Who out there knows which war the 78th Fraser Highlanders fought in? Or where Keith’s Highlanders fought their battles? Whatever happened to the 70th Glasgow Lowland Regiment?
I’m guessing that some of you do – but my point is that history is not only written by the winners, it’s written by the survivors. The exploits of the Black Watch, Royal Scots, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Cameronians are all reasonably well known. But what about the regiments that were raised and disbanded in the space of a couple of years? Or the Scottish regiments which morphed into Irish or English regiments? Some of these Scottish regiments had fighting records which equalled the Black Watch or the Camerons, but they have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
The British Government has always tried to keep the Army as small as possible – often in reality too small to do all the jobs required of it. The “can-do” attitude and making do with inferior equipment that has characterised the British Army has often meant men, and these days women, have died unnecessarily – a look at Iraq and Afghanistan shows nothing has changed.
That desire to keep the Army small – also a legacy of a fear of military coup which dates back to the days of Cromwell – meant that many regiments were formed in wartime and quickly disbanded when peace was restored. The British Army is usually regarded as being established in the reign of Charles II. One of the first Scottish regiments to be raised, Lockhart's, only existed from 1672 until 1674. Charles wanted it to fight against the Dutch and to be trained as marine battalion. The number of Gaelic-speaking Highlanders in its ranks made it difficult for the regiment to work with English speaking sailors. Most of the regiment was captured by the Dutch and while many of officers were taken to the Netherlands as prisoners, most of the rank-and-file were dumped back on the south coast of England. The regiment was re-raised but disbanded about three months later when war against the Dutch ended in February 1674.
King William III had 15 Scottish regiments fighting for him in Europe between 1694 and 1697. Earlier, in 1692, no fewer than 11 of the 25 British regiments King William sent to Europe were Scots.
During William and his successor Queen Anne’s reigns regiments were raised and disbanded in Scotland with dazzling speed. In those days regiments were known by their colonel’s name. But who now remembers such regiments as Wauchope’s, Moncreiff’s Cunningham’s, Grant’s, McCartney’s, Kenmure’s, Hepburn’s, Kerr’s, Strathnaver’s, Argyll’s, Douglas’s or Lindsay’s these days? By the time the size of the army had been slashed following the end of Queen Anne’s Wars in 1713, only the Famous Five – the Scots Guards, the Royal Scots, the Edinburgh Regiment (later the King’s Own Scottish Borderers), the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Cameronians - were still on the books. Actually, Argyll’s regiment might be remembered by some Scottish history buffs because it was involved in the notorious 1692 Glencoe Massacre.
London became very nervous about Scottish regiments after George I took the throne in 1714. Attempts were made to water-down the Scottish character of the infantry regiments by diluting them with English, Irish and Welsh recruits while Scots recruits were sent to English regiments.
The number of Scottish cavalry regiments was actually reduced at the end of Queen Anne’s reign. Cunningham’s Dragoons were raised in 1689 and saw service in France and Ireland. The regiment was disbanded in 1714 and many of its troopers transferred to the Royal Scots Greys. It was resurrected later the same year and troopers transferred from the Greys to provide its core. But under George I its Scottish character was quickly stripped away and the regiment would eventually morph into the 7th Queen’s Hussars. The Scots troop of Life Guards got the chop in 1746, despite a record of sterling service in Flanders from 1742 onwards.
The first addition to the Scottish infantry came in 1739 when the 43rd Foot was formed from the para-military Black Watch detachments which had been helping police the Highlands for the previous decade. It was recruited from clans which had long demonstrated unswerving loyalty to the Crown. Highlanders were no strangers to the British Army, but they had never been formed into a unit with a distinct Highland identity before. It’s often forgotten that there had always been a substantial number of Highlanders in the Royal Scots until the mid-1700s, dating back to when it had been part of the French Army. Highlanders were also to be found in the Dutch Army which had three battalions of Scots soldiers until the American Revolution. Scots had been part of the Dutch armed services since 1577. The Scotch Brigade had their own parade music, red coats, swore allegiance to the British Crown and carried the Cross of St. Andrew on their battle flags. Around 1745 there were almost as many Scots regiments serving in the French and Dutch armies as there were in the British.
