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Is it just sloppiness or something more sinister that the Scots contribution to Britain is being air-brushed out on the wireless? I recently heard a BBC programme about the ground-breaking Somersett court case in which Lord Mansfield ruled in 1772 that slavery could not be enforced in England. The Lord Mansfield on the radio spoke like a stereotypical English judge. But I happen to know Mansfield was born and educated in Perthshire. Of course, we have no recording of Lord Mansfield speaking. But it turns out his Scottish accent was so thick when he enrolled to study law in England that the clerk recorded his place of birth as Bath rather than Perth. I somehow doubt that he sounded like your typical English Law Lord. We do have recordings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle speaking. I was surprised to find that even in the 1930s he still retained a distinct Scottish accent. And yet television and radio almost always have him speaking like Nigel Bruce playing Doctor Watson in the old Sherlock Holmes movies. As I say, sloppy research? Here in Canada I heard a dramatised version of the Seven Oaks Massacre in 1817, on the site of present-day Winnipeg. Most of the main characters involved in the real life event were Scots. But the Canadian actors thought "Brits" and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson. I did some checking. Lord Selkirk, who had sent the Highland settlers to what is now Manitoba, was educated in England, so he probably did have an English accent. Ironically, the only Scots accent was a attributed to a character who though of Highland descent was born and raised in the United States. As I say, it is hard to know how someone who lived before technology was capable of recording the human voice actually spoke. But a little research might give some good pointers and avoid the impression that the man who effectively outlawed slavery in England was an English toff. 

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I read recently that the British administration in Malaya before the Second World War was reckoned to be one of the worst run in the British Empire. As many of the same people were almost certainly back in the driver's seat in 1948 when a Scots Guards platoon massacred 24 ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers, I find it very easy to believe. The whole affair is laced with a feeling of second-rate seediness. The facts behind the killing remain a state secret. Until very recently pompous former Scots Guards officers were quoted as insisting there had been no massacre. The High Court in London, ruling that Her Majesty's Government could not be forced to hold a public inquiry into the killings, said there was plenty of evidence that the rubber plantation workers had been murdered in cold blood. The official British version to this day remains that the men were shot while trying to escape after being rounded up for questioning about Communist banditry in the Batang Kali area. Only a fool would ever have believed that none of the suspects would have only been wounded rather than killed in the supposed mass escape. There was one survivor, who claimed he escaped death after fainting. Some have suggested there may be another reason that he alone among the adult males was not executed. The unofficial British line has long been that a mistake was made and the blame has been put on the soldiers in the patrol, mainly National Servicemen. It was some of these squaddies who confessed in the 1970s to being present at the massacre. The regular soldiers present stuck to the official version. The sergeant in charge later became a Regimental Sergeant Major and when quizzed about the killings appears to have been very confident that he would not be held to account for the massacre. What did he know and what is the British Goverment to this day so afraid of us finding out? I suspect that it is more than just that so many of the civil servants and senior military officers serving in Malaya at the time were such a bunch of sad-sack second raters.  
See Batang Kali Revisited

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While the Highland Light Infantry was campaigning in 1900 to become a kilted regiment, serious questions were being asked as the suitability of the kilt for campaigning. Looking back, it is perhaps surprising that so many soldiers served on the Western Front during the First World War in kilts.  The British Government had been ambivalent about kilts almost from the day the Black Watch paraded in them as the first Highland unit in the British Army in 1740. The early Highland regiments frequently found themselves in trousers when they served outside of Europe. During the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal in the early 1800s worn-out kilts were not replaced but made up into trews and when they wore out the Highland regiments were issued with standard grey trousers. The Black Watch went to Africa in 1873 in grey tweed jackets and trousers. Kilts were expensive items of uniform. But Whitehall was also aware that Victoria's kilted warriors had a certain mystique. It was decided the abolition of kilts for combat was a matter for the Scots, and the London Anglo-Scots, to sort out amongst themselves. Highland soldiers certainly showed they were willing to put up with a little discomfort if it meant retaining their kilts. But protracted frontline service during the Boer War of 1899-1902 brought the kilt question to the fore again. Soldiers from the Highland regiments had their legs torn to ribbons by thorns as they struggled through the South African bush chasing the Boers. Even worse, the backs of their legs were burned to a painful crisp if they had to lie out in the sun under fire for any length of time. Khaki aprons issued to hide their dark tartans, literary a dead giveaway for Boer marksmen, often ended up half way up a Highlander's back when he threw himself to the ground during a battle. One solution, suggested by one of the Times's correspondents, was for khaki kilts work over khaki stockings which could be pulled up to the thigh when required for protection from sun and/or thorns. Lieutenant Bertrand Lang of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders wore black women's stockings when he went into action in 1899, long before the Times's man contributed his tuppence ha'penny to the debate. The pleats on the kilts were traps for lice and when sodden wet the hems could cut deep into flesh if worn for prolonged periods. An attempt to introduce a standard khaki kilt in the early days of the First World War foundered on bitter opposition from the Highland regiments and at the start of the Second World War the War Office spent £150,000 on 40,000 new kilts. The 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were issued with pink bloomers to wear under their kilts as protection against mustard gas in 1939. But a civil servant, as far as I know never named, with a stroke of the pen cut through the Gordian knot that was a Kilt Question. When the British Expeditionary Force returned from France in 1940 trousers became the order of day for the Highland regiments and kilts were reserved for very special occasions. A few die-hard officers and some pipers became the only men on the battlefield in kilts. 

