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 see 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.
"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.
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.”
AS PROMISED - SAMPLE CHAPTER FROM SCOTTISH MILITARY DISASTERS - > Book Extract
* 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
** I've posted a new article - - Scot Vs Scot - about the Battle of Preston in 1715.
*** 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 2014 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 or the Devils in Skirts. 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
Once, long long ago, I worked in the upper reaches of Glen Garry in Inverness-shire. The boss insisted the folk music was for the people, by the people, and truly something termed "authentic". So, at night when we got bored seeing who could hang by their arms from the rafters of the house- converted to a dog kennel- converted back into a bunkhouse for the longest time, we'd cook ourselves up some genuine folk songs. One was a song about the boss. Another was about a glue sniffer who joined a woodwork class to get his fix and at the end of the song everything he'd made fell apart because all the adhesive had gone up his nose. It was hilarious. You'll have to take my word for that because no-one can now remember a single word of the song. Now, neither I nor any of my workmates, as far as I know, was actually a glue sniffer. But then Ewan McColl was never a fisherman or a miner and he produced some pretty memorable songs about life and work as seen through the eyes of both. We have a woman here in Edmonton who regularly knocks out songs about doing jobs she's never done during time periods she never lived in. Some of her songs are OK but it is shame that the people who actually had done these jobs never put together a song about them. My old boss would have approved of that as "authentic". The problem with folk songs penned by people who weren't there is that they can slip into cliche and put thoughts into the supposed participants' heads and mouths that were quite possibly never there. I might be a little more impressed if modern song writers did a little more research into the periods and people they are writing about. "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" by Ozzie-Scot Eric Bogle is classic anti-war song. But how many Anzacs felt the way the narrator of the song does? One thing I know for certain is that none were given a tin hat in early 1915. And I seriously doubt that anyone straight out of school would have found themselves taking part in the 1914 Christmas Truce as John McCutcheon would have us believe in his haunting "Christmas in the Trenches". It's just a shame that few, if any, of the genuine participants in the events being chronicled had the same way with words as these modern song writers.
Shameless Plug #3 - According to one of Britain's biggest booksellers, With Wellington in the Peninsula was briefly the top bestseller amongst recent books about the Peninsular War costing under £20 . The book lost its New Release status a couple of weeks ago. Now I'll need to come up with a fresh excuse to give it a plug. Use this link to find out more about With Wellington
What do you think? Please feel free to Comment
The Cameron Men
I recently came across what purports to be an 18th Century recruiting poster associated with the raising of what became known as the Cameron Highlanders. Most histories of the regiment proclaim that it was originally known as the 79th Regiment or Cameronian Volunteers. But the poster names the regiment as the Cameron Volunteers. Certainly, the letter officially authorising the raising of the regiment in 1793 refers to it as the Cameronian Volunteers. If the poster is genuine, and I have no reason to think it's not, then some clerk in Whitehall got the name wrong. Not all the clerical errors committed by the military administration were so minor. Historians are still scratching their heads over the pronouncement in 1809 that the 94th Regiment was one of the regiments being stripped of its Highland status and kilts. The 94th Scotch Brigade was raised in the Scottish Lowlands by officers connected with the Scots regiments that had been part of the Dutch Army until the American War of Independence. It seems more likely that the government intended to deprive the 93rd Highlanders of their kilts in 1809. So, the decree that the 94th were being stripped of their Highland status made no difference to the regiment because it did not consider itself Highland and probably the 93rd decided not to draw Whitehall's attention to error and risk losing their kilts after all.
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