In 1741 the 58th Foot was raised in Scotland but it was quickly bled of its Scottish character and became a Lancashire regiment, first as the 47th Lancashire Regiment and then as the 1st Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.
Loudoun’s Highlanders may have been intended as a replacement for the Black Watch in its policing role when it was raised during the summer of 1745. Companies were gathered at Perth and Inverness but the Jacobite Rising a few months later stopped them parading together. The three Perth companies fought at the Battle of Prestonpans and surrendered to the rebels without putting up much of a fight. In the Inverness companies did not cover themselves in much glory either. One company was ambushed and routed by a handful of McIntosh clansmen at Moy near Inverness.
Loudoun’s Highlanders fought at Culloden and lost seven men at the battle. The regiment was sent to the European mainland in 1747 and distinguished itself at Bergen op Zoom. It was disbanded at Perth in 1748.
The 57th Foot was raised at Stirling in 1755 but quickly assumed an English identity, becoming the 55th Westmoreland Regiment and then the 2nd Battalion of the Border Regiment. The odds were stacked against regiments retaining much of a Scottish identity because recruiting was often done wherever they were stationed – usually in England or Ireland. The flip side of the coin was that the English regiments trusted to garrison Scotland after the Jacobite rebellion failed often filled their ranks with Scots – the 32nd Foot is one example.
The London Government’s reluctance to raise any regular regiments in Scotland after 1746 meant that when it was decided to risk tapping the vast reserves of manpower in the economically ruined Highlands and Islands, the units raised where short-term wartime service only.
War with France did not take long to resume. Fraser of Lovat, whose father was the last peer of the realm to be executed for treason, offered to raise a regiment from the family estates confiscated by the Government in 1746. It didn’t take Fraser long to raise his regiment in 1757 from his clansmen and men from the surrounding clans. The regiment, the 78th Fraser Highlanders, fought with distinction in Canada. It was part of the British force which captured the key French fort of Louisburg at the Mouth of the St. Lawrence River. They were also part of General James Wolfe’s victorious army on the Plains of Abraham which resulted in the surrender of Quebec City in 1759. The Highlanders were part of the captured city’s garrison and suffered heavily when a French army defeated the British outside the walls of the city the following year. The British managed to retreat back into the city and hold out until the Royal Navy arrived with reinforcements and Canada was secured within the British Empire. In 1762 a detachment of Frasers helped recapture the key fort at St. John’s in Newfoundland from the French.
The 77th Montgomery Highlanders also served in North America during the war. They suffered heavy casualties in a disastrous attack on the French fort on the sire of present-day Pittsburgh. The regiment also found itself fighting the Cherokee when they rebelled against British rule in the Carolinas. It also took part in expeditions to the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Cuba. Two companies joined the men of the Fraser Highlanders in the 1762 recapture of Newfoundland. The regiment was disbanded in 1763.
Men from both the Frasers and Montgomery’s, and many from the Black Watch, took their discharges in North America in 1763 and settled down to farm.
The war against France which ended in 1763 was also fought in northern Europe. Around 400 Highlanders, known as Keith’s Highlanders, was sent to join the British Army fighting there. They did so well that the regiment’s size was doubled to bring it up to full strength as the 87th Foot and a second regiment, Campbell’s Highlanders, was raised as the 88th Foot. The two regiments were treated pretty much as one, a Highland Corps, and officers regularly switched between them. Several other Highland regiments were raised, including Johnstone’s and Maclean’s, but most ended up being used to provide reinforcements for Keith’s and Campbell’s in Europe. Keith’s was disbanded at Perth in 1763 and Campbell’s was broken up the same year at Linlithgow.
