Scottish Military Disasters
As promised, a sample chapter from Scottish Military Disasters. I first became aware of this battle at a bus stop in Norway. My Norwegian language skills were almost non-existent but there seemed to be a road sign announcing "This Way to Dead Scottish People". Sadly, I had a bus to catch and didn't have time to go where the sign was pointing. But a little research back in Scotland quickly solved the mystery.
Massacre in Norway
The ambush and massacre of a party of Scottish mercenaries in 1612 proved a key historical event for Norwegian nationalists trying to foster an independence movement from Sweden in the early 17th century. The myth-makers fastened onto the so-called Battle of Kringen as an example of gallant Norwegians banding together to repel a foreign foe. The fact that many of the 116 Scots murdered after the ambush had been virtually kidnapped and forced into mercenary service appears to have been conveniently forgotten.
But what were the Scots doing in Norway in 1612 anyway?
If you didn't find the information you're looking for on this site; why not ask me? If I can't help you, I may be able to suggest where to look to get the answer.
Anyway, here's some of the information people have been looking for -
*The 1st Battalion of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders were the last full Scottish battalion to go into action wearing kilts. That was in May 1940. On their return from France they were put into battledress trousers.
*The Scottish regiments which campaigned against the Zulus in 1879 were the 21st Royal Scots Fusiliers, the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry and the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders. The 99th Lanarkshire Regiment also took part but this was only two years before it morphed into the 2nd Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment.
*The Royal North British Garrison Battalion, made up of military veterans unfit for frontline service during the Napoleonic Wars, were stationed at Edinburgh Castle, Fort George, Fort Charlotte and Fort Augustus
*The Highland Regiment was a short-lived (1942-1943) training unit made up of boys aged 16-18 who signed on for the regular army during the Second World War.
* No, the HLI did not wear trews in battle during the First World War. They wore standard issue khaki trousers.
*It’s hard to say which Scottish regiment won the most battles; but if battle honours awarded are any indication it would have to be the old Highland Light Infantry. Between them the old 71st and 74th Regiments, which formed the HLI’s two battalions, accumulated more battle honours on their regimental colours, 49, than any other Scottish regiment – this was mainly due to their early service in India and the Peninsular War.
Batang Kali Revisited
It’s been several years since I first wrote about the 1948 Batang Kali Massacre in Malaya. Since then, there has been a resurgence in interest regarding the actions of the Scots Guards patrol which is reported to have shot around two dozen ethnic Chinese rubber plantation and tin mine workers in cold blood – while claiming the men died in a failed mass escape from questioning.
I thought when I wrote the incident up for my book Scottish Military Disasters that there was at least some agreement on the basic facts. But the various reports which have cropped up in the past couple of years show that there is little agreement on anything except the names of some of the patrol members and of some of the people living on the plantation.
I wrote that the patrol from G Company of the 2nd Scots Guards which raided the workers’ camp at Batang Kali looking for Communist guerrillas on 11th December consisted of 14 men. Now I find figures of 16 or 18 Guardsmen are being thrown around. But the figure of 14 might just be technically correct when it comes to Scots Guards; or it might not. Most accounts agree there was a Malaya policeman with the patrol but some also mention a Chinese-speaking detective, maybe even two ethnic Chinese detectives. So that would bring the total patrol strength up to 17 or 18.
The Malaya policeman, Inche Jaffer bin Taib, reported counting 25 bodies after the shooting stopped. The Scots Guards claimed at the time to have killed 26 men. Most reports refer to 24 men dying. One report says there were 28 adult males at the settlement. Another says that an ethnic Chinese man arrived in a truck during the raid and was imprisoned with the workers. One man claims to have survived the killing because he fainted when the Scots Guards opened fire and was left dead. It seems to be agreed that one of the workers was shot within an hour of the Scots Guards arriving in the village, while the mass shooting took place next morning, on December 12. Where the accounts differ is in whether he was shot while trying to escape or was executed in cold blood.
Scotland's Forgotten Regiments
Who out there knows which war the 78th Fraser Highlanders fought in? Or where Keith’s Highlanders fought their battles? Whatever happened to the 70th Glasgow Lowland Regiment?
I’m guessing that some of you do – but my point is that history is not only written by the winners, it’s written by the survivors. The exploits of the Black Watch, Royal Scots, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Cameronians are all reasonably well known. But what about the regiments that were raised and disbanded in the space of a couple of years? Or the Scottish regiments which morphed into Irish or English regiments? Some of these Scottish regiments had fighting records which equalled the Black Watch or the Camerons, but they have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
The British Government has always tried to keep the Army as small as possible – often in reality too small to do all the jobs required of it. The “can-do” attitude and making do with inferior equipment that has characterised the British Army has often meant men, and these days women, have died unnecessarily – a look at Iraq and Afghanistan shows nothing has changed.
Scottish Regiment Recruiting Areas
The counties assigned to the various Scottish regiments as recruiting areas by the time of the First World War were as follows –
Royal Scots – City of Edinburgh, County of Edinburgh (Mid Lothian), Haddingtonshire (East Lothian) and Linlithgowshire (West Lothian)and Peeblesshire.
Royal Scots Fusiliers – Ayrshire
King’s Own Scottish Borderers – Berwickshire, Drumfrieshire, Roxburghshire, Kirkcubrightshire, and Selkirkshire.
Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) – Lanarkshire and Parts of Glasgow
Black Watch – Fife, Forfarshire and Perthshire.
Highland Light Infantry – Glasgow.
Seaforth Highlanders – Caithness, Cromarty, Elginshire, Nairnshire, Orkney, Ross-shire, Sutherland.
Gordon Highlanders – Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Shetland and Kincardineshire.
Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders - Inverness-shire.
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – Argyllshire, Bute-shire, Clackmananshire, Dumbartonshire, Kinross-shire, Renfrewshire and Stirlingshire.
The Royal Scots Greys and the Scots Guards recruited from across Scotland.
For more information on the regiments check out the Quick Guide to the Scottish Regiments