THE CURSE OF SCOTLAND
Not everyone welcomed the arrival of the 52nd Lowland Division in Lincolnshire in July 1944. In an otherwise completely bare office assigned to the division’s administrative staff, a single playing card was found. It was the Nine of Diamonds – popularly known as the Curse of Scotland. Not a nice card to find in an otherwise empty office during a war.
No-one knows how the card got the label but the superstition dates back, at least, to the early 1700s. Among the theories as to how the card got its sinister reputation are: - the card’s resemblance to coat of arms belong to the Earl of Stair, who ordered the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe; the importance of the card in a game called Pope Joan which was supposedly introduced to predominately Protestant by the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots; the card was originally called the Cross of Scotland due to its resemblance to a saltire and someone misheard the name; or that the Duke of Cumberland scribbled the order to kill wounded Jacobites at Culloden on a Nine of Diamonds. As the first written mention of the card as the Curse of Scotland was made in 1710, long before Culloden, the last theory listed, though popular, cannot be correct.
The Division contained a number of Norwegian officers who had been attached to it when it was being trained as a Mountain Warfare Unit. The 52nd also had almost 20 Canadian officers who were among the hundreds attached to British units as part of the Canloan scheme. The 15th Scottish Division had almost 120 Canadian officers loaned to it under the scheme and the 51st Highland Division had around 75.
Next Week - Window Pains
To keep things simple, I've decided to base the following on the regular Scottish regiments as they were at the time of the Second World War.
But first -
Scottish Regiments at Waterloo - The Royal Scots Greys, the Scots Guards, the Royal Scots, the Highland Light Infantry, the 73rd Foot (later 2nd Black Watch), the Black Watch, the Cameron Highlanders and the Gordon Highlanders. The 91st Foot (later 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) were guarding one of the flanks and did not take part in the fighting.
Scottish Regiments in the Crimean War - The Royal Scots Greys, the Scots Guards, the Royal Scots, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Black Watch, the Highland Light Infantry, the 72nd Duke of Albany's Highlanders, the Cameron Highlanders, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders and 90th Perthshire Light Infantry. The Gordon Highlanders arrived days after the capture of the main Russian fortifications at Sebastapol.
Scottish Regiments in the Indian Mutiny - The Black Watch, the 71st Highland Light Infantry, the 73rd Regiment, the 74th Highlanders, the 75th Stirlingshire Regiment, the 79th Cameron Highlanders, the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, the 72nd Duke of Albany's Highlanders, the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, the 78th Ross-shire Buffs.
Scottish Regiments in the Zulu War - Royal Scots Fusiliers, 90th Perthshire Light Infantry and 91st Argyllshire Highlanders. The Edinburgh-raised 99th Lanarkshire Regiment and the 94th Regiment, raised in Glasgow, also served against the Zulus but were shortly afterwards stripped of their Scottish associations to become battalions of the Wiltshire Regiment and the Connaught Rangers.
Scottish Regiments at Culloden - The Government troops at Culloden in 1746 included the regiments that would later be known as The Royal Scots, The King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Loudon's Highlanders, disbanded in 1748, were also present.
Scottish Regiments in the American Revolution - The Scots Guards, the 21st Royal Scots Fusiliers, the 26th Cameronians, the 42nd Black Watch, the 71st Fraser Highlanders, the 76th MacDonald Highlanders, the 80th Edinburgh Volunteers, the 82nd Hamilton's, the 83rd Glasgow Volunteers and the 84th Royal Highland Emigrants. The last six regiments named were all disbanded at the end of the war.
Scotland's only regular cavalry regiment. They trace their origins back to troops of horsemen raised in 1678 as the Royal Regiment of Scotch Dragoons to hunt down strict Presbyterians who revolted against attempts to impose an English-style church in Scotland. The name “Greys” was first applied because of their grey uniforms but later they were mounted on grey chargers. The regiment was also distinguished by being the only cavalry one to wear bearskin headgear. Most famous for their charge at the Battle of Waterloo (See Scottish Military Disasters Chapter 19 ; “Scotland for Ever”), the regiment also took part in the successful, but now mainly forgotten, Charge of the Heavy Brigade, during the Crimean War. The regimental headquarters is at Edinburgh Castle. In 1971 the Scots Greys were amalgamated with the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales Dragoon Guards), itself a 1920s amalgamation of two other cavalry regiments, to form the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, now based at Leuchars in Fife.The Carabiniers had recruited in Cheshire and North Wales. The Welsh connection is recognised by Men of Harlech, arranged for the bagpipes, being one of the duty tunes played by the regimental pipe band. The officers' reputed fondness for champagne in times past once led to the regiment being nicknamed the "Bubbly Jocks".
The Scots Guards claim descent from a regiment raised in 1642 by the Duke of Argyll for service in Ireland. They became the third regiment of Foot Guards in 1661, following the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards in precedence. During the Crimean War they were known as the Scots Fusilier Guards. In 1861 it had twice as many Englishmen as Scotsmen in its ranks. The regiment recruits from throughout Scotland but still includes a large contingent of Englishmen. The regimental headquarters is in London but the regiment is presently based at Aldershot.