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The kilted Highland soldier is a Scottish icon. I was reading recently of how the Highland Light Infantry came to regret declining to abandon their tartan trews for kilts in the 1880s when they got the chance. I thought I would share the story. The re-organization of the British army into two battalion units in 1881 involved several shotgun marriages between many proud regiments. Amongst the proudest was the 71st Highland Light Infantry and they were very proud of being a Highland unit. Recruiting figures in Scotland did not justify the number of supposedly Scottish regiments in the British Army. And the number of true Highlanders in the Army did not justify the number of Highland regiments on the books. But the kilted Highland soldier was a central pillar of Scottish identity in the latter part of Queen Victoria's reign. The HLI held its own when it came to attracting recruits born in the Highlands and Islands and felt confident that wearing trews rather than kilts gave the regiment an added distinction and tone. The regiment had originally been kilted but in its early years arduous foreign service meant it was often issued with trousers. By 1808 it had adopted trews and when it was made an elite light infantry unit the following year the kilt was finally abandoned. By the time of the Battle of Waterloo it was wearing standard issue grey trousers but trews were restored around 1829.  Before 1881 there were four regiments wearing trews - The 72nd Duke of Albany's Own Highlanders, the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders, the 74th Highlanders and the 71st HLI. The 71st and 74th formed the new Highland Light Infantry while the 91st became the first battalion of the kilted Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The 72nd, also donned the kilt, as the 1st Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. The new HLI accepted having its depot in the Scottish lowlands at Hamilton. After all, nearby Glasgow provided was the Army's largest single source of recruits born in the Highlands and Islands. Unease grew as the Lowland Scottish regiments, the Royal Scots, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Cameronians/Scottish rifles all donned tartan trews. The HLI felt their Highlandness was being undermined. Then in 1899 General Hector MacDonald tried to kick the HLI out of the otherwise all-kilted Highland Brigade and bring in the old 75th Stirling Regiment which had become the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders in 1881. Despite it's supposed Scottish county connection, the 75th in 1881 was in reality an English regiment. Outrage in both Scotland and the Anglo-Scottish community in London brought the HLI back into the Highland Brigade fold. Too late the HLI had finally realised that kilts had come to equal Highland regiment in the public mind and trews, Lowland. There were calls to switch to kilts but in 1905 when the War Office divided the Scottish regiments into Highland, administered from Perth, and Lowland, run from Hamilton, The HLI were in the latter grouping.  When the 52nd Lowland Division was formed just before the First World War, the HLI provided battalions to it rather than the 51st Highland Division. The 9th HLI, the Glasgow Highlanders, were a kilted battalion serving in a Lowland Division. The HLI's campaign to return to its original kilted status finally bore fruit in 1947. But it went back into trews in 1959 when the HLI merged with the Royal Scots Fusiliers to form the Royal Highland Fusiliers. Oddly, the senior officers of both regiments were in favour of the RHF being kilted but were over-ruled by Whitehall. Finally in 2006, when the RHF became the 2nd Battalion of the newly formed Royal Regiment of Scotland the iconic kilts were restored.  

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The past is another country - they do things differently there. At least I think that's the quote, the opening line of a dreadful, twee, book I was forced to read at high school  called The Go-between. That quote is probably the only good thing about the book. It came to mind because of two books I was reading recently. One is about the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, when the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders inspired the phrase "Thin Red Line" as they saw off a Russian cavalry regiment. Times war correspondent William Russell actually described the Highlanders as "a thin red streak" in his original dispatch but later changed it to "thin red line". The book also covers the Battle of Alma when British general, and carpenter's son, Colin Campbell told the Highland Brigade (the Sutherlands, Black Watch and Camerons) that there would be no soldiers stopping to help the wounded on his watch - that was the bandsmen's job and any soldier who disobeyed would be publicly shamed back home. The other book I was reading was the Australian Army's "Lessons Learned" from the Vietnam War. It noted that all too often operations were brought to a shuddering halt after a "Free World" soldier was wounded and the scramble to organise a helicopter medi-vac began. What a difference 100 years or so makes. Oh, and can anyone name a senior British frontline general since 1914 whose father was a carpenter, coal miner or plumber?

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