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.”
A Coyote armoured vehicle on patrol near Kandahar Airfield.
Scottish Military Disasters has been launched as an e-book. And it’s now improved.
Preparing the book in e-book format offered the chance to correct some minor errors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worth someone who has the print version going out and buying the e-book,” said author Paul Cowan.
“But in preparing the e-book we’ve corrected a couple of little irritating misprints and one mistake that probably only annoys me and a couple of my relatives.”
The book is one of the first from the Neil Wilson Publishing catalogue to be released as an e-book.
“Neil’s stable of authors includes such giants as Nigel Tranter, so this is a real honour for me,” said Cowan.
“This will make the book far more accessible to readers in Scotland and around the World – and also in certain countries far more affordable.
“I’ve found where it is reasonably priced overseas, it’s been selling like hotcakes.”
Glasgow-based Neil Wilson said the move into e-books was as a result of public demand.
Wilson teamed up with the respected e-book team at the Faber Factory for the conversion to the new format which will make Scottish Military Disasters available on a variety of devices, including most e-readers and mobile phones.
“We will also go online with Apple soon,” he added.
For details of how to buy the e-book version –
348. The Day We Won the War
by Charles Messenger
First of all, the title refers to the Battle of Amiens in August 1918. The battle marked the beginning of the end for the German Army in the First World War. German warlord Erich Ludendorff described the battle as the "black day for the German Army" and the official German account of the battle was named "Die Katasrophie des 8 August 1918". Prolific British military historian Charles Messenger, a one-time officer in the Royal Tank Regiment, serves up a readable but sometimes plodding account of the battle. He has come up with a confection based on first-hand accounts leavened with unit and formation histories. Amiens was probably the British Tank Corps greatest success, though over-shadowed by the better-known 1917 Battle of Cambrai, and was the precursor of the all-arms approach to 20th Century warfare perfected in World War Two when faster, more reliable, tanks became available. The spearhead infantry were Australian and Canadian. The British also played an important role and enjoyed considerable success in their own right. Messenger fails to emphasise that by this time the British were scraping the manpower barrel and the final 96 Days between Amiens and the Armistice could quite easily be christened "The Children's Crusade". The battle also saw French and American troops serving shoulder-to-shoulder with the British Army. Armoured cars and light Whippet tanks were used with an imagination previously generally lacking within the British command. Only the cavalry disappointed. Messenger also does well to stress the role played by the Royal Air Force, both bombers and fighters, in the successful push. Amiens triggered a series of consecutive offensives by the British, French and American armies that eventually broke the back of the German Army.
347. Zero Six Bravo
by Damien Lewis
It is hard to know who is blame for this book being such a disappointment. I ended up with the version released in the United States. Whoever edited it for an American audience went beyond simply changing some of the spelling. There are annoying little explanations of things that even the daftest American would surely already know. And I don't think a senior Special Boat Squadron quoted in the book, almost certainly the product of an English private school, would refer to people as "dude". Nor that a Londoner would talk about shooting people in the "ass". This stuff is between quotation marks, it's supposed to be what was actually said. Much of a dialogue is obviously re-imaged and recreated, but even so. British military terms are also changed to American, ie, recon for recce. There are also factual errors. The Canadian version of the American M16 rifle carried by many of the men is a 5.56mm weapon, not 7.62mm. If something as basic as that is wrong, what else is wrong? The book tells the sorry tale of a SBS squadron sent into northern Iraq in 2003 to persuade Saddam Hussein's troops to surrender. The story is quickly told. They are tracked and almost trapped by local militia fighters supported by regular troops with tanks. But they escape, only to lose something like half of their vehicles in a swamp. They split up and after a further chase are eventually rescued by British Chinook helicopters. The book is seriously padded. The shooting only starts around Page 150 and the book is only 270 pages long. The story is seen through the eyes of one sergeant. When the squadron splits up, there are at least two officers in the sergeant's group. But neither appears to have raised much objection to the sergeant taking command of about half of the squadron. This is a strange, overwrought, mess of a book. Definitely not Lewis's best work.
346. Arnhem - The Battle for Survival
by John Nichol and Tony Rennell
I approached this book with some trepidation. What is there to say about this 1944 battle that's new? Arnhem must be one of the most written about British battles of the Second World War, right up there with Alamein. So, it was a pleasant surprise to find former First Gulf War jet jockey John Nichol and ex-Sunday Times journalist Tony Rennell did have something fresh. They have taken a worm's-eye few of the desperate fight by the 1st Airborne Division to capture a key bridge over the Rhine and pave the way for the British 2nd Army to sweep into Germany. As well as mining the experiences of the British, and Polish, troops, the pair also give voice to several all-too-seldom heard Dutch accounts . The book gives just enough background, bigger picture information, to put the first-hand accounts into context without getting it bogged down. The right buttons are pushed and I think there can be few people who could get through this book without at least one lump coming to their throat. The pointless self-sacrifice of the supply plane crews, who did not realise almost all their dropping zones were in German hands, is very well handled. Anyone who regards war as a glorious adventure would be well advised to read this book.
Pension Misery Highlighted
The Dorchester Review , a leading Canadian magazine when it comes to history, is carrying an article I wrote about British Army pensioners, many who served under the Duke of Wellington's command, who were caught up in a disastrous scheme which involved them giving up their pension entitlement in exchange for land in the British Colonies or United States. I became interested in what happened to the so-called Commuted Pensioners after realizing one of the main suspects as a contributor to Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier had been lured to Canada under the scheme.
The latest edition of Canada's Dorchester Review features not one but two articles from Paul - Churchill in the Trenches and Drug Store Commandos. The first link takes you to an extended version of the article which appeared in the DR about Winston Churchill's time in command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on Western Front while the second is an article about the Lovat Scouts training in the Canadian Rockies as mountain warfare specialists.
Canadian Connection with With Wellington in the Peninsula?
The British Canadian newspaper ran an article in its May edition about a possible connection between one of the soldiers in my new book With Wellington in the Peninsula and a disastrous government scheme to settle ex-soldiers in Canada while depriving them of their pensions.
Irish Terrorism in Canada
In between working on a major project, I wrote another article for the Dorchester Review here in Canada. The attempt by terrorists to destroy a Canadian canal lock in 1900 is often dismissed as being the work of bunglers. But a closer look reveals a tale of murder and links successful bombing of the House of Commons more than a decade earlier. Few seem to know that one of the gang was found dead with a bullet through his heart. Attempts by US politicians, including President William Taft, to persuade the Canadian authorities to release the terrorists is better known. Dynamite Dillon
Also see - Dorchester Review
The Dorchester Review, based in Ottawa, Canada, recently published an article I wrote about one of the more eccentric of the British regiments - Victoria's Royal Canadians. Most Canadian historians seem unaware of that a regiment was raised in Canada to fight in the Indian Mutiny.
The Winter Issue of the Scottish American Military Society's magazine The Patriot contains a two page interview with yours truly. I thought the least I could do in return was give them a plug. At a later date, I'll see about either linking to the article or posting a version of the interview on the SMD site.
It’s been a busy few weeks. Last Saturday (Nove. 3) the Scottish Daily Mail published a two page spread under my byline about the 2/10th Royal Scots campaign against the Bolsheviks in northern Russia 1918-1919 titled "The Tsar's Fighting Invalids". I’ve found a link to a site which carries the article but before I post it I want to make sure I’m not sending you somewhere you might regret going. The Daily Mail article let the cat out of the bag when it comes to the fact that I’m working on a new book – working title, Jock and Rorie – Tales of Scottish Soldiers. Read about the Forgotten War