Now that all the Scottish infantry battalions, with the exception of the Scots Guards, have donned the kilt it seems odd to discover that around 130 years ago senior Scottish officers regarded it as a drag on recruiting and actually wanted to cut the number of kilted regiments.
The debate in the run-up to the 1881 re-organization of the British army was every bit as heated as the one surrounding the recent amalgamation of all six regular Scottish infantry battalions into one super-regiment. In the immediate run up to the 1881 changes, the only Highland regiment stationed in Britain was the Black Watch.
Its colonel was the only Highland regimental commander consulted about the proposals to double the number of kilted battalions from the five that existed prior to 1881.
Colonel Duncan MacPherson said those five kilted regiments already had enough problems recruiting Scots, never mind true Highlanders, into their ranks.
He suggested it would be better to create one regiment, “The Highland Brigade”, which would recruit from the whole Highland area.
He, like the other Highland colonels, was anxious not to dilute the Highland character of the regiments any further.
The colonels were even prepared to give up their regimental tartans if it meant keeping their recruiting grounds in the Highlands - only the Camerons refused to surrender their distinctive Cameron of Erracht tartan. This scuppered a proposal to put them in Government tartan as the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch.
One former commander of the Gordon Highlanders took a less dramatic line. General J.C. Hay declared more than 120 years ago that he’d worn the Gordon tartan for 30 years and would be sad to see it go.
“But I would rather have the right men in the wrong tartan, than the wrong men in the right tartan,” he said
Up until 1881, the Gordons regarded themselves as an Inverness-shire unit. The regiment had been recruited in 1794 from the Duke of Gordon’s Highland estates, which stretched all the way to Lochaber at the time
But despite this, by 1881 only about half the regiment came from homes in the Highlands and Islands.
Since the early 1870s the Gordon’s base had been at Aberdeen. They shared a depot with the Sutherland Highlanders as part of a scheme drawn up by Secretary of State for War Edward Cardwell to link different regiments for recruiting purposes.
Under Cardwell’s scheme, while one of the linked battalions was overseas policing the British Empire, the other would be recruiting and training reinforcements for it. Every few years the two battalions would switch duties.
The new Secretary of State for War Hugh Childers decided the system of linking could be improved if the one battalion regiments were welded together into two battalion regiments. Each of the new regiments would be assigned a specific recruiting area.
These shotgun marriages created some disappointing combinations for the Highland purists.
The Gordons were “married” to the 75th Stirlingshire Regiment in 1881. The 75th had previously been linked for recruiting and training purposes to the Dorsetshire Regiment.
The only possible justification for the union was that the 75th had been raised as a Highland Regiment in 1787 but when the flow of Highland recruits dried up around 1809 it was decided to abandon the kilt in a bid to recruit more Lowlanders, English and Irishmen into its ranks.
For the same reason, three other Highland regiments were deprived of the kilt in 1809. Childers re-organization would put all three back into the kilt. The Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders, who had reclaimed at least part of their Scottish identity in 1825 by donning tartan trews, became the 1st Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders; the 73rd Perthshire Regiment put the kilt back on as the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch; and the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders became the 1st Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
The controversy over the future of the Highland regiments became a major sore point for Childers. The powerful Anglo-Scottish community in London were ignorant of the serving officers' proposal to form one kilted regiment, and were lobbying to “save” all five.
Childers, in a humorous letter to Lord Reay, joked about the London Scots’ campaign.
“The tartan question is one of the gravest character, far more important, as your friend suggests, than the maintenance of the union with Ireland,” he wrote.
“All the thoughts of the War Office are concentrated upon it, and the patterns of tartans -past and present - fill our rooms.
“We are neglecting the Transvaal and Ashanti for the sake of weighing the merits of a few threads of red, green, or white.”
A Coyote armoured vehicle on patrol near Kandahar Airfield.
Scottish Military Disasters has been launched as an e-book. And it’s now improved.
Preparing the book in e-book format offered the chance to correct some minor errors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worth someone who has the print version going out and buying the e-book,” said author Paul Cowan.
“But in preparing the e-book we’ve corrected a couple of little irritating misprints and one mistake that probably only annoys me and a couple of my relatives.”
The book is one of the first from the Neil Wilson Publishing catalogue to be released as an e-book.
“Neil’s stable of authors includes such giants as Nigel Tranter, so this is a real honour for me,” said Cowan.
“This will make the book far more accessible to readers in Scotland and around the World – and also in certain countries far more affordable.
“I’ve found where it is reasonably priced overseas, it’s been selling like hotcakes.”
Glasgow-based Neil Wilson said the move into e-books was as a result of public demand.
Wilson teamed up with the respected e-book team at the Faber Factory for the conversion to the new format which will make Scottish Military Disasters available on a variety of devices, including most e-readers and mobile phones.
“We will also go online with Apple soon,” he added.
For details of how to buy the e-book version –
335. The Flowers of the Forest
by Trevor Royle
I have to admit, this book was a bit of a disappointment. Having read Scottish journalist Trevor Royle's book about Scotland and the Second World War, In Time of Tyrants, and knowing it was a follow-up to this one about the First World War, I had perhaps unrealistically high hopes. The Flowers of the Forest was after all a labour of love and In Time of Tyrants was probably the idea of either Royle's literary agent or his publisher. In Time of Tyrants was surprisingly light on military material but very interesting when it came to social, economic and political history. The Flowers of the Forest has more military material but there is little that would be new to anyone who was already interested in the First World War. I agree with Royle that the First World War was a game-changer for Scotland and possibly the country has never recovered from it. But perhaps it was just too big a topic and demanded more specialist knowledge than one man can possibly have. I'm fairly sure one quote attributed to a member of the South Staffordshire Regiment during the war actually originated from a soldier in the Derbyshire Regiment in 1897. This is a good book and I did learn some things - just not as much as I thought I would.
334. The Manner of Men
by Stuart Tootal
I think we have our first candidate for the 2017 Book of the Year. And I almost didn't bother picking this book about the 9th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in 1944 Normandy at all. I think the key is that author Stuart Tootal commanded a battalion of British paratroopers in Afghanistan and proved his writing chops by writing a very good book about the experience. So, it didn't take much effort for him to put himself in the shoes of the members of the 9th Battalion who were sent to destroy a key German artillery position which could have decimated British troops landing on the Normandy beaches. And as a paratrooper himself, he may have enjoyed a credibility with the veterans interviewed for the book that other writers might not enjoy. He weaves in the history of British airborne forces in the Second World War with introducing many of the main characters in the book during the training. He also has an insight into the battalion politics which cost the unit's commander his job shortly before it went into action. But as a former battalion commander, he also has a sympathy for the problems man accused of intriguing to get the job. The actual parachute drop was a disaster, with almost a third of the battalion drowned after the RAF dropped them into the flood waters of the River Dives. The storming of the battery with barely a company of men doing a full battalion's job was a close run thing. As was the lightly-armed battalion's defence of a vital part of the British flank against a vastly larger force of Germans supported by tanks and self-propelled guns trying to reach the D-Day beaches. The accounts of the fighting are harrowing and realistic without nudging over into pornography. Tootal is also able to take a sober and sensible view of the performance of the 5th Black Watch when it reinforced the 9th Battalion positions. I suspect as his time as an officer in the old Queen's Own Highlanders gave him similar insights to those he enjoyed as a parachute battalion commander. This is an incredible tale very well told.
333. Eminent Victorian Soldiers
by Byron Farwell
American writer Byron Farwell takes a look at the lives and times of eight British generals who served during the reign of Queen Victoria. His choices of subject span from men who served under the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War through to soldiers who played a part in the First World War. For the record, the men profiled are: Hugh Gough, Charles Napier, Charles Gordon, Frederick Roberts, Garnet Wolseley, Evelyn Wood, Hector Macdonald and Herbert Kitchener. Not all were admirable men or particularly good generals. Farwell paints a fair enough pen portrait of each but sometimes his knowledge of the British Army lets him down and this casts a pall of doubt in the reader's mind over much that is probably true. I would not trust this book as a reference source. For example, there was no regiment called the 76th Highlanders in the late 1700s; nor was the 75th Foot considered a Highland regiment during the Indian Mutiny of 1857; the Gordon Highlanders were not part of the Highland Brigade in December 1899 and Sir William Robertson was not the son of a Scottish crofter. But Farwell's book is informative and thought-provoking. I would put this down as a good try that needed just a little more work. Farwell perhaps exaggerates Hector "Fighting Mac" Macdonald's abilities as a general and a little more research would have turned up numerous examples of his performance as commander of the Highland Brigade in 1900 being criticised. I am not sure that Farwell did not see this book as an easy "not much more research required" spin-off from his successful Queen Victoria's Little Wars.
Pension Misery Highlighted
The Dorchester Review , a leading Canadian magazine when it comes to history, is carrying an article I wrote about British Army pensioners, many who served under the Duke of Wellington's command, who were caught up in a disastrous scheme which involved them giving up their pension entitlement in exchange for land in the British Colonies or United States. I became interested in what happened to the so-called Commuted Pensioners after realizing one of the main suspects as a contributor to Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier had been lured to Canada under the scheme.
The latest edition of Canada's Dorchester Review features not one but two articles from Paul - Churchill in the Trenches and Drug Store Commandos. The first link takes you to an extended version of the article which appeared in the DR about Winston Churchill's time in command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on Western Front while the second is an article about the Lovat Scouts training in the Canadian Rockies as mountain warfare specialists.
Canadian Connection with With Wellington in the Peninsula?
The British Canadian newspaper ran an article in its May edition about a possible connection between one of the soldiers in my new book With Wellington in the Peninsula and a disastrous government scheme to settle ex-soldiers in Canada while depriving them of their pensions.
Irish Terrorism in Canada
In between working on a major project, I wrote another article for the Dorchester Review here in Canada. The attempt by terrorists to destroy a Canadian canal lock in 1900 is often dismissed as being the work of bunglers. But a closer look reveals a tale of murder and links successful bombing of the House of Commons more than a decade earlier. Few seem to know that one of the gang was found dead with a bullet through his heart. Attempts by US politicians, including President William Taft, to persuade the Canadian authorities to release the terrorists is better known. Dynamite Dillon
Also see - Dorchester Review
The Dorchester Review, based in Ottawa, Canada, recently published an article I wrote about one of the more eccentric of the British regiments - Victoria's Royal Canadians. Most Canadian historians seem unaware of that a regiment was raised in Canada to fight in the Indian Mutiny.
The Winter Issue of the Scottish American Military Society's magazine The Patriot contains a two page interview with yours truly. I thought the least I could do in return was give them a plug. At a later date, I'll see about either linking to the article or posting a version of the interview on the SMD site.
It’s been a busy few weeks. Last Saturday (Nove. 3) the Scottish Daily Mail published a two page spread under my byline about the 2/10th Royal Scots campaign against the Bolsheviks in northern Russia 1918-1919 titled "The Tsar's Fighting Invalids". I’ve found a link to a site which carries the article but before I post it I want to make sure I’m not sending you somewhere you might regret going. The Daily Mail article let the cat out of the bag when it comes to the fact that I’m working on a new book – working title, Jock and Rorie – Tales of Scottish Soldiers. Read about the Forgotten War