A third Highland regiment, the 89th Foot, raised from the Duke of Gordon’s estates in 1759, also saw action. It spent three years fighting in India before being disbanded in 1765. The 105th Queen’s Highlanders enjoyed a brief life between 1761 and 1763, most of it in Ireland. The 100th Highlanders, a Campbell-raised regiment, served on the Caribbean island of Martinique between 1761 and 1763. The 115th Scotch Lowlanders was raised in Paisley in 1761 and spent much of 1762 fighting in Portugal and Spain. The regiment was disbanded back in Paisley in 1763.
The 85th Royal Volontiers were raised in Edinburgh in 1759 but only Englishmen were appointed as officers. It was disbanded in 1763. The 17th Dragoons were also raised in Edinburgh the same year as the Edinburgh Light Horse. It was disbanded in 1763. Normally, the lower the regimental number, the less likely disbandment was. But while the Scottish cavalry regiment was axed, the non-Scottish 18th and 19th Dragoons both survived.
The expulsion of the French from what was then Canada removed a major threat to Britain’s colonies on the Atlantic seaboard. The slave-owning bourgeois showed their gratitude by refusing to fund the continued British Army presence in the colonies. The British and the colonists were soon at war. This war was unpopular in England but Scots, Highlanders and Lowlanders, appear to have been keen participants on the British side. The Fraser Highlanders were re-raised, this time at the 71st Highlanders. The Campbells raised the 74th Argyll Highlanders in 1778 and Lord Macdonald raised the 76th Macdonald Highlanders. Macdonald was forced to recruit around 200 Lowlanders and 100 Irishmen to bring his regiment up to full strength.
All three Highland regiments served in America. The Frasers bore the brunt of the casualties when the British were defeated at Cowpens and many of the survivors of that debacle were among the Rebels’ haul of prisoners when the British surrendered at Yorktown. The Macdonald Highlanders also went into the bag at Yorktown when Britain’s last field army in North America surrendered in 1781. The Argyll Highlanders fared a little better. They helped see off a Rebel attempt to oust the British from their fort at Penobscott in Maine which was used to blockade much of the New England coast, including the Rebel stronghold of Boston. The regiment was disbanded in 1783.
The Argylls’ partners in the defence of the fort were the 82nd Hamilton Regiment. Among the Hamilton’s officers was Glasgow doctor’s son Lieutenant John Moore who would gain fame, and death, in Portugal in 1809. The regiment had been raised by the Duke of Hamilton. Many of the soldiers from the 74th and 82nd took up offers of free land in what was then Nova Scotia at the end of the war.
Two other Lowland regiments also saw service against the Rebels. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow raised volunteer regiments, the 80th and 83rd respectively. The 80th Edinburgh Volunteers were used to garrison New York, but some men were detached for special duties and captured at Yorktown. The 83rd Glasgow Volunteers helped repulse a French invasion of the Channel Islands in 1781. They were then sent to America where they also joined the New York Garrison. Both the 80th and 83rd refused to accept English recruits in response to some English regiments refusing to enlist Scots.
The war in America also saw veterans of the Conquest of Canada taking up arms again. The 84th Royal Highland Emigrants was formed from Highlanders who had taken their discharges in North America in 1763 and their sons. The 84th played a key role in repelling the Rebel invasion of Canada during the war. They wore kilts and raccoon skin sporrans.
In 1777 the Duke of Gordon raised the 81st Highlanders, which spent three years in Ireland on garrison duties – freeing up more experienced troops to fight the Rebels. The 77th Athole Highlanders were raised in 1778 and were also sent to Ireland. The regiment mutinied in 1781 when the Government tried to send it to India and was disbanded not long after. The Rebel/French victory in America saw the Glasgow Volunteers, Edinburgh Volunteers, Hamilton’s, Fraser’s, Macdonald’s, Gordons and the Royal Highland Emigrants all broken up. Another unit which did not survive the end of the war was the Scotch Brigade. The Netherlands sided with the American Rebels in 1783 and ordered the Brigade stripped of its Scottish identity – Dutch uniforms, orders in Dutch and Dutch parade music. That was too much for the Scots officers of the Brigade and they resigned.
