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.
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.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".
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.
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.
AS PROMISED - SAMPLE CHAPTER FROM SCOTTISH MILITARY DISASTERS - > Book Extract
* I've posted a new article - - 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 2013 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
The Christmas before I left high school, my grandfather's sister in Australia sent me a picture diary. For a laugh, I started filling it in. It was basically just a log of where I'd gone and who I'd seen. At the end of the year I put it away and forgot about it. Then a few years later I found it again and had a flick through it. I was astonished. Over the intervening years I had re-written the sequence in which events occurred. You guessed it, I'd created a far more comfortable personal narrative when it came to my last year at high school and going to work for the Glasgow Herald. My recollection had been that I was more sinned against than sinning. But a look at that old Australian picture diary showed that in a least one instance, I was the bad guy. It was me that started the trouble. It was me who set in motion a chain of unfortunate events, not the person I'd been blaming for years. It was a sobering experience. Nations do the same. Scotland's historical narrative seems to have followed much the same course. In it, the Scots are more sinned against than sinning. A nations of victims; be it of Westminister, the redcoats, uncaring and brutal landlords, avaricious mine owners, callous factory owners, slum owners, or the English-dominated Establishment. But what of the people Scots victimised? Sometimes underdogs are not the most compassionate of people. The underdog often seeks out someone even further down the totem pole to exploit. When I was young, the Scots prided themselves on being less racist than the English. But perhaps someone should ask the non-white inhabitants of Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Canada and the West Indies what they think.
What do you think? Please feel free to to Comment
The Cream of Manchester
I was talking to an English woman here in Canada when she mentioned that her uncle had been a kiltie during the First World War. I took a flyer and asked if he was from Manchester. Yes he was, was her reply but how did I know. I made the guess, and that's all it was, based purely on the fact that I'd heard that at one point during the First World War perhaps as many as half of the 5th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders were Mancunians. Sadly, I can't remember at which point in the war that was. The 5th Battalion was a Territorial unit originally recruited from Caithness and Sutherland. It would not have been easy to keep the battalion up to strength with recruits from such a sparsely populated area. And, particularly after the heavy losses suffered by units recruited from specific areas, it was policy to mingle troops from various areas of Britain into the different infantry units. The same policy was followed during the Second World War. As far as I know, no-one has ever worked out how many Englishmen served with the Scottish regiments during the two world wars. But I think the answer would be a lot, a lot more than people think. The old joke about the two Northern English members of the 51st Highland Division getting into a row and one eventually declaring to the other "Ah've been a Jock way longer than thee" is an old one. The one thing I can say is that I get a lot of people from England asking me to help identify which Scottish regiment their father, father-in-law, uncle or grandfather served with. There was time, before the First World War, when the Scottish regiments, particularly the Highland ones, enjoyed the same glamorous reputation as the Royal Marines Commandos and the Parachute Regiment have today and Englishmen were clamouring to join them. The Highland brand was valuable. It is quite possible that Scotland lacked the population base to feed all the Highland battalions fielded in the world wars. Even before 1914 Scotland had been struggling to support all the nominally Scottish infantry units. In the 1881 re-organisation which created most of the "historic" Scottish regiments serious thought was given to appropriating the prestigious 1st Foot appellation enjoyed by the Royal Scots for an English-based regiment. The King's Own Scottish Borderers almost became a Yorkshire unit in the same shake-up and the 75th Foot did not, despite its Scottish roots, appreciate becoming a kilted unit as the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. As it was the 94th and 99th regiments of foot lost their Scottish trappings to become, respectively, an Irish and an English regiment. The contribution of Englishmen to the Scottish regiments all too often goes unrecognised.
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"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.
The Gordons of 1881 were less than happy to learn their assigned recruiting ground was Aberdeenshire. Since the early 1870s the Gordon’s base had been at Fort George near Inverness. They shared a depot with the Cameron 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.”