Most regiments in the British Army have some little eccentricities in their uniforms and some are so old that no-one knows their origins. The officers of the 1st Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry used to have four box pleats on the back of their tunics. But no-one really knew why. Eventually, it was discovered that when the battalion was sent to South Africa in 1899, the officers had sent their tunics to the regimental tailors for alteration. The alteration was supposed to involve “one box-pleat, four inches broad”. The jackets came back with “four box-pleats, one inch broad”. The mistaken alternation had a certain elegance to it and the new styling was kept.
Next Week - Sure Thing
To keep things simple, I've decided to base the following on the regular Scottish regiments as they were at the time of the Second World War.
But first -
Scottish Regiments at Waterloo - The Royal Scots Greys, the Scots Guards, the Royal Scots, the Highland Light Infantry, the 73rd Foot (later 2nd Black Watch), the Black Watch, the Cameron Highlanders and the Gordon Highlanders. The 91st Foot (later 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) were guarding one of the flanks and did not take part in the fighting.
Scottish Regiments in the Crimean War - The Royal Scots Greys, the Scots Guards, the Royal Scots, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Black Watch, the Highland Light Infantry, the 72nd Ross-shire Buffs, the Cameron Highlanders, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders and 90th Perthshire Light Infantry. The Gordon Highlanders arrived days after the capture of the main Russian fortifications at Sebastapol.
Scottish Regiments in the Indian Mutiny - The Black Watch, the 71st Highland Light Infantry, the 73rd Regiment, the 74th Highlanders, the 75th Stirlingshire Regiment, the79th Cameron Highlanders, the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, the 78th Duke of Albany's Highlanders, the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, the 72nd Ross-shire Buffs.
Scottish Regiments in the Zulu War - Royal Scots Fusiliers, 90th Perthshire Light Infantry and 91st Argyllshire Highlanders. The Edinburgh-raised 99th Lanarkshire Regiment and the 94th Regiment, raised in Glasgow, also served against the Zulus but were shortly afterwards stripped of their Scottish associations to become battalions of the Wiltshire Regiment and the Connaught Rangers.
Scottish Regiments at Culloden - The Government troops at Culloden in 1746 included the regiments that would later be known as The Royal Scots, The King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Loudon's Highlanders, disbanded in 1748, were also present.
Scottish Regiments in the American Revolution - The Scots Guards, the 21st Royal Scots Fusiliers, the 26th Cameronians, the 42nd Black Watch, the 71st Fraser Highlanders, the 76th MacDonald Highlanders, the 80th Edinburgh Volunteers, the 82nd Hamilton's, the 83rd Glasgow Volunteers and the 84th Royal Highland Emigrants. The last six regiments named were all disbanded at the end of the war.
Some of the regimental tartans can be seen in Photo Identification
Scotland's only regular cavalry regiment. They trace their origins back to troops of horsemen raised in 1678 as the Royal Regiment of Scotch Dragoons to hunt down strict Presbyterians who revolted against attempts to impose an English-style church in Scotland. The name “Greys” was first applied because of their grey uniforms but later they were mounted on grey chargers. The regiment was also distinguished by being the only cavalry one to wear bearskin headgear. Most famous for their charge at the Battle of Waterloo (See Scottish Military Disasters Chapter 19 ; “Scotland for Ever”), the regiment also took part in the successful, but now mainly forgotten, Charge of the Heavy Brigade, during the Crimean War. The regimental headquarters is at Edinburgh Castle. In 1971 the Scots Greys were amalgamated with the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales Dragoon Guards), itself a 1920s amalgamation of two other cavalry regiments, to form the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, now based at Leuchars in Fife.The Carabiniers had recruited in Cheshire and North Wales. The Welsh connection is recognised by Men of Harlech, arranged for the bagpipes, being one of the duty tunes played by the regimental pipe band. The officers' reputed fondness for champagne in times past once led to the regiment being nicknamed the "Bubbly Jocks".
War is hell and the winning side is often the one which makes the fewest mistakes. The Scots are justly proud of their fighting men and women but mistakes have been made. Best-selling author Paul Cowan turns his attention to the disasters which have befallen Scotland’s soldiers over the centuries. His sharp eye for anecdotal detail, ranging from the gory to the humorous, help make this engaging account of military fiascos, catastrophes and blunders involving Scotland’s proud fighting men come alive for the general reader. Why should soldiers' stories only be told when they're on the winning side?
Extracts from some reviews of Scottish Military Disasters
"Author and war journalist Paul Cowan gives a pithy thumbnail sketch of each battle or incident (the longest episode is nine pages), and sets each event in the context of its time and also lists, where appropriate, its military or historical consequences. All in all, it is a cracking good read."
--Brian Townsend, The Courier
"[T]his pacy, lucidly written history is extremely readable and highly informative"
—Martin Tierney, The Herald
"A fascinating and highly recommended read."
—Ian Smith, Scots Magazine
"Wha Killed The Braw Lads? - When Scottish soldiers ended up on the losing side.
"THERE is something unnerving about a screaming man charging head on at you with the sale intent of impaling you on a piece of sharpened steel." I'm in total agreement with that observation.