Two Scottish regiments raised during the American Revolution survived into the 20th Century – the 73rd MacLeod’s Highlanders in 1777, which became the Highland Light Infantry, and the 78th Seaforth's Highlanders in the following year. Both regiments saw active service in India rather than North America.
The next major conflict, the war against Republican France and later Napoleon’s French Empire, saw the resurrection of the Scotch Brigade. This time it was a full part of the British Army. At first it was un-numbered but in 1803 it became the 94th Foot. The regiment served with distinction in India and in the Peninsular War. It was disbanded in 1818 but reformed in Glasgow five years later. The regiment tried hard to retain its Scottish identity and in 1875 was given permission to carry the old Scotch Brigade’s battle honours on its flag. It was also given permission to wear a diced headband, the hallmark of several Scottish regiments. But despite all the efforts, and service in the 1879 Zulu and 1881 Boer wars, the 94th was designated the 2nd Battalion of Ireland’s Connaught Rangers in 1881.
Several Highland regiments raised for service against France and its allies fared better and survived into the 20th Century in one form or another – the Seaforth Highlanders, the Cameron Highlanders and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. In fact, the Argylls, along with the Black Watch, managed to retain their identity into the early 21st Century.
Other Highland regiments raised for the two decades long War Against the French, with only the briefest occasional interludes of peace, fell by the wayside. The 97th Strathspey Highlanders were raised in 1794, the year after Britain entered the fray against the French Republic, and served briefly as Marines with the Royal Navy fleet patrolling the English Channel. But it was then broken up to provide reinforcements for other units, including the Black Watch, a year later.
The 116th Perthshire Highlanders were formed the same year and after serving briefly in Ireland the unit was broken up for reinforcements. Recruits for the 132nd and 133rd Highland Regiments also found themselves drafted into other units.
The 70th Surrey regiment became the Glasgow Lowland Regiment in 1812 before reverting to its Surrey title again in 1827. It was sent to Canada in 1813 to help drive back an American invasion of Canada. The Glasgow connection had dated back to 1758 when the 2nd Battalion of the 31st Foot became a regiment in its own right, which was stationed and recruited in Scotland. It had become the Surrey Regiment in 1782. The regiment which was eventually to become the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, the 25th Foot, also found itself labouring under the Surrey label for several years but eventually managed to shake it off. The 25th narrowly avoided becoming a Yorkshire unit in 1881.
The last Scottish regiment to be considered is the 99th Lanarkshire Regiment. It was raised in 1824 to help garrison the island of Mauritius. Although it still had pipers as late as the mid-1850s its Scottish character was gradually diluted. There were few complaints when it was designated the 2nd Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment in 1881. The 99th left behind two legacies. The phrase “Dressed to the Nines” is said to be a tribute to the regiment’s smart turnout on parade in the 1850s. One of the first Pekinese dogs seen in Britain was brought back from the regiment’s campaigning in China in 1860. The dog, Lootie, was said to have belonged to the Empress of China and was presented to Queen Victoria. Apart from the China Campaign, the regiment also had soldiers involved in fighting the Maoris in New Zealand in the 1840s and fought the Zulus in 1879.
The men who fought and died while serving in many of these regiments were unlucky because their units did not survive and their stories were not perpetuated and woven into modern regimental tradition. The Fraser Highlanders are better remembered in Canada than they are in Scotland. And the same is true in the United States when it comes to Montgomery's Highlanders. Sadly, the records of many of what can be termed with little exaggeration "Scotland's Forgotten Regiments" were lost or destroyed after the units were disbanded. Which makes it even harder to tell their stories.