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The Cream of Manchester

I was talking to an English woman here in Canada when she mentioned that her uncle had been a kiltie during the First World War. I took a flyer and asked if he was from Manchester. Yes he was, was her reply but how did I know. I made the guess, and that's all it was, based purely on the fact that I'd heard that at one point during the First World War perhaps as many as half of the 5th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders were Mancunians. Sadly, I can't remember at which point in the war that was. The 5th Battalion was a Territorial unit originally recruited from Caithness and Sutherland. It would not have been easy to keep the battalion up to strength with recruits from such a sparsely populated area. And, particularly after the heavy losses suffered by units recruited from specific areas, it was policy to mingle troops from various areas of Britain into the different infantry units. The same policy was followed during the Second World War. As far as I know, no-one has ever worked out how many Englishmen served with the Scottish regiments during the two world wars. But I think the answer would be a lot, a lot more than people think. The old joke about the two Northern English members of the 51st Highland Division getting into a row and one eventually declaring to the other "Ah've been a Jock way longer than thee" is an old one. The one thing I can say is that I get a lot of people from England asking me to help identify which Scottish regiment their father, father-in-law, uncle or grandfather served with. There was time, before the First World War, when the Scottish regiments, particularly the Highland ones, enjoyed the same glamorous reputation as the Royal Marines Commandos and the Parachute Regiment have today and Englishmen were clamouring to join them. The Highland brand was valuable. It is quite possible that Scotland lacked the population base to feed all the Highland battalions fielded in the world wars. Even before 1914 Scotland had been struggling to support all the nominally Scottish infantry units. In the 1881 re-organisation which created most of the "historic" Scottish regiments serious thought was given to appropriating the prestigious 1st Foot appellation enjoyed by the Royal Scots for an English-based regiment. The King's Own Scottish Borderers almost became a Yorkshire unit in the same shake-up and the 75th Foot did not, despite its Scottish roots, appreciate becoming a kilted unit as the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. As it was the 94th and 99th regiments of foot lost their Scottish trappings to become, respectively, an Irish and an English regiment. The contribution of Englishmen to the Scottish regiments all too often goes unrecognised.

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