I thought some you might appreciate a short guide to some of the military museums. For details of locations and up-to-date information on any admission charges check out the Ogilby Trust website.
Royal Highland Fusiliers (Highland Light Infantry and Royal Scots Fusiliers) – Situated in the regimental headquarters which is itself on one of Glasgow’s busiest shopping streets, Sauchiehall Street, this is a fine little museum in the circumstances. By that I mean that the regiment has a lot of history to cram into a very small space within the warren of rooms which make up the regimental headquarters. The display cabinets are chock full of fascinating relics from the storied past of both the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry who came together into the RHF in 1957. It’s all there; the Victoria Crosses, the other medals, the photographs, the paintings, the uniforms, the weapons. The souvenirs taken from vanquished foes, from 19th Century South African wooden clubs to Iraqi Kalashnikovs, were a bonus. I had no idea who enormous a WWI German anti-tank rifle was. There were also recordings of veterans recounting their experiences in two World Wars. The packed display cases make it easy to miss some real gems. However, an appeal has been launched to help pay for a new museum in Kelvingrove Park. Entrance is free.
King’s Own Scottish Borderers – Housed in the former regimental barracks, the KOSB museum has a little more space to display its treasures. Regimental museums have come a long way in recent years from a couple of display cabinets containing some dusty medals, a few tunics and the traditional bible/whisky flask which took the bullet which would otherwise have killed its owner. The folks at the KOSB have put a lot of time and effort into recreating scenes from the regiment’s history using manikins dressed in authentic or specially made reproduction uniforms. The Second World War tableau was particularly impressive. Though, the barrackroom from after the Second World War tickled my fancy as I imagined the museum staff and former members of the regiment scouring attics and army surplus stores across the country to collect up all the soldier’s kit which was display. This museum is well worth a visit if you’re in Berwick. There is a small charge for entry.
Cameronians – The Cameronians/Scottish Rifles Museum is part of a larger museum run by South Lanarkshire Council and has recently been upgraded. I remember going to the old museum as a kid and it only consisting of a couple of display cases. What I’d remembered as a bible which stopped a bullet turns out to be a notebook which turned bullet turning the Boer War of 1899-1902. The upgraded display includes some excellent video presentations relating to the regiment’s long history and the artefacts in the collection. The actual collection seemed smaller than either the KOSB’s or Royal Highland Fusiliers’ but the items on display were well chosen. Some thought has been given to younger visitors are there were cut-down uniforms for them to try on and some other child-friendly activities. The displays were well laid out and when I was there, there were a number of highly knowledgeable staff around. Unusually, amongst the captured enemy equipment on show is a British Army drum dating back to the days when the Covenanters who formed the regiment in 1689 fought the forces of the Crown. This is the only Scottish regimental museum that I know of that is run by the local council. Free entry.
Scottish National War Museum – In some ways this is the grand-daddy of Scotland’s military museums. The exhibits span several centuries of Scottish military endeavour, from the mercenaries who fought on the battlefields of mainland Europe for foreign masters to the conflict in Afghanistan. It also features displays dealing with the Royal Navy, the air forces, nursing, and Landgirls. The cards explaining the exhibits are models of how it should be done. Relics of long ago forgotten military heroes stand side by side with those of the still famous and infamous. There are informative audio-visual displays. If the bright recruiting posters on display are anything to go by, the Scottish soldier of the 1930s spent most of his time playing football. Mingled in with the medals and uniforms are personal letters from the soldiers and everyday items from their lives. The museum’s staff have saved perhaps the most thought-provoking display for last – a selection of artificial limbs, ancient and modern. Admission – Free with general admission to Edinburgh Castle (2012 £14.50).
Royal Scots Dragoon Guards – This museum house at Edinburgh Castle is unusual for a Scottish one in that it has relics commemorating two non-Scottish units as well. As well as featuring items from the storied past of the Royal Scots Greys, relics of the 3rd Dragoon Guards and 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) are also part of the museum collection. The RSDG is the result of three amalgamations. The prize exhibit and centre-piece is the French Eagle standard captured at Waterloo in 1815 by the Grey’s Sgt. Charles Ewart. The usual medals, portraits, uniformed manikins, weapons are supplemented by saddlery and some fast paced videos of tanks in action. Historic and hard-fought battles of the predecessor regiments are commemorated using model soldiers and vehicles. Admission – Free with general admission to Edinburgh Castle (2012 £14.50).
The Royal Scots – This is a circular journey around one of the old buildings of the Edinburgh Castle complex which encapsulates what was once one of the oldest regiments in the British Army. The information panels are excellent and the use of manikins in action poses highly original and imaginative. The museum combines some of the quirkier aspects of the Royal Scots’ history with the usual uniforms, trophies, medals, weapons, captured equipment and models. . Admission – Free with general admission to Edinburgh Castle (2012 £14.50).