The steel in question is a bayonet, firmly clamped to the business end of a rifle barrel, but the key word is unnerving as countless troops in numerous battles have discovered for themselves. For the opposition it was time to turn and run and they always did, despite the fact that very few battlefield injuries were actually caused by bayonets. The sharpened length of steel was (and still is) a psychological weapon rather than a physical one.
This observation comes from journalist Paul Cowan in his paperback about Scottish regiments at war. But this is no elongated paean to the glory of our victorious lads surmounting the odds in various parts of the Empire and Europe. This work is very different, for its title is Scottish Military Disasters.
There were plenty of those - nearly 2000 years' worth, from Calgacus and his hordes losing out to the Roman legions at Mons Graupius right through to the first Gulf War in 1991 and the needless deaths of three Highlanders at the hands of gung-ho US reservist pilots.
The author doesn't mince his words when it comes to leadership, though the officers at regimental level come out fairly well. He reserves his true vitriol for the high-ups. I don't recall his use of the word "numptie", but you will know what I mean. High on the latter list must surely be Lt. General Aylmer Hunter-Weston, a Scotsman whom Cowan describes as the Clown Prince of the Gallipoli campaign. His incompetence cost the lives of hundreds of young Scots in the 8th Scottish Rifles, part of the 52nd Lowland Division's 156th Infantry Brigade.
Told of the slaughter, his unfeeling response was: "That will blood the pups." One of the pups was the author's great-grandfather.
History, of course, is full of "what ifs"? While not a military disaster in the accepted sense, the death of King Alexander III in 1286 when he rode over a cliff during a storm dramatically altered Scotland's history. Had he lived we might never have heard of Wallace or Bruce and Paul Cowan is right to include this.
He includes so much more that changes our view of great historical events. Remember that famous painting of the Gordon Highlanders hanging on to the Scots Greys' stirrups as they charged the French at Waterloo? Dramatic stuff, but who recalls that later in that same charge the overenthusiastic Greys were cut to pieces by French Cuirassiers, losing 100 dead and another 100 wounded out of their total strength of 350 troopers?
One of Scotland's greatest military disasters was Flodden in 1513. But what went wrong, especially as the Scots outnumbered the English army two to one? How did the Cameronians come by their name? And why is the White House painted white?
Lots of questions. Paul Cowan answers all of them and many more. A fascinating and highly recommended read.
OK, you've found an old black and white studio photo of a kilted relative kitted out in his military finery before heading off to the First World War. But which regiment was he in?
Fortunately, there may be some clues in the photo – the kilt, the glengarry bonnet and, sometimes, the sporran. The regimental badge on the glengarry or, later in the war, the Tam 'o Shanter may be visible. The regimental badges can be seen in Quick Guide to the Scottish Regiments. A lot depends on the quality of the photo – sometimes the tell-tale over-stripes on the tartan of the kilt don't show up. Once you've worked out which regiment the old boy was with, have a look at Tracing A Soldier
The Black Watch – Plain kilt, no over-stripes. Plain glengarry without diced band. The white sporran will have five short black tassels. On the glengarry, the regimental badge may appear to resemble a star. The ToS has a dark hackle instead of a badge.
Seaforth Highlanders – Dark kilt with obvious light coloured over-stripes: there are also a red over-stripes but they seldom show in a black and white photo. In general two vertical over-stripes should be showing either side of the centre of the kilt apron. Dark glengarry with diced band. White sporran with two long black tails. The regimental badge is a stag's head with very obvious antlers.
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – Plain kilt, no over-stripes. Dark glengarry with diced band. The sporran is black with six short black tassels. The collar badge on the tunic resembles two interlocking circles. The regimental badge is large and round. Before the creation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland the Argylls' badge was the biggest in the British Army.
Gordon Highlanders – Dark kilt with obvious overstripes. In general, three vertical stripes should be visible, the middle one running down the centre of the kilt apron. Dark glengarry with diced band. White sporran with two long black tails. The regimental badge is also a stag's head but two ivy wreathes close in to touch the antlers about two-thirds up.
Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders – Lighter, fussier, tartan kilt with yellow overstripe but over-stripe is not always obvious. Generally three vertical overstripes on front of kilt with middle one running down centre of apron. Dark glengarry with no diced band. The sporran is black with two long white tails. The regimental badge is St. Andrew holding a cross with a wreath of thistles rising from the bottom to touch the top arms of the cross.
AS PROMISED - SAMPLE CHAPTER FROM SCOTTISH MILITARY DISASTERS - > Book Extract
* Read about the men of Wellington's Army lured into misery in the Canadian Wilderness in a new article called Pension Misery
** It's been a while since I posted a new article. This one's called Temptation
*** Read about how the most Highland of the Highland regiments during the Second World War fared in the Canadian Rockies - Drug Store Commandos.
**** January 2016 marks the centenary of Winston Churchill taking command of 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front. How did the man who sacked so many British generals during the Second World War make out in his own most senior battlefield command? Find out by having a look at Churchill in the Trenches .
