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Newspaper reports would have us believe that the British Army may soon have to stop training. Apparently, a lot of their equipment is dangerous and may contravene Health and Safety regulations. Yes indeed, it is only a matter of time until a carelessly placed pinkie finger is cut off by the moving bolt mechanism of a machine gun. And all those tanks racing around with inadequate rear-view mirrors – an accident waiting to happen. Now, it’s not unknown for the newspapers to exaggerate a little for the sake of a story. British readers may remember all the stories about supposedly crazy EEC regulations that dictated how much curve there could be in a banana and similar flights of fancy. The stories about the British Army were triggered by a Welsh coroner’s comments regarding the deaths of two part-time soldiers from suspected heatstroke during the final selection tests for the Special Air Service. The coroner, Louise Hunt, suggested that the deaths of Edward Maher and Craig Roberts’s may have involved a violation of Section Two of the Human Rights Act. Last month, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled the Government had a duty to ensure soldiers’ human rights were protected, even in the heat of battle. Being a soldier is inherently dangerous. It used to be that the British Army lost more men during training exercises in Germany in a given year than it did in Northern Ireland. There may well be questions to be asked about the selection march that claimed the lives of the two men and saw four other suspected heat casualties. Everyone knows that the candidates will often push themselves harder than they should and maybe someone should have pulled these guys out. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the days when officers and N.C.O.’s could get away with acts of incredible negligence by hiding behind Crown Immunity. But perhaps things are swinging too far the other way. Maybe soon the only battles the British Army will be allowed to fight will be in courts of law.

* James Dunsby, a third part-time soldier trying out for the SAS at the same time as Maher and Roberts died after this was blog entry was written.

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I think it was Second World War German general Erwin Rommel who said that the main difference between the British and American armies in North Africa was that the Americans were prepared to learn from their mistakes and learn their lessons quickly.  A new book of essays written by retired senior officers about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests nothing has changed. The book had originally included essays by some still-serving officers but these were suppressed on the orders of the Ministry of Defence. Based on an article about the book, I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy, it would seem that valuable lessons that should have been learned in Iraq about preparedness and equipment were ignored in Afghanistan. Instead the British leadership insisted to its American allies that it had nothing to learn from them about counter-insurgency. This was despite the Americans finally getting their act together in Iraq while the British leadership were still making fools of themselves, and Britain, in Basra. The lessons of Northern Ireland, particularly when it comes to what are now known as Forward Operating Bases, do not appear to have been learned either. It would appear that in the higher echelons of the British Army attempts to discuss or debate “lessons learned” or even “lessons that should be learned” are not encouraged. It does not do to the rock the boat. Two of Britain’s top generals in the Second World War, Bernard Montgomery and William Slim, were both a little unorthodox. They were only given their heads because Britain was in real trouble. Sadly, most British generals were more in the mould of the Second World War’s Harold Alexander, or Oliver Leese; who was sent out to Burma to be Slim's boss despite his own less than impressive performance in Italy. Today’s British generals have more in common with Alexander and Leese than Montgomery and Slim. What is it going to take before British soldiers get the leadership they deserve?

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I noticed in the discussion of the future of the Faslane nuclear submarine base on the Clyde if Scots were vote "yes" in the independence referendum next year that it was suggested that the base's presence makes Scotland safer. My mind went back to a crazy day at the Glasgow Herald in late 1981. The news desk got a tip that US sailors at the Holy Loch nuclear submarine base were running around in protective suits and there was a major nuclear weapons accident alert going on. That led to some questions about what a nuclear warhead detonation in the Faslane or Holy Loch areas would mean for Glasgow. The answers were not pretty or reassuring. You could call it a wake-up call as regards something to which most Scots did not give a lot of thought. It turned out that something had gone wrong while handling one of the US subs with nuclear missiles at Holy Loch. I don't know if it was ever determined that a crane operator had indeed, as was suggested, dropped a Poseidon missile while his lever-handling skills were impaired by a narcotic substance. Dropping a missile onto, literally, the deck could have resulted in conventional explosive used to trigger the warhead detonating. And that could apparently have led to a nasty little nuclear death-cloud blowing over central Scotland. The Americans did a pretty good job of hushing the whole thing up and refused to say whether there was nuclear warhead on the missile at the time. But if there wasn't - why all the guys running around in protective suits? My point is that the scare brought home the fact that one of the mostly densely populated areas of western Europe was playing host to two of the most dangerous military bases on the planet. It would be hard to argue that day in 1981 that the presence of the Holy Loch and Faslane bases was making Scotland safer. And we're not even talking about a targeted strike by the nation's enemies. Anyway, that's my tuppence-worth.