AS PROMISED - SAMPLE CHAPTER FROM SCOTTISH MILITARY DISASTERS - > Book Extract
*This one’s not on an article of mine on a military theme, but I think it’s interesting - Selling Nova Scotia
** Those who enjoyed reading about the Royal Scots’ Armistice Day battle with the Bolsheviks in 1918 might be interested in the same fight as seen from a Canadian viewpoint - Canada’s Winter War
*** Read about the blunder that made Canada an easy target for invasion from the United States - Undefended Border
**** Read about the Second World War's Lord McHaw Haw
***** Serious questionmarks over the official version of one the British Army's most dearly held legends - The Real Mackay?
******** It's been a while since I posted a new article. This one's called Temptation
******** Read about how the most Highland of the Highland regiments during the Second World War fared in the Canadian Rockies - Drug Store Commandos.
********* January 2016 marks the centenary of Winston Churchill taking command of 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front. How did the man who sacked so many British generals during the Second World War make out in his own most senior battlefield command? Find out by having a look at Churchill in the Trenches .
********** We now have a Guide to Scottish military museums on this site.
*********** Just weeks before the outbreak of the First World War one of Britain's most bitter enemies walked free from a Canadian jail - Dynamite Dillon
************ Click to read - - Victoria's Royal Canadians - about one of the more unusual of the British regiments.
************* Read an article about the Royal Scots and their desperate fight against the Bolsheviks on Armistice Day 1918 - Forgotten War A second article, looks at the same battle but through a Canadian lens .
************** The 2018 Book of the Year Award has just been announced. See Book of the Year
***************No-one has got back to me with a German source for the claim that the kilties during the First World War were known as The Ladies from Hell . See My Challenge to You
*************** *A map showing the old Scottish regimental recruiting districts can now be seen by clicking Recruiting Area Map .
***************** The Fighting Men 1746 article now includes the estimated strengths of the Jacobite clan regiments which marched into England in 1745 See Clan Strengths
**************** ** I've posted a fresh article - Scotland’s Forgotten Regiments. Guess what it's about.
****************** The High Court Hearing in London in May 2012 attracted a lot of visitors to this site. So, I've decided to keep the link to my latest article on the massacre in the Blog section. See Batang Kali Revisited
A Few of My Favourite Planes
I have a soft-spot for the Gloster Gladiator fighter bi-plane. The Gladiator was replaced by the Hurricane and Spitfire but did see some combat during the Second World War, most notably in Norway and Malta. So, not one of the world's greatest fighter planes. But it has a special place for me because I regularly used to win balsa wood rubber band powered models of it while I was at Primary School. I can't remember what I won the models for and my guess is that the school didn't really explain. Decades later I found a prize certificate from the Scottish Milk Marketing Board informing me that I'd won third place in one of its national competitions. I remembered the guy from the board presenting it to me but thought at the time that the whole class had come third and I had been selected at random to take it from the certificate from him. The school was not big on prizes. But once in a while there was a prize table put out and some kids were invited to select something from it. I always chose the balsa Gladiator. My dad would build them and we would take it to the park at Stathaven where the model seldom survived more than a half-dozen flights. Hmm, I suppose a promised "favourite planes". Stay tuned.
Shameless Plug #9 - With Wellington was among the books recommended as an excellent Christmas present by the prestigious The Society for Army Historical Research. There was another mysterious surge in sales of With Wellington last summer. At the end of May it was the third best selling book about the Peninsular War on the website of one of Britain's biggest booksellers and Number Eighteen in the table for all Napoleonic books. Last December's sales surge turned out to be a combination of the venerable Scots Magazine declaring it Book of the Month in its January 2015 edition and a highly favourable review in the Napoleonic Association's newsletter. Scots Magazine's reviewer, nature writer and author, Jim Crumley, declared "I don't much care for military memoirs, but I could not put this one down". Other reviewers have been equally enthusiastic - "If you are interested in the memoirs of British soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars this book is a MUST!... You don't get many Napoleonic memoirs as good as this" and "It is the most candid memoir of the British Army I have ever read... does not pull any punches ... highly entertaining, but also thought provoking..." To have a look at the full reviews check out more about With Wellington
What do you think? Please feel free to Comment
Wrong Way Around
Decades ago I was lumbered with editing a weekly paper's sports pages. These pages often rely on match reports submitted by one of the teams involved, most often the home side. You won't be surprised to learn that the quality of the reports submitted varied a lot. Some, quite frankly, were terrible. But if the paper wanted to have coverage of all matches in the area, they all had to used. In a somewhat perfect world every match report would be the same length. But in a big scoring game the last thing that's needed is a line such as "And then we scored six more goals taking United's total tally to 22" to avoid exceeding the word limit. So, some editing was required. Often the worst written match reports were the toughest to edit because they barely made even sense as originally submitted and it wasn't always possible to get a hold of the contributor to clarify matters. I had one contributor who was especially awful and could not be safely edited. I also had a couple of contributors who were excellent and their copy a joy to edit. This really bad contributor was talking to one of the excellent ones. The awful one announced that his contributions were so good they were never edited. The better writer was frequently edited, because she safely could be, and naturally entertained hurt feelings because the implication was that her contributions were regarded as of inferior quality. I can't remember how I got out of that one, but I'm pretty sure I didn't tell her that the other contributor was one of the worst we had.