Edinburgh Castle – As you have to pay to get into Edinburgh Castle to visit the three museums above; it’s probably worth mentioning some of the other attractions. There’s the old military prison cells complex – in regular use between 1842 and 1923, with a brief return to active duty during the Second World War. Several of the cells are peopled by manikins of real-life soldiers held in the cell box during its history. There’s also the building in which prisoners of war were held during conflicts dating from 1757 to 1815. The frames which held the hammocks the prisoners slept in have been reconstructed and their living quarters recreated. There are also displays of some of the artefacts the prisoners made to wile away their periods of incarceration. Actors recreate the sounds of the prison when it was active and give life to the words of some of its former inmates on an audio track which plays and echoes above the babble of modern-day visitors. Also on display at the Castle are the Crown Jewels of Scotland the royal apartments restored to their Stewart glory. And let’s not forget the spectacular panoramic views of Edinburgh from the castle ramparts. Admission (2012) - £14.50.
Black Watch – Housed in Balhousie Castle in Perth, this regimental museum is notable for the amount of art and photographs on display. The walls are festooned with paintings, sketches, photographs and there is even a stained glass window on show. Many of the battle paintings are well known and it was interesting to see them in their full glory rather than as shrunken book illustration. That’s not say that the museum doesn’t have all the other ingredients which make up a modern regimental museum. There were audio visual presentations making use of news film taken of the regiment from the First World War through to modern times. There were also displays of weapons, British and enemy; medals, regimental silver; maps, dioramas with commentary, manikins in historic uniforms. Another bonus at the Black Watch museum was the brief orientation talk given by a member of staff to visitors on their arrival. There was also a loaner guide book full of interesting factoids and information about the items on display. One of the display areas also included a children’s section with some uniform items to try on and colouring sheets. The museum tells the story of the oldest Highland regiment in the British Army from its origins in the early 1700s as a para-military police force through to the present day war in Afghanistan. Admission (2012) £5.
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders - The cost of visiting this museum is included the admission price to Stirling Castle. The curators have avoided the temptation to cram the exhibition rooms full of artefacts from the storied history of the regiment. Instead, they have selected wisely and imaginatively from their store of memorabilia. The 93rd Sutherland Highlanders were the original "Thin Red Line" of British military legend and the famous painting of the soldiers bracing themselves to repel the Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 has pride of place. Only war correspondent William Russell described the Highlanders as a "thin red streak". The display also includes a silver centre-piece based on the painting which but could not resist adding a badger which appears to be scurrying around the feet of the Highlanders. The display cases include an eclectic mix of artefacts which are often accompanied by short diary or letter extracts from related events. There are also illustrated panels outlining the history of the Argylls and its two predecessors - the 91st Argyllshire and 93rd Sutherland Highlanders. The museum is sprinkled with mannequins dressed in the uniforms and kit from various periods in the regiment's history. Several of the uniform items in the display cases have bullet holes through them. Also to be seen in the display cases are examples of weaponry and equipment taken from the enemy - ranging from a wicked looking sword that doubles as a handsaw captured in the Crimea through to Zulu spears and German coal-scuttle helmets. Bagpipes played at various times in the regiment's history also feature. One room recreates the officers' mess, complete with regimental silverware, portraits of leading officers and fancy plates. The exhibits also included the Argyll's own take on the classic bullet lodged in a bible - only they have the sight of a Vickers machine gun, sheared off by an explosion, embedded in the pages. There's a recreation of a First World War dugout, complete with two figures in uniform and a soundtrack based on letter and diary extracts written at the time. The museum gives more space than many of its Scottish cousins to the period after the Second World with several cases of artefacts relating to service in the Borneo, Cyprus, Korea, Aden, Northern Ireland and Iraq. A collection of medals won by members of the regiment is on prominent display, as well as examples of the commemorative scrolls sent to the families of soldiers killed during the First and Second World Wars, and Korea. The Argylls became the 5th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006 and there are a number of artefacts relating to the new regiment.
