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 –
315. Quebec 1759
by C P Stacey
This proved to be a concise, balanced and sensible look at the battle which brought Canada into the orbit of the British Empire. Stacey, long Canada's official military historian, copyrighted the book 1959 in time for the bicentenary of the brief battle on the Plains of Abraham outside the walls of the capital of French-Canada, Quebec City. He dug out several forgotten, misquoted or neglected sources to create an insightful account of the battle. He also cast a professional eye, he was a Canadian Army colonel with a long career as a part-time soldier, over the terrain to bust some of the myths and legends surrounding the iconic battle. Neither the commanding generals, James Wolfe and Louis-Joseph Montcalm, comes through as a military genius. Stacey, harking back to his work on the Second World War, remarks that in that conflict Wolfe might have managed the role of corps commander, perhaps Brian Horrocks, to a Field Marshal Montgomery. Stacey points out that luck played a large role in Wolfe's final victory when a more sensible plan might have been to land his troops further from the city walls. This is a valuable piece of the still growing canon of books about the battle that changed the course of world history by freeing the British colonies in North America from the threat of French domination of the continent.
314. Mutiny at Salerno
by Saul David
I picked this one up and put it down again several times before finally deciding to splash out on it. I was not entirely impressed by Saul David's previous book, which looked at the capture of the much vaunted 51st Highland Division in 1940. This one again features the 51st, only this time is about the members who were convicted of mutiny after refusing to be drafted into other units which were fighting in the Salerno beachead. The bulk of the just under 195 "mutineers" were veterans of the Eigth Army's famous 51st and 50th Tyne Tees Divisions scooped from a reinforcement camp in North Africa where they were awaiting return to their units following hospital treatment for wounds or illness. David interviewed some of the surviving participants; mutineers, men who agreed to be reinforcements and members of the court marial defence and prosecution teams. He also managed to get his hands on a lot of the legal paperwork. It all makes for a sorry tale. The veterans were told they were returning to their own units and some of the men later convicted of mutiny actually volunteered for the draft before they had completed their recoveries. Important witnesses from North Africa lied or were un-co-operative with the defence team. The defence team was not given enough time to prepare their case, vital evidence was withheld from them or they did not grasp its significance. The court martial panel were misled by their advisor when considering the evidence before it. The court martial was a definite case of "March the Guilty Bastards In". No firm evidence of collusion, required for a mutiny conviction, was presented but the panel was told they were permitted by the number of men involved to assume that there was collusion. The military authorities were both incompetent and vindictive almost from start to finish. Several showed themselves expert at loading the dice against the squaddies. But for a lucky visit by a senior British general to North Africa three sergeants would have been shot. The veterans' belief in justice and fair play was betrayed. For years afterwards politicians misled the House of Commons and the British public as to the facts. This was not the British Army's, nor Britain's, finest moment. The only winners where the never-been-on-the-frontlines deceitful and/or incompetent officers responsible for the fiasco. There was a massive cock-up but only the veterans who placed unit loyalty ahead of blind obedience to mediocrity and incompetence paid the price. Two days sitting on a beach at Salerno suggests that the need for reinforcements was not critical as the military authorities were later to claim.
313. 1914 1918
by David Stevenson
This is perhaps not, as the blurb on the back of the book claims, the "definitive' history of the the First World War; but it is a good one. Stevenson, a history professor at the London School of Economics when he wrote the book, knows his stuff and has a firm grip of the subject. He looks at how the war sprang from an assassination in the Balkans that should be been of only local importance into a conflict which claimed