***** We now have a Guide to Scottish military museums on this site.
****** Just weeks before the outbreak of the First World War one of Britain's most bitter enemies walked free from a Canadian jail - Dynamite Dillon
******* Click to read - - Victoria's Royal Canadians - about one of the more unusual of the British regiments.
******** It has been a while since I've posted an entirely new article. Jungle Jail takes a look at what happened to the soldiers of the Highland Light Infantry and their families after the regiment was captured in Argentina in 1806.
********* Read an article about the Royal Scots and their desperate fight against the Bolsheviks on Armistice Day 1918 - Forgotten War
********** The 2016 Book of the Year Award has just been announced. See Book of the Year
***********No-one has got back to me with a German source for the claim that the kilties during the First World War were known as The Ladies from Hell . See My Challenge to You
*********** *A map showing the old Scottish regimental recruiting districts can now be seen by clicking Recruiting Area Map .
************* The Fighting Men 1746 article now includes the estimated strengths of the Jacobite clan regiments which marched into England in 1745 See Clan Strengths
************ ** I've posted a fresh article - Scotland’s Forgotten Regiments. Guess what it's about.
************** The High Court Hearing in London in May 2012 attracted a lot of visitors to this site. So, I've decided to keep the link to my latest article on the massacre in the Blog section. See Batang Kali Revisited
The more I learn, the gladder I am that Soviets never did swarm across the border between East and West Germany. It appears that retired British generals seem to think it is now safe to reveal that the British Army of the Rhine was barely even a tripwire and had little chance of containing any westward Soviet thrust. It was a just a big con-trick. Though, who was being conned is open to question. I suspect it was not the Soviets. The BAOR had to cannibalise its entire tank fleet simply to provide enough working Challengers for the two armoured brigades needed to take part in the 1991 First Gulf War. Basically, the BAOR's tank force back in West Germany was partially dismantled scrap until those two brigades returned from the Middle East. The British plan in the face of the Red Tide was for the infantry to engage the Soviet armoured columns pouring onto the plains of West Germany with wire controlled missiles while their tanks somehow manoeuvered themselves into position for a supposedly decisive flank attack. The problem was that the infantry's Milan missiles could not penetrate the front armour of the Soviet tanks. It was, as one recently retired general said, like telling a boxer he can only punch sideways. The Milan only worked against sides and rear of Soviet tanks. The plan only worked if the Soviets insisted on reversing across the German plains in their tanks. I also have serious doubts to whether Britain's generals were a professional match for their Soviet counterparts. During the last couple of years of Second World War the Soviets handled their armoured forces far more professionally and proficiently than their British contemporaries. I suspect throughout the so-called Cold War the Soviet High Command continued to value professionalism, innovation, and imagination at a higher level than the Old Boys' network foisted on the British Army. Nuclear weapons would quite possibly have been needed within hours rather than days of the Soviets kicking off their attack.
Shameless Plug #9 - With Wellington was among the books recommended as an excellent Christmas present by the prestigious The Society for Army Historical Research. There was another mysterious surge in sales of With Wellington last summer. At the end of May it was the third best selling book about the Peninsular War on the website of one of Britain's biggest booksellers and Number Eighteen in the table for all Napoleonic books. Last December's sales surge turned out to be a combination of the venerable Scots Magazine declaring it Book of the Month in its January 2015 edition and a highly favourable review in the Napoleonic Association's newsletter. Scots Magazine's reviewer, nature writer and author, Jim Crumley, declared "I don't much care for military memoirs, but I could not put this one down". Other reviewers have been equally enthusiastic - "If you are interested in the memoirs of British soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars this book is a MUST!... You don't get many Napoleonic memoirs as good as this" and "It is the most candid memoir of the British Army I have ever read... does not pull any punches ... highly entertaining, but also thought provoking..." To have a look at the full reviews check out more about With Wellington
What do you think? Please feel free to Comment
All this recent talk of the 20th anniversary of the British hand-over of Hong Kong to the Communist Chinese reminded me of one of the tenuous links I have to that far-off city. I used to live in the old basement servants' quarters in the old house of the guy who signed the 99-year-lease on the New Territories; the expiration of which triggered the hand-over. I was surprised when I arrived to discover I was sharing a home not only with the owners but with one of the guys who had been a copyboy at the Evening Times when I was a copyboy at the Glasgow Herald. I thought the Times copyboys were a great bunch - with one exception. You guessed it, the exception was was my surprise housemate. He was a sly snide git. So, it was not great surprise when Mr Snide and the landlady were overheard on the stairs sniggering and slagging me and my room-mate Dennis off. That should have perhaps been a warning about what was to come. We all used to pay the rent three or four months in advance. The rent included use of the kitchen upstairs. Then, after we'd handed over the second three or four months in advance the landlady announced the kitchen was now out of bounds to us. By this time, Mr Snide had moved on. The three of us remaining lodgers were students, we could not afford to eat out every night or buy take-away food. We needed to be able cook our own food. It was a very unpleasant surprise. But I don't think the landlady should have been surprised when we found alternative accommodation before she could get her posh but grubby hands on the third instalment of rent in advance . Maybe another time I'll tell you about how she locked all her tenants out of the house to punish one who had offended her. Once again, by then Mr Snide had moved out.
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