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Be careful what you joke about. Last week I said I thought it was unlikely we would ever see a British Army unit called the Queen’s Own Hackers. I was discussing the British military’s attempt to grab a slice of budgetary pie when it comes to cyber-warfare. Well, it turns out though it’s unlikely to be called the Queen’s Own Hackers, the Army is looking at establishing a cyber-warfare unit. The Army is looking at attracting Information Technology experts into the Territorial Army. And as they are likely to have spent more of their time in front of a computer than playing football and stuff like that, fitness standards will be relaxed. The scheme is part of a government plan to double the size of the T.A. while slashing the number of full-time professional soldiers by 20%. Another leg Britain’s cyber-warfare strategy involves teaming up with industry. The privatisation of defence is really working out for the Americans; they would really like to get their hands on private contractor turned whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Yes, in the 21st Century Britain’s defence is a natural candidate for privatisation, out-sourcing and part-time work. It has worked for electricity, gas, water, railways, coal, steel, and telephones; hasn’t it? Successive British governments in the 1920s and 1930s decided defence, and the Army in particular, was a luxury in times of austerity. Some would argue that Hitler would never have invaded Poland in 1939 if the British Army had been a credible force.

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I see the British military is making a bid to get share of the spending on protecting the country from cyber-attack. I suppose the rationale is that it answers to the Ministry of Defence and it wants to defend the British against cyber-attack. I think it was Estonia or Latvia that was subject to a cyber-attack a couple of years back and in these days of computerisation, a lot of infrastructure and communications were knocked out. Now I’m not denying there are a lot of very smart people in the British military. Both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force depend on highly skilled technicians. So to a lesser extent does the Army. But the cutting edge for the Army is still young blokes who like, as a female Canadian armoured car turret gunner told me; like camping, shooting and heavy machinery. That kind of bloke is not usually that good with computers. And to be honest, the Navy and Air Force’s electronics expertise is not quite what is required to kibosh a cyber-attack either. The military’s interest in cyber-attack is down to money. Somehow I don’t think we are going to see a new unit called the 1st Queen’s Own Hackers at time soon. But generals, admirals and air marshals do want a share of the financial pie. The real wars that these guys fight are not in the Gulf or Afghanistan:-  they are in the carpeted corridors of Whitehall. The culture of Britain’s military does not encourage, or reward, out-of-the-box thinking. And it’s just that kind of thinking that’s going to fend off a cyber-attack. Or launching one. This kind of work is probably better done by a civilian agency.

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Batang Kali - Again and Again
Now the Red Chinese are using the British cover-up of the 1948 Batang Kali Massacre in Malaya as a stick to beat modern-day Brits with. The presentation of a 10,000 name petition in Kuala Lumpur requesting an apology for the murder of 24 ethnic-Chinese by the Scots Guards made headlines in the People’s Daily. A spokesman for the British High Commissioner in the Malaysian capital said “what happened” to the civilians at Batang Kali was “deeply regrettable” without saying what did happen at Batang Kali. The British authorities have still to admit that the claim that the men were shot while trying to escape was, and is, a lie. Pressure from Malaysia for the British to come clean continues to grow and the arrogant insistence on continuing the cover-up is harming relations between the two countries. Last year the High Court in London cast serious doubt on the official, cover-up, version of events but declined to order a public inquiry. Lawyers in Britain acting for the families which lost members in the massacre are planning to appeal that decision. The lawyers have offered to withdraw the appeal if the British apologise for the massacre; fund a memorial to those killed and pay “modest reparations” to the families. As far as I know the British authorities have ignored the offer. The decision to pay compensation to Kenyans who claim they were tortured and mistreated during the Mau Mau terror campaign has boosted calls for the British Government to do the right thing when it comes to Batang Kali. Again I ask, who is the Government protecting here? I seriously doubt if it is the squaddies of the Scots Guards, several of whom admitted in the 1970s that there had been a massacre.

See Batang Kali Revisited

 

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The Canadians appear to go as gaga over an English accent as the Americans do, if television advertising is anything to do by. Posh English accents are preferable but any English accent will do. It’s not just national advertising campaigns. A local car dealership’s advert here in Edmonton now has an English voice-over. For some reason, Americans and Canadians associate English accents with intelligence and sophistication. If a Scottish accent is used, it is often for comic effect and is usually associated with an offensive stereotype. Actually, there’s an advert running for grass seed with a Scottish guy in it that’s not objectionable. I seem to remember there was a time when British companies used to locate their call centres in Scotland because their surveys showed that a Scottish accent was suggestive of integrity. I’ve got a feeling those call centre jobs have been moved offshore.

