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The Glasgow Highlanders. The Photo Identification feature attracts more reader queries than anything else on this site. Folk are always sending in photos of their ancestors in the hope that I can help work out which unit they served with. In a surprising number of cases, the answer turns out to the Glasgow Highlanders. Though sometimes, I’ve come close to giving the wrong answer. The Glasgow Highlanders were part of the Highland Light Infantry, in the First World War, they were the HLI’s 9th Battalion, but their uniform was modelled on the Black Watch. I was about to get back to someone to say the photo they had sent in was entirely consistent with a Company Sergeant Major in the Black Watch when I looked a second photo. It showed not the CSM, but his best friend, who was killed in action. The friend was wearing what looked like a Black Watch kilt and a Tam o’ Shanter. It was the headgear that gave the game away. The Black Watch wore red hackles in their Tam o’Shanters. This guy had a badge and the Glasgow Highlanders wore a badge. My hunch that the CSM was a Glasgow Highlander panned out. It was even possible, because he won the Military Medal, to come up with his army number. A Second World War photo showed what looked like a Black Watch kiltie with the lion rampant shoulder flash of 15th Scottish Division on his upper sleeve. The thing is that the Black Watch did not have a battalion serving with the Division. But one of the two Glasgow Highlander battalions in the war was part of the division. The guy in the photo proved to be one of the large number of Englishmen who served in kilted regiments in both World Wars. So, anyway, if the First World War photo shows suggests the Black Watch but the soldier has a badge rather than a hackle on his Tam o'Shanter, then possibly he's a Glasgow Highlander. Oddly, I've never had a query that involved the Royal Scots' "Dandy" Ninth Battalion, which also wore kilts during the First World War.

 

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British soldiers love to complain about not being properly equipped. They buy mail order equipment to replace the gear Her Majesty has issued to them. They swap stuff for foreign-issued kit. As I was once told, the time to worry is when they aren’t bitchin’. However, sometimes they have a point. Who would send soldiers to help with flood relief without giving them wellies or waders? Sadly, the answer seems to be the British Army. Or, more particularly, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Many of the ill-equipped squaddies found themselves relegated to the role of spectators as villagers of Waysbury basically dealt with the flood themselves. Other soldiers plunged into the water in their army boots. That can’t be good for the boots and it might have been cheaper to stop off at a mega-market somewhere between Tidworth camp and Waysbury to buy some wellies. Full marks to the Fusiliers for can-do attitude. Not so full marks for everything else. Can-do attitude only gets people so far. The tools for the job are also an important component of success. And lets throw in a little application of grey matter.  It could a good thing for the brains trust that put the Fusiliers' flood relief operation together that it seems possible in 2015 that for the first time in more than 40 years the British Army is not on active service somewhere in the world. Perhaps 2015 will allow the Army to catch its collective breath and take a hard look at itself. A much needed hard look.

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Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there lived a king. This king had never had a real job but the people made him their ruler anyway. Oddly, in this country, far far away, a man could be the king even if most people did not want him to be. It was a democracy of the constitutional monarchy variety. But that’s not what this story is about. This king, who had never had a real job, thought that everything should belong to someone, particularly if that someone was a friend of his. But in this country they had something called a State Broadcaster. It didn’t belong to any one person. And the king didn’t think anything should belong to the State. But this State Broadcaster was a national institution. The king had a problem. His friends in the privately owned media said it wasn’t fair that they had to compete with this State Broadcaster and still make a profit. The king hit on a brilliant idea. He would appoint an idiot to run the State Broadcaster. Like attracts Like and an idiot is bound to appoint other idiots. Soon the State Broadcaster would be filled with idiots. Eventually, the programming would become so awful that no-one would care that the king was effectively killing off the State Broadcaster using the old death-by-a-thousand cuts ploy. Before long, due to an infestation of idiots and budget cuts, the programmes were so terrible that some people even rejoiced at the thought that soon they would no longer have to pay for the State Broadcaster. And that Children is why some people call a television set "The Idiot Box".

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I’m old enough to have been given the strap when I was school kid in Scotland. It didn’t do me much harm; but it didn’t do me much good either. The lesson I learned that life is unfair. I can remember teachers taking what we knew as the The Tawse to me twice. Once was at Primary School. I think it was for talking in the line-up to get back into the school at the end of morning playtime. Hardly an offence likely to reduce the Scottish educational system to anarchy. As an adult, I think I’d say it was an over-reaction. The second time that I can remember being strapped was when I was at high school. It must have been in First or Second Year because it was one of the technical department guys who did it and I didn’t take technical as an O Grade. The roster of techie teachers included two sadists, quite possibly certifiable sadists, and this guy was one of them. He took the strap to an entire class. Our crime was that no-one would name someone who had been naughty when he was out of the room. I can’t remember now exactly what was done but it was about the level of writing a swear word on the blackboard. The culprit was a real thug and included amongst his pals, maybe even amongst his family members, some of the most notorious psychopaths in the town. There are still arguments about just how many murderers went to my high school. Anyway, when none of us would name the guilty party, the sadist laid the leather on us all. Once again, as an adult, I suspect some of one of deputy heads might have been interested in what happened. But in those days it never occurred to any of us to bring a real adult into the picture. My other lasting memory of corporal punishment at school didn’t happen to me but I was there. There was a Geography teacher that we all liked. His class was very relaxed but we got the work done. Someone said something in jest that must have touched a raw nerve with the teacher. He took the leather to the boy. We all lost respect for the teacher and were very wary of him from then on. And that’s my contribution to the debate over corporal punishment in schools.

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It’s very odd to live in a country that takes the Winter Olympics seriously. Last week I heard an interviewer on the BBC World Service questioning whether a programme of events which only really attracts multiple entries from about a dozen countries could even call itself an Olympics. Certainly, the British do not get very excited about the Winter Olympics. That is probably partly a legacy from the days when the entire British team pretty much had to be independently wealthy and be able to live in Switzerland or Austria all year around. I think British interest was only really piqued by the Figure Skating when Torvill and Dean were involved and maybe Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards’s exploits in the ski-jump when the games were held in Calgary in 1988. They changed the rules to make sure there would never be another lovable loser like Eddie the Eagle at the Winter Olympics. But here in Canada where the winters are long and very snowy, it’s a different story. There are lots of opportunities to ski and skate. The Canadian ice hockey, which is just called “hockey” here in the Great White North, teams are in with a good shot of gold medals. At the last Olympics, in Vancouver, there was a concerted effort to boost Canada’s medal standings. It was called Own the Podium. It struck me as a little Un-Canadian. Olympic competition is pretty much the realm of professionals. It has little to do with sportsmanship and much to do with money. The Canadians can’t and won’t compete with the kind of budgets deployed by the United States and Russian teams . I can’t help feeling that Canada would be better served if the team was made up of competitors who played fair and accepted defeat with grace and good humour. Sadly, I suspect that kind of event participant at Sochi will be rarer than Canadian gold medals.

 

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