OK, you've found an old black and white studio photo of a kilted relative kitted out in his military finery before heading off to the First World War. But which regiment was he in?
Fortunately, there may be some clues in the photo – the kilt, the glengarry bonnet and, sometimes, the sporran. The regimental badge on the glengarry or, later in the war, the Tam 'o Shanter may be visible. The regimental badges can be seen in Quick Guide to the Scottish Regiments. A lot depends on the quality of the photo – sometimes the tell-tale over-stripes on the tartan of the kilt don't show up. Once you've worked out which regiment the old boy was with, have a look at Tracing A Soldier
The Black Watch – Plain kilt, no over-stripes. Plain glengarry without diced band. The white sporran will have five short black tassels. On the glengarry, the regimental badge may appear to resemble a star. The ToS has a dark hackle instead of a badge.
Seaforth Highlanders – Dark kilt with obvious light coloured over-stripes: there are also a red over-stripes but they seldom show in a black and white photo. In general two vertical over-stripes should be showing either side of the centre of the kilt apron. Dark glengarry with diced band. White sporran with two long black tails. The regimental badge is a stag's head with very obvious antlers.
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – Plain kilt, no over-stripes. Dark glengarry with diced band. The sporran is black with six short black tassels. The collar badge on the tunic resembles two interlocking circles. The regimental badge is large and round. Before the creation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Argylls' badge was the biggest in the British Army.
War is hell and the winning side is often the one which makes the fewest mistakes. The Scots are justly proud of their fighting men and women but mistakes have been made. Best-selling author Paul Cowan turns his attention to the disasters which have befallen Scotland’s soldiers over the centuries. His sharp eye for anecdotal detail, ranging from the gory to the humorous, help make this engaging account of military fiascos, catastrophes and blunders involving Scotland’s proud fighting men come alive for the general reader. Why should soldiers' stories only be told when they're on the winning side?
Extracts from some reviews of Scottish Military Disasters
"Author and war journalist Paul Cowan gives a pithy thumbnail sketch of each battle or incident (the longest episode is nine pages), and sets each event in the context of its time and also lists, where appropriate, its military or historical consequences. All in all, it is a cracking good read."
--Brian Townsend, The Courier
"[T]his pacy, lucidly written history is extremely readable and highly informative"
—Martin Tierney, The Herald
"A fascinating and highly recommended read."
—Ian Smith, Scots Magazine
"Wha Killed The Braw Lads? - When Scottish soldiers ended up on the losing side.
"THERE is something unnerving about a screaming man charging head on at you with the sale intent of impaling you on a piece of sharpened steel." I'm in total agreement with that observation.
The steel in question is a bayonet, firmly clamped to the business end of a rifle barrel, but the key word is unnerving as countless troops in numerous battles have discovered for themselves. For the opposition it was time to turn and run and they always did, despite the fact that very few battlefield injuries were actually caused by bayonets. The sharpened length of steel was (and still is) a psychological weapon rather than a physical one.
This observation comes from journalist Paul Cowan in his paperback about Scottish regiments at war. But this is no elongated paean to the glory of our victorious lads surmounting the odds in various parts of the Empire and Europe. This work is very different, for its title is Scottish Military Disasters.
There were plenty of those - nearly 2000 years' worth, from Calgacus and his hordes losing out to the Roman legions at Mons Graupius right through to the first Gulf War in 1991 and the needless deaths of three Highlanders at the hands of gung-ho US reservist pilots.
The author doesn't mince his words when it comes to leadership, though the officers at regimental level come out fairly well. He reserves his true vitriol for the high-ups. I don't recall his use of the word "numptie", but you will know what I mean. High on the latter list must surely be Lt. General Aylmer Hunter-Weston, a Scotsman whom Cowan describes as the Clown Prince of the Gallipoli campaign. His incompetence cost the lives of hundreds of young Scots in the 8th Scottish Rifles, part of the 52nd Lowland Division's 156th Infantry Brigade.
Told of the slaughter, his unfeeling response was: "That will blood the pups." One of the pups was the author's great-grandfather.
History, of course, is full of "what ifs"? While not a military disaster in the accepted sense, the death of King Alexander III in 1286 when he rode over a cliff during a storm dramatically altered Scotland's history. Had he lived we might never have heard of Wallace or Bruce and Paul Cowan is right to include this.
He includes so much more that changes our view of great historical events. Remember that famous painting of the Gordon Highlanders hanging on to the Scots Greys' stirrups as they charged the French at Waterloo? Dramatic stuff, but who recalls that later in that same charge the overenthusiastic Greys were cut to pieces by French Cuirassiers, losing 100 dead and another 100 wounded out of their total strength of 350 troopers?
One of Scotland's greatest military disasters was Flodden in 1513. But what went wrong, especially as the Scots outnumbered the English army two to one? How did the Cameronians come by their name? And why is the White House painted white?
Lots of questions. Paul Cowan answers all of them and many more. A fascinating and highly recommended read.