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What’s the Difference?
So, the British Government has apologised for torturing Kenyans in the 1950s and is even going to pay compensation to those victims who are still alive. I wonder if this paves the way for an end to the cover-up of the 1948 Batang Kali Massacre in Malaya. I doubt it. The British Government continues to maintain that the 24 ethnic Chinese men killed by the Scots Guards were shot while trying to escape – despite the testimony of both Guardsmen and Malayan witnesses. The Mau Mau in Kenya killed far more fellow blacks than the whites. The slayings were often barbaric. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those now receiving British compensation and an apology are murderers. Torture is seldom, if ever, acceptable. It often backfires on the perpetrators. A British High Court judge rejected British Government claims that the Kenyan Government, as the successor administration to the colonial regime, should compensate the victims,  as “dishonourable”. The same argument is advanced by the British Government in the case of the Batang Kali Massacre, which it claims is a matter for the Malayasian Government to deal with. What baffles me is the differences between the way the British Government has dealt with the two countries. Something very wrong happened at Batang Kali. The British Government is getting away with sweeping it under the carpet. Some would argue that this is all ancient history and it is best to let sleeping dogs lie. That’s not true. Until the Government comes clean, Batang Kali will remain a stick with which to beat Britain’s international reputation. To let sleeping dogs lie is to not only condone what happened but to be complicit.

See Batang Kali Revisited

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Some say that no news  is good news. It would appear that in the case of the British media that good news is no news. For years it has been reported that more British veterans of the Falklands War had committed suicide since the conflict than had died at the hands of Argentinians. Around 255 British  personnel died in the war. But the Ministry of Defence recently revealed the results of its examination of the figures, which showed on 97 veterans had committed suicide - which represented a lower suicide rate than the British average. The results of the MoD report were hardly reported. One expert was in a taxi on his way to a BBC studio to be interviewed about the report as soon as it was released but when the BBC editors saw the figures they cancelled the interview. The taxi turned around and returned the expert to his home. Now, what concerns me is that the media's lack of interest has meant that the MoD study was not subjected to the sceptical and rigorous examination that perhaps it should have been. I would not be entirely surprised if it turned out that the number of mentally tortured veterans of the war is not as high as some with a vested interest in the PTSD business would like us to believe. But having dealt with the MoD in the past, I wouldn't trust it to tell me what day it is without their statement being double checked with another source.

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It's more than a little disappointing to see that in the aftermath of last week's  stupid slaughter of  British soldier Lee Rigby in London by a couple of misfit losers who claimed  to be acting in retaliation for the deaths of civilians overseas  at the hands of the British military has resulted in attacks on British mosques. That is exactly what the two sad clowns who allegedly  knocked the soldier down with their car and then hacked him to pieces wanted to happen. The suspects hung around after the killing and waited for armed police to arrive, apparently in the hope of being martyred themselves. Sadly, the stupidity has not been restricted to the killers. There have been attacks on British mosques.  Even at the height of the Irish Republican Army's murder and terror campaign in England, people didn't go out and burn down Catholic Chapels. The IRA would have loved it if they had. Terrorist campaigns are often intended to provoke an ugly reaction which  acts as a recruiting sergeant for their cause. So, the thugs who attack mosques have been outsmarted by a couple of sad misfits who wanted the murder to trigger anti-immigrant violence. By the way, now one of the accused killers' families is claiming that perhaps there wouldn't have been a murder if the British Government had done more to help him when he was mistreated in Kenya after he was picked up while trying to get into Somalia to join the fighting  there. So, basically the British Government is to blame?

