The Challenge

OK, gentle visitor, I have a challenge for you. Can anyone out there cite a German source for the claim that during the First World War the kilties were known as the “Ladies from Hell”  ? I’ve got a feeling this name might just be the products of the British propaganda bureau or over-imaginative journalism. I have come across a German nickname for the kilties but it does not convey the respect or awe suggested by the above. I think for that reason, what I found rings truer. Very few troops are given respectful nicknames by their foes. It's funny how fictions can become accepted as truth through constant repetition. Many people believe that Berwick upon Tweed was still at war with Russia until the 1960s. The story went that the declaration of war against Russia when the Crimean War broke-out in 1853 included Berwick as a separate entity because it's status was still in dispute; the Scots claiming in the 1707 Treaty of Union it was annexed territory and refusing to recognise it as part of England. When the peace was signed in 1856, Berwick was not mentioned. Sadly, not true. A 1746 Act of Parliament declared Berwick officially part of England. The Crimean War claim was first made shortly before the First World War. It was even said, wrongly again, that the Soviets signed a "peace treaty" with Berwick in 1966 to rectify the omission.


The Conclusion

Risking the Wrath
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 "The Ladies from the Hell". 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 "Ladies from Hell" 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.

I thought there might be some interest in these six links to the National Library of Scotland's Scottish Screen Archive. The first shows men of the the Gordon Highlanders leaving Aberdeen to fight in the Boer War in 1899.


The second shows the 4th Battalion of Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders marching past the camera while stationed near Bedford with the rest of the 51st Highland Division in 1914, or perhaps very early 1915.


And the third shows the Argylls at Campbeltown in 1914. I wonder how many of them came back to Scotland in one piece after the First World War


The fourth shows Glasgow-based Territorial soldiers training in around 1935. The Cameronian/Scottish Rifles and Glasgow Highlanders both feature prominently.


The fifth dates from 1935 and marks the 50th anniversary celebrations for the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in Inverness

Cameron Barracks

The sixth is more modern. It shows the Queen's Own Highlanders on parade at Holyrood in 1964.


As promised, a sample chapter from Scottish Military Disasters. I first became aware of this battle at a bus stop in Norway. My Norwegian language skills were almost non-existent but there seemed to be a road sign announcing "This Way to Dead Scottish People". Sadly, I had a bus to catch and didn't have time to go where the sign was pointing. But a little research back in Scotland quickly solved the mystery.

Massacre in Norway

Kringen 1612

The ambush and massacre of a party of Scottish mercenaries in 1612 proved a key historical event for Norwegian nationalists trying to foster an independence movement from Sweden in the early 17th century. The myth-makers fastened onto the so-called Battle of Kringen as an example of gallant Norwegians banding together to repel a foreign foe. The fact that many of the 116 Scots murdered after the ambush had been virtually kidnapped and forced into mercenary service appears to have been conveniently forgotten.
But what were the Scots doing in Norway in 1612 anyway?

The 93rd Sutherland Highlanders were widely acknowledged to be one of the most “Highland” of the Highland regiments. It’s been claimed that shortly before the Crimean War in 1854, only 30 of its members were not born in Sutherland, Inverness-shire or Ross-shire.

But only 16 years earlier, a snapshot of the regiment when it arrived in Canada in 1838 paints a different picture. Of 591 “other ranks” landed at Halifax in Nova Scotia 242 were born in the old Highland Counties of Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, Inverness-shire and Nairnshire. Caithness supplied the largest contingent, 80 men; Sutherland, 55, Ross and Cromarty, 46; and Inverness-shire 49. The second-largest contribution to the regiment came from Aberdeenshire, 73 men.

Fife supplied 42 members of the regiment, while Lanarkshire, which included Glasgow, contributed 34, Elgin and Moray, 40, and Perthshire, 33. The regiment counted seven Englishmen and two Irishmen in its ranks. Seven soldiers gave no place of birth and were recorded as being born “in the regiment”, the sons of soldiers and their wives.

More than half of the men, 381 out of 591, were listed as farm workers or labourers on enlistment. Of the 210 recruits who listed a trade, 64 were weavers, 32 were shoemakers and 26 were tailors. One man listed himself as a hairdresser and two as pipers.

Just short of half the soldiers in 1838, a total of 255, had less than five years service, and only 30 had more than 14 years with the colours. Their average age was just short of 25 years old and the average height was 5’8”. Five years after the Crimean War, in March 1861, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders reported 92 Englishmen and 100 Irishmen out of a total of 1304 other ranks. Out of 51 officers, 29 were Scots, 18 were English and four were Irish.



The 93rd Highlanders in the Crimea

 The 93rd Highlanders circa 1854

If you didn't find the information you're looking for on this site; why not ask me? If I can't help you, I may be able to suggest where to look to get the answer. Ask

Anyway, here's some of the information people have been looking for -

* I think the 1970s  TV series in which some Scottish troops go rogue and support a Scottish Nationalist uprising was called Scotch on the Rocks and was based on a book of the same name. 

* The London Scottish were dubbed The Hollywood Battalion because four of its members during the First World War went on to enjoy careers as successful film actors in the United States - Claude Rains, Ronald Coleman, Basil Rathbone and Herbert Marshall. 

* The two Highland regiments which spring to mind as having served in 19th Century Afghanistan are the 92nd Gordon Highlanders and the 72nd Duke of Albany's Highlanders in the late 1870s and very early 1880s. 

* Regimental Sergeant Major Lewis Tevendale took command of a large party of men from No. 11 (Scottish) Commando after all the officers were killed or wounded during fighting against Vichy French troops at the Litani River in Lebanon in 1941. Many sources wrongly identify him as RSM Campbell. The mistake was made in a book published in 1949 and repeated by numerous authors in subsequent accounts. 

* The 2nd Cameron Highlanders marched behind their pipers into captivity the day after the Tobruk Garrison surrendered in June 1942. The other Highland battalion usually associated with the North African port is the 2nd Black Watch who suffered 79 killed and 181 wounded, from a strength of 612, during an attempted break-out in November 1941 to meet up with a relief force spearheaded by the 7th Armoured Division.

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