The Gordon Highlanders - The regimental trustees try to pack a lot of history into this small museum in Aberdeen. The regiment was formed to fight in what are commonly known the Napoleonic Wars, though no-one outside of France had heard of the Corsican when the first battles occurred. The museum makes much of the conflict with two out of three of its semi-three dimensional tableaux featuring events from it. One has a piper leading the 92nd Gordon Highlanders into action at the Battle of St Pierre in 1813 while the second is the grand-daddy of them all with a Gordon Highlander clinging to the stirrup of a Scots Grey at the Battle of Waterloo - the legendary Scotland Forever charge is still the subject of much debate among historians. The exhibition also includes a display case dedicated to another Gordons' legend; Duchess Jean Gordon who is said to have promised a kiss to any man joining her husband's newly formed regiment. The 75th Foot, originally raised as a Highland regiment, merits only one display case, mainly concerned with its service during the Indian Mutiny in the late 1850s. In 1881 the 75th became the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. The 75th display does however include the first of the 11 Victoria Crosses won by members of the regiment. The museum's permanent collection then skips to the late 1870s when the Gordons first served in Afghanistan and also features their exploits on India's Northwest Frontier in 1897 with the standard collection of couple of uniform and equipment items, some medals and a couple of either paintings or photographs. The Sightless VC Capt. Beechroft Towse from the Second Boer War 1899-1902 earns a display case to himself, which includes a souvenir elephant tail. But the collection has little to say about the Gordons' defeat at Majuba Hill in the 1881 Boer War. The World War One display includes a mock-up of a trench dugout where visitors can watch a short video. There are also more display cases with medals and equipment and uniform items. The centre piece of the Second World War exhibition is a detailed diorama of a street fighting scene in the town of Goch in 1945. The third of the three dimensional tableaux, a mixture of wooden craving and painting, features an officer in Tam o'Shanter urging his steel-helmeted troops on during the fighting at Thomashof near Goch. The collection then moves closer to the present day with a case devoted to the Gordons' service in Northern Ireland and another dedicated to Malaya and United Nations service in Bosnia and Cyprus. There is a nod to the Gordons' amalgamation with the Queen's Own Highlanders in 1994 to form The Highlanders and that regiment's transformation into the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006. The museum also includes a substantial display of weaponry, both British and enemy, accumulated over the years and a display of regimental silverware. A recreation of a formal officers' mess is available for private functions. The museum also has a room used for temporary displays of items from its collection which have includes comparisons between the Gordon's service in 1880s Afghanistan with the recent postings to the same country through to military music and piping. Former members of the regiment are often on hand to take visitors around the museum. Contributed
The Highlanders (Seaforth Highlanders and Cameron Highlanders) - The Highlanders museum is housed in the old Governor's House at historic Fort George near Inverness. The fort, on spit of land jutting out into the Moray Firth, is still a working army barracks but also one of the most perfectly preserved 18th Century fortifications in Britain. As well as the Highlanders Museum visitors can also visit the garrison chapel and an old magazine building packed with weaponry and personal equipment dating back to the late 18th Century, most of which seems to have been intended for the 97th Strathspey Highlanders and was originally accumulated by that regiment's founder Sir James Grant. Visitors also have a chance to view recreations of a typical barracks room from the 1700s, an officer's quarters from around the time of Waterloo and a barracks room circa 1868. The Highlanders are the successors to the Cameron and Seaforth Highlanders who merged in 1961 to form the Queen's Own Highlanders and with the Gordon Highlanders in 1994 to form what in 2006 became the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. So, there is a lot of history to pack into the rooms and hallways of the Governor's House. The early history of the regiment, which starts in 1778, is dealt with in what appears to be rather short order in a top floor room. There is a recreation of an old style formal officers' mess which doubles to cover the early days of the Cameron Highlanders and then it's onto World War Two with the usual display cases featuring flags, a small selection of uniform and equipment items, some enemy, and a couple of paintings. One of the corridors houses the display of artefacts related to military music and piping. The QoHldrs display features riot gear worn in Northern Ireland, some items relating to service in Malaya and the First Gulf War. The World War One display is also pretty standard military museum fare with a set of bagpipes, paintings, a bugle, and, perhaps surprisingly, some dancing pumps. The museum is also home to a collection relating to the Lovat Scouts who saw sterling service in the Second Boer War, First World War and Second World War. The museum has also found room to display artifacts connected to the various part-time volunteer units which sprang up around the Highlands in the mid to late 19th Century. More items relating to the long histories of both the Seaforths and the Camerons feature in two spacious galleries with large uncluttered display cases. The regimental library has a collection of military headgear, drums and photos crammed into it along with the books. The museum claims to have around 20,000 artifacts and there is usually a nicely put together exhibition in the temporary display room. The story of the regiment is brought bang up to date with a display of items associated with the 4th Battalion RRoS's recent deployment in Afghanistan and a nod to the 1994 merger with the Gordons. Contributed
Other Museums still to be reviewed – Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, Cupar,; Museum of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle; Ayrshire Yeomanry, Ayr; and Military Museum of Scotland, Wilkieston, West Lothian.