 

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I’m old enough to remember as a newspaper guy typing my reports onto tiny pieces of paper to be sent upstairs to a typesetter who began the process of immortalising my words by retyping them into a machine that spat out slugs of hot lead. That was lucky because I always had appalling handwriting. It got even worse after I became a reporter because everything of importance had to be typed and my handwriting became interspersed with shorthand symbols. It now seems likely that despite my, and my teachers’, efforts, good handwriting for me was a lost cause. As my brain ages, it is reverting to its natural left-handed mode but someone decided when I was tiny that life was hard for lefties and I was taught everything right-handed. So, until recently, I thought I was right handed. The importance of the typewriter to historians is frequently under-estimated. A leading Scots-Canadian had some very rude things to say in a hand-written letter sent to London in the 1830s about a French-Canadian political  icon called Louis Papineau. But I couldn’t find out exactly what he had said. A visit to the National Library of Scotland offered the chance to find out. The library had the original letter criticising Papineau. The problem was it could be in one of more than 100 file boxes of papers donated to the library. The librarians and I  made an educated guess and six boxes were brought to the reading room of the library. Four letters down in the first box I checked was the letter. And that’s when I found out why the exact words are never quoted. Five key words are completely illegible. From what can be deciphered, it’s obvious that the sentence in question is very uncomplimentary but the exact nature of the criticism without those five words is lost. That would never have happened in the age of the typewriter.

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I’ve got to say I’m surprised that the Scottish Parliament is talking about doing away with one of the cornerstones of the Scots criminal justice system. I’m talking about, as the lawyers used to explain to the High Court juries, the need for there to be “two fingers of guilt pointing at the accused”, in other words the insistence that someone cannot be convicted on a single piece of evidence. The need for at least one piece of collaborative evidence makes wrongful conviction in Scotland less likely than in England. No Scot could be convicted solely on the dubious confession or the word of some batty eyewitness. Of course, both a dubious confession and batty eyewitness would be enough for a conviction but the demand for collaboration still makes wrongful conviction less likely. The need for collaborative evidence is why the Scots have the Not Proven verdict. That means that there was only one finger pointing at the accused and no matter how good that single piece of evidence is, legally it is not enough. I can’t help feeling that if an accused is indeed guilty, any cop worth his or her salt should be able to find at least two of the required “fingers of guilt” required for conviction.

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I’ve got to say I was appalled by the British media’s coverage of the deaths of three members of the Royal Regiment of Scotland when a Mastiff armoured personal carrier was blown up in Afghanistan by a landmine last week. Most of the stories I read failed to mention that nine Afghans died in the same explosion. I can see why the British media would focus on the three RRoS members who died but to completely ignore the deaths of the Afghans is outrageous. Those Afghans died serving alongside the British soldiers – Cpl. William Savage, 30, Fusilier William Flint, 21, and Private Robert Hetherington, 25. I’m sure the soldiers of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland, have more respect for those Afghan comrades in arms than the British media has shown. Certainly, I'd be disappointed if that's not the case. The Afghan National Army is not without its flaws but few would deny that its members are capable of great courage. Because of the lack of interest in the nine dead Afghans, I have no idea what kind of vehicle they were travelling in, if they were even in a vehicle. But I’m guessing they were not in a £1 million armoured personnel carrier, which up until last week was regarded as impervious to roadside bombs. When I was in Afghanistan, Afghan troops were moving around packed into the back of pick-up trucks. Soldiers around the world have a lot in common and this apartheid in death reflects poorly on the British media.

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I noticed that after this blog mentioned that the Ministry of Defence was firing anti-tank rounds tipped with radioactive depleted uranium into the Solway Firth that the practice is to be ended. Is there a connection? I doubt it. But I wish I did have that kind of influence. Then I’d insist that the Government hold a public inquiry that would reveal the truth behind the Batang Kali Massacre in 1948. The execution of 24 ethnic Chinese on a Malayan rubber plantation by soldiers from the Scots Guards was almost certainly not the work of a rogue patrol. The squaddies were pretty obviously obeying orders. The question is, whose orders. How high did the scandal go? The British Army and Government has a habit of throwing squaddies to the wolves when things go pear-shaped.  But no-one has ever been held to account for the massacre. So who is being protected? A person doesn’t have to look too hard at events in 1948 to conclude that the British administration in Malaya had more than its fair share of seedy second and third raters. That’s why the Communists succeeded in making so much trouble in the first place. I know that 1948 is a long time ago and some might say it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. But the only way to learn from the mistakes of the past is to admit there have been mistakes in the past and examine what went wrong. The Scots Guards at the time pointed to the fact that following the killings there was no further trouble in the Batang Kali area. Is that the lesson? The Batang Kali Massacre is a putrid sore when it comes to Britain’s reputation in the Far East and the continued secrecy is seen as typical British arrogance and colonialist indifference.

