says ‘to develop our skills and trades to remain appropriate, relevant and attractive to soldiers in the future, we have an opportunity to refresh some of our terminology.’

Capt Hannah Winterbourne (Graf), pictured receiving an MBE in 2019, was with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Capt Hannah Winterbourne (Graf), pictured receiving an MBE in 2019, was with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Capt Hannah Winterbourne (Graf), pictured receiving an MBE in 2019, was with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

It adds: ‘The rank of “Craftsman” has been iconic since the formation of the Corps in 1942 but we now have a chance to consider a modern and inclusive alternative as part of our positive narrative moving forward.

‘This is not a question of whether we should change (that debate will happen as part of a bigger, Army-wide discussion); this survey seeks to gain ideas from all ranks and trades as how we wish to be identified in the future.’

It includes several possible alternatives to ‘craftsman’ including ‘private’, ‘technician’, ‘engineering technician (ET)’, or ‘artisan and technician’, and invites other suggestions.

The consultation within its own ranks will raise questions about whether other historic variations of Army rank, including guardsman, may also face updating.

Last night Colonel Richard Kemp, ex-commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, said: ‘The Army has several ranks incorporating the word “man”, for example, guardsman and rifleman.

‘Like craftsman, which goes back to the creation of the REME in the Second World War, soldiers take fierce pride in these ranks which they see as giving them a unique standing within a large organisation. This sort of tradition is important in building esprit de corps so vital for fighting forces.

‘Rather than obsessing with identity politics and abandoning tradition, the simple solution is to call male soldiers “craftsman” and female soldiers “craftswoman” as the RAF has done with the rank of aircraftman, with females now called aircraftwoman.’

Last night, an Army spokesman said: ‘The Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers is gathering views on how its roles and trades are identified, as part of a broader modernisation strategy. As an inclusive employer, the British Army is committed to engaging openly with its soldiers, but no decisions have been made.’

The REME – motto Arte et Marte, or ‘By Skill and By Fighting’ – provides engineering support and is responsible for maintaining and repairing the Army’s equipment.

Now numbering 7,500 regular soldiers, they will be found wherever the army is located at home or overseas.



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