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.
That desire to keep the Army small – also a legacy of a fear of military coup which dates back to the days of Cromwell – meant that many regiments were formed in wartime and quickly disbanded when peace was restored. For example, King William III had 15 Scottish regiments fighting for him in Europe between 1694 and 1697. Earlier, in 1692, no fewer than 11 of the 25 British regiments King William sent to Europe were Scots.
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
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.