See Batang Kali Revisited

 

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So, according the National Army Museum, Britain’s greatest land battle was Kohima-Imphal against the Japanese in World War Two. Interesting choice; but not indefensible. What did surprise me was that Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu War of 1879 was a runner-up. It shows what a difference a film makes. I reckon more guys get killed on screen in the 1964 Stanley Baker/Michael Caine film than died in the real-life siege. If memory serves, the British suffered 17 dead. But the 140-strong garrison of the mission station did harvest 11 Victoria Crosses. That may have had much to do with the need to raise morale at home following the loss of around 1,500 British troops at the hands of the Zulus at Isandlwana hours before the attack at Rorke’s Drift. While not wishing to take away from the courage of the men at Rorke’s Drift, basically all most had to do was keep their nerve and keep firing their Martini Henry repeater rifles from behind the mealie-bag barricades. The fellahs at Isandlwana made the mistake of being caught in the open with an inadequate ammunition replenishment system. Sometimes I can’t help feeling that the Victoria Cross and other gallantry are used by politicians to make themselves look good. An action in one conflict that wouldn’t even have earned a solder a Military Medal in another can sometimes result in a VC. A lot depends on the war and what stage its at.  In the opening days of the Second World War Military Medals were on occasion handed out for deeds that would have attracted no attention whatsoever 1944-45. There used to be some British regiments that refused to send in recommendations for gallantry awards because they felt the soldiers involved were doing no more than hat was expected of every member of such a proud and distinguished unit. There were other regiments that realised that a long list of VC winners could tip the balance in their favour when it came to avoiding disbandment or amalgamation. Why, I’ve even heard of some VC citations that have very little resemblance to actual events.

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Sometimes the wheels of my mind grind somewhat slowly. While looking for something else, I came across a Scottish Government map showing where in the country British military veterans live. It took me a couple of minutes to work out why there was such a concentration of veterans in Fife, Dumbartonshire/Argyll, Angus,  Moray and eastern Inverness-shire. Then I got it – the military veteran population hotspots co-incided with military bases, either active or recently closed. The naval dockyard at Rosyth and  RAF Leuchars accounted for Fife, 45 Commando at Arbroath explained Angus, the Faslane submarine base for Dumbartonshire/Argyll and RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth for Moray. Perhaps they, and Fort George, also explained eastern Inverness-shire. The rest of the map pretty much made sense too – post-industrial Scotland. But there were two areas with substantial concentrations of veterans that surprised me. The map doesn’t identify towns but it looked to me as though there were a lot of veterans clustered around Crieff in Perthshire. Now, that’s a beautiful part of the world and perhaps we’re talking about retired colonels and majors. But I’m completely baffled by the high number of veterans in the Dumfries area. I seem to recall there was a weapons testing range near Kirkcurdbright but I didn’t think it employed a lot of people. Anyone any idea what I’m missing?

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In a way it is a shame that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not live to see the result of next year’s Scottish referendum on Independence. That is because if the vote is for Independence, it was Thatcher who set the wheels in motion for the destruction of the United Kingdom. When I first came to Canada in 1997 people would ask me if Scotland was an independent country. I had to explain that it was more like a US state or a Canadian province and even had it’s own legal system - with juries of 15 rather than 12. But the big difference was that despite having its own laws and administration, it had no legislature and it laws were made in London; rather like Alberta or Montana being run direct from Ottawa or Washington. Scotland effectively had a colonial administration run by the Scottish Office. Since the First World War the Scottish Office had basically been run on a consensus basis by Scotland’s political elite. The London government left the Jocks to run their own internal affairs . The Scots elite were reckoned to be a little more in touch with the social and economic aspirations of ordinary Scots than a cabinet plucked from the playing fields of Eton. But Thatcher was a revolutionary and she exposed the Scottish Office for what it was – a colonial administration. The prime example of this was the flat tax for local government services – better known as the Poll Tax. Anyone with respect for the spirit of democracy would not have drafted in English MPs to swamp Scottish opposition in the House of Commons to a tax system which only affected Scots. But that’s what happened. When the Scots complained, the English voters who had elected the English MPs who voted through the tax into existence reckoned it was just another example of “Jock Whingeing” and paid no attention. So, the tax remained - until it was imposed on England. It was then found to be a bad thing and steps were taken. There was also in Scotland a feeling that, along with that of northern England, the industrial base of the region was being sacrificed to sate the economic demands of voters in Thatcher’s electoral heartland in South East England. Colonies always feel their interests are subordinated to those of the Mother Country. Scotland’s dependence on heavy industry probably owed much to the Old Scottish Office Consensus allowing the likes of Clyde shipyard owner Lord Lithgow to sabotage efforts to create economic diversity in the country and then move their business to Korea anyway. Thatcher’s solutions seemed un-feelingly brutal and the sudden withdrawal of government support for heavy industry, when competitors in Europe and the rest of the world were still subsidizing their traditional heavy industries, perhaps a little short-sighted. It came as news to many in Scotland that there had ever been an economic boom during the Thatcher years. Though the fact that folk in London could sell a pokey flat there and use the proceeds buy a Scottish island should have been clue. The British Labour Party tapped into Scottish dissatisfaction with the political home truths Thatcher had exposed and, believing the Scottish vote would be key in turning the Tories out of power, included a Scottish regional legislature  in its 1997 election platform. When the Tories were kicked out by a landslide and the Scots’ vote turned out not to be so important, the political wings of the proposed assembly were seemingly clipped by the new Blair government. Thatcher always liked Tony Blair more than John Major who had ousted her as prime minister. Which pretty much brings us to the 2014 Independence Referendum. Only time will tell now if Thatcher’s Legacy will the destruction of the United Kingdom.

