Catterick Garrison is the largest British Army outpost in the world, home to 13,000 brave men and women working tirelessly to defend our nation.
Around 3,000 soldiers are based at its Helles and Vimy barracks – centres for training excellence.
The garrison is home to Gurkhas as well as the 4th Mechanised Brigade – the Black Rats – who played a vital role fighting in the deserts of North Africa in the Second World War in major battles such as at El Alamein, in a campaign led by the legendary ‘Monty of Alamein’, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.
Key role: ‘Monty’, pictured in 1948, led the Allies in North Africa
Behind a 10ft high barbed wire fence, all new recruits are confined to barracks for at least six weeks of intensive training before they are allowed outside.
And for the ‘fiercest fighters in the world’ – the Gurkhas – it can be many months. Yet incredibly, despite having numerous shops and catering facilities they have no cash machine.
But this is about to change – thanks to The Mail on Sunday’s Keep Our Cash campaign.
Answering our call to arms, the cash machine network organisation Link aims to install around 200 new machines in ‘cash deserts’ where communities need them most.
Following a request from soldiers, it is set to install one of the first ATMs inside the barracks of this vital military outpost in North Yorkshire – an apt choice. It hopes to put in the machine before Christmas.
News of Link’s decision has pleased everyone who lives or works on the garrison. Ganga Lawati and her friend Anita Rai are married to two soldiers.
Their husbands are attached to the Royal Gurkha Rifles – whose motto is ‘Better to die than to be a coward’ – and the Queen’s Gurkha Signals respectively.
When I meet them the wives, out shopping for provisions at the Gurkha’s Corner shop in the garrison, are thrilled to learn of the imminent arrival of a free-to-use cash machine.
Ganga, 31, says: ‘It is fantastic news that a cash machine is going to be installed in the barracks. Those confined to barracks want access to money for their basic spending needs – and they like to handle money rather than pay by card. So an ATM would be fantastic news for the huge number of residents who prefer to pay by cash.’
She adds: ‘We have plenty of cash machines and banks back in Nepal so it is strange that in a more developed country such as Britain access to money is being made harder rather than easier.’
Nepalese shop owner Dil Dura also welcomes the cash machine’s installation and hopes some of the cash will end up being spent in his shop situated just outside the barracks. He has been dismayed at the way banks have fled the local area – taking their cash machines with them – forcing more people to pay by card.
A number of cash machines are located in the garrison, but not in the Helles and Vimy barracks.
Over the past decade, local branches of HSBC and Barclays have closed and now the only nearby bank is Lloyds. It has a couple of cash machines accessed out of hours via a door – opened by a swipe of a bank card.
Dil stocks many special provisions for the Gurkhas and their families – such as the Himalayan herb Jimbu – a kind of onion used as flavouring for popular dishes such as black lentil soup – and the much-loved traditional butter ghee that reminds Gurkhas of home.
He says: ‘As a business, it is a real struggle to make ends meet and we must pay £30 a month to rent payment card reading equipment.
‘Five per cent of any sales price gets taken in processing fees, earnings taken out of our pockets by multi-billion pound financial firms.’
Catterick itself is a small town and has more than two dozen shops and fast food outlets, as well as a cinema complex and library – and the Lloyds branch.
Manifesto: Every town should have a free cash machine
In the centre of a parade of shops sits military supply shop John Bull – which sells everything, including rank badges starting at ‘private’ going up to ‘full colonel’ (the latter is two pips and a crown) plus regimental pace sticks that measure the required stride distance for drills such as the ‘quick march’.
Manager John Gains says: ‘The Armed Forces needs greater support and deserves better – so we salute Link for acting positively to the military’s request for a cash machine. Banks have a social duty to allow customers to access their money for free – they already make enough out of us in other ways.’
At the top end of the street where John Bull is located is a Spar supermarket with a post office inside – but no cash machine. At the other end of the arcade is a fee-charging ATM that demands £1.85 per withdrawal.
Jacqueline Samways is the owner of Georgian Hair & Beauty Salon. She has been styling the hair of hundreds of women on the base for the past 30 years and runs a cash-only business. She says: ‘It is all too clear what is going on – banks are pushing us towards a cashless society only because it serves them well.
‘I welcome this small victory for common sense – providing the community with what it actually wants. It makes a pleasant change.’
She adds: ‘It is easier to budget with cash. Banks try to make us believe money is old-fashioned but this is simply not true. It is something you can understand – unlike when you swish a piece of plastic and have no idea about what is happening to your money.’
Jacqueline believes coins and banknotes are vital to help people learn about budgeting – fearing those using only cards spend more than they should as contactless payments feel less painful than handing over cash from a pocket or purse.
John Howells, chief executive of Link, says: ‘The cash machine request at Catterick Garrison was one we simply could not ignore and we hope to have one installed before Christmas. We hope to ensure at least 200 cash machines are provided where necessary. But the system is crumbling and we are only able to provide a short-term solution. The Government must ensure the problem is fixed – introducing new legislation if necessary.’
Although Link’s initiative is welcome, critics believe it is no more than a PR exercise conducted to distract attention from the fact that cash machines are being axed at the rate of 300 a month.
At the end of last year there were 52,000 free-to-use cash machines across Britain and a further 11,000 pay-to-use ATMs, often charging £1 or more.
Despite claims by banks that we are heading towards becoming a cashless society, more than 2.4 billion withdrawals were made at ATMs last year – with about £193billion of cash being taken out.
On top of the cash machines being ripped out, the number of banks serving communities is also falling at an alarming rate. Branches are being axed at the rate of 55 a month – with a third of branches (3,300) closing since 2015.
Half of all NatWest branches and three quarters of RBS banks have disappeared since 2015. Barclays has axed a third, HSBC two fifths and Lloyds a third.