The Black Watch was the oldest of the Highland regiments. It traces its origins to the para-military force of Highlanders raised to police the north of Scotland in the 1720s. In 1739 it was decided to make it a full part of the British Army.
This is the text of the official commission ordering the creation of 43rd Regiment of Foot.
GEORGE R Whereas we have thought fit, that a regiment
of foot be forthwith formed under your command, and to consist
of ten companies, each to contain one captain, one lieutenant, one
ensign, three Serjeants, three corporals, two drummers, and one
hundred effective private men; which said regiment shall be partly
formed out of six Independent Companies of Foot in the Highlands
of North Britain, three of which are now commanded by
captains, and three by captain-lieutenants. Our will and pleasure
therefore is, that one serjeant, one corporal, and fifty private men,
be forthwith taken out of the three companies commanded by captains,
and ten private men from the three commanded by captainlieutenants,
making one hundred and eighty men, who are to be equally distributed into the four companies hereby to be raised; and the three Serjeants and three corporals, draughted as aforesaid,
to be placed to such of the four companies as you shall judge
proper; and the remainder of the non-commissioned officers and
private men, wanting to complete them to the above number, to be
raised in the Highlands with all possible speed; the men to be
natives of that country, and none other to be taken.
This regiment shall commence and take place according to the
establishment thereof. And of these our orders and commands,
you, and the said three captains, and the three captain-lieutenants
commanding at present the six Independent Highland Companies,
and all others concerned, are to take notice, and to yield obedience
Given at our Court at St. James's, this 25th day of October,
1739, and in the 13th year of our reign.
By His Majesty's Command,
(Signed) : Wm. Yonge.
To our Right Trusty and Right Well-
Beloved Cousin, John Earl of
Craufurd and Lindsay.
The counties assigned to the various Scottish regiments as recruiting areas by the time of the First World War were as follows –
Royal Scots – City of Edinburgh, County of Edinburgh (Mid Lothian), Haddingtonshire (East Lothian) and Linlithgowshire (West Lothian)and Peeblesshire.
Royal Scots Fusiliers – Ayrshire
King’s Own Scottish Borderers – Berwickshire, Drumfrieshire, Roxburghshire, Kirkcubrightshire, and Selkirkshire.
Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) – Lanarkshire and Parts of Glasgow
Black Watch – Fife, Forfarshire and Perthshire.
Highland Light Infantry – Glasgow.
Seaforth Highlanders – Caithness, Cromarty, Elginshire, Nairnshire, Orkney, Ross-shire, Sutherland.
Gordon Highlanders – Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Shetland and Kincardineshire.
Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders - Inverness-shire.
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – Argyllshire, Bute-shire, Clackmananshire, Dumbartonshire, Kinross-shire, Renfrewshire and Stirlingshire.
The Royal Scots Greys and the Scots Guards recruited from across Scotland.
The reality was that apart from the territorial battalions at the start of both World Wars and during National Service the number of men serving in a regiment who came from its official recruiting area probably almost never exceeded 40%.
According to David French's book "Military Identities" between 1883 and 1900 the average percentages of men born in the assigned regimental recruiting area were -
Cameronians/Scottish Rifles - 38.1%
Black Watch - 36.4%
Highland Light Infantry - 25.4%
Royal Scots - 23.8%
King's Own Scottish Borderers - 21.8%
Gordons - 21.1%
Seaforths - 19.7%
Argylls - 19.1%
Royal Scots Fusliers - 10.6%
Camerons - 9.6%
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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.