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OK, I’m going to risk the wrath of the old soldiers, the really old soldiers, and proclaim that I don’t believe the Germans ever dubbed the Highland regiments during the First World War either The Ladies from the Hell or the Devils in Skirts. I haven’t been able to find anyone who has come up a German source for this claim. Maybe, perhaps, a snivelling German prisoner trying to curry favour with his kilted captors sold them a pup along the lines of Ladies from Hell; but I doubt even that. Soldiers just don’t give their opponents respectful nicknames. The tenacious teenage Germans who opposed the three Scottish infantry divisions in northwest Europe after D-Day were dubbed “Those Bloody Para Boys” which may or may not have been intended as a grudging compliment. Previous attempts to debunk the Devils in Skirts legend have led to an outraged backlash from Second World War veterans of the Highland regiments. I can't say why that would be. While I was quizzing folk who I thought might know where the Ladies from Hell story might have originated, someone said they also doubted if the 51st Highland Division really topped a First World War German list of “Most to be Feared” units. As two other Scottish divisions, the 9th and 15th, had excellent records, I think my informant might have a point. Veterans don’t always know best. Those who dared to suggest the Scots Guards had massacred civilians in Malaya in 1948 were shouted down and ridiculed. And yet the High Court in London ruled recently that there was plenty of evidence that the massacre at Batang Kali did take place. All too often the reported response from veterans to less than glowing eulogies to the Scottish soldier is knee-jerk. Those who insist on re-writing history tend to miss out on the chance to learn from past experience.

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I was listening recently to the BBC World Service and heard presenter Razia Iqbal pretty much asking a Scottish piper why he played an instrument that so many people found objectionable. The item was about another piper who had been made sick by some fungus or something which had sprouted up inside his instrument. So, Ms Iqbal’s question had little to do with the story. It was more of an ignorant piece of editorial commentary on pipes and piping. I will retract my accusation of ignorance when I hear Ms Iqbal ask a ballet dancer or an opera singer why they do what they do. I’ve always found during my excursions to the Home Counties that folks whose families have lived there for generations do not tend to ridicule those who reside north of Watford.

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It would appear that the Royal Regiment of Scotland is trying to distance itself from the old Scottish regiments. Up until recently the battalions proudly gave precedence to the pre-2006 units which formed it. The Black Watch, for instance, became The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland. But now precedence is to be given to the 3rd Battalion designation and “Black Watch” is to take a back seat in the name. Once again to use the example of the Black Watch, the unit is to be referred to in everyday usage as 3Scots. New recruits are invited to express a preference for which battalion they’d like to join, based on family or regional affiliations, but the days when, say, a Fife man would probably end up in the Black Watch, are apparently long past. Recruits are sent to whichever battalion can prove it needs them most. I also understand that officers who don’t want to damage their career prospects are expected to toe the line when it comes to ditching the old historic affiliations. It is understandable that the new super regiment wants to create its own identity and traditions. Service in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Iraq, has meant that most of the battalions already have combat histories. And the Scots receive very little sympathy from the other British infantry regiments which long resented that the old Scottish battalions retained their historic identities when they were being amalgamated again and again and forced to shed their identities. The creation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland recognised some realities when it came to recruiting. Particularly in the Highland regiments, many of the soldiers were not from the recruiting area assigned to the unit. That said, many were following their grandfathers and great-grandfathers into the regiment of their choice. All I’m suggesting is that the baby isn’t thrown out with the bath water as the Royal Regiment of Scotland strives to create its own identity.

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