IT WASN’T ME
Field Marshal Douglas Haig was painfully ill at ease when it came to talking to the rank and file of his army on the Western Front. One day the taciturn Scot came across a private clearing a blocked drainage ditch. He decided to attempt a few words with the soldier. “Where did you start the war,” he inquired. The answer he got hardly encouraged him to repeat the experiment. “I didn’t start the war, sir; I think the Kaiser did.” This story is a rehash of a joke popular during the conflict and was spitefully linked to Haig by his Director of Military Intelligence officer John Charteris
King George VI was another normally shy man who should have chosen his words a little more carefully when speaking to a soldier. During the Second World War he was inspecting the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers he spotted one of the privates wearing a Military Medal. He wanted to know what the soldier had done to earn the coveted award but what he asked was “Where did you get this?” Instead of describing the actions which led to the medal, the straight-faced soldier replied “From yourself Sir, at Buckingham Palace”. The soldier had been captured in France in 1940 but escaped. In Marseilles he got a job working as a waiter at a German military base and set up an escape organisation to help fellow escaped prisoners of war.
While the commander of the 52nd Highland Division, Major General Granville Egerton, was inspecting some positions held by the Highland Light Infantry at Gallipoli in 1915, a revolver being cleaned by a soldier nearby accidentally went off. The bullet whistled past Egerton’s head and bowled over his orderly. “Hey you,” the general bellowed at the guilty soldier. “What the devil do you think you’re doing? Shot my poor bloody orderly and damn near killed me! Are you satisfied?”
There’s only one answer to that question and the soldier gave it: “No Sir”.
Next Week - Argyll and Something Highlanders
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
Time to Go
Even I was surprised to learn that something like around half of the BBC's top paid journalists and presenters are privately educated. The arrogance and incompetence of the organisation, fully demonstrated by its dismal coverage of the Scottish independence referendum, suggested that the privileged but barely even competent are indeed over-represented in its ranks - but I had no idea how over-represented. I think something like seven percent of the British population is privately educated. So, something is obviously very wrong. And whatever is wrong is not confined to the BBC but a cancer eating away the heart, what's left of it, of British prosperity. Two reasons for this sad state of affairs spring to mind. One is that parents are buying their children into job-network, the Old School Tie. Or it might be that these children of privilege are actually better educated. I have my doubts about this second explanation, there are many state comprehensives that are pretty good but whose former pupils do not dominate the senior ranks of the BBC or the British Army in the same way that those from private schools seem to. But let's say it is true. Could this be because the people who control the purse-strings and levers of power have no real interest in decent education for all - or should I say equal opportunity in life - because their kids are not affected by the shortcomings of state education: That they do not have a dog in the fight. Perhaps the answer is to encourage them to enter the arena. Now, I'm for freedom of choice. If people want to spend extra money on educating their kids they should be allowed to do it. But what if we turned around and said: "If the state isn't good enough to educate your kids, then it's not good enough to give them a job either". Make it that private school pupils are excluded from sitting the exams that eventually lead to public sector jobs. Basically, no tax-funded jobs for those who did not go to state schools. I would hope that this would mean that the British Army would no longer be the largest single employer of pupils from Eton. Of course, the privileged would soon find away to circumvent the policy, but perhaps in the process educational opportunities for the masses might be improved for a short while at least.
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
The recently released film Dunkirk appears to have ignited some interest in the ones who didn't get away and that interest, in Scotland at least, has focused on the 51st Highland Division. The division had been hived off from the main British Expeditionary Force and lent to the French. The bulk of the division was eventually cornered at the French seaside town of St Valery en Caux by a German force under the command of Erwin Rommel. Attempts by the Royal Navy to evacuate the trapped troops came to naught and around 10,000 soldiers went into the bag. Not all were Highlanders or even Scots. The 1st Middlesex and the 7th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, as well as numerous English artillery men, engineers and support troops, also went into the Prisoner of War camps. Back in the 1980s it was proposed to twin Inverness with St Valery. It seemed a good idea to local politicians, perhaps with an eye on some exchange visits with their French counterparts. The Invernessians who spent more than five years as guests of the Germans, many as basically slave labourers down Polish coalmines, were less keen. They remembered that some of the citizens of St Valery had gone out of their way to betray escaping or hiding of British soldiers to the Germans. Now, I don't know why they did that but I can sympathise with my informants', former members of the 4th Camerons, feeling of betrayal. Disappointingly, although the new film has reawakened some interest in the fate of the 51st Division, the same is nowhere near as true for another group of British soldiers who did not get away, the brave defenders of Calais - three battalions of regulars, a Territorial battalion and one-sixth of the British Army's tank force. And as the film apparently barely features the Germans, my guess is that there will be no hint that the Scots of the 52nd Lowland Division and troops of the 1st Canadian Division were landed in France after the Dunkirk evacuation but quickly brought home again when it was realised that the French wanted to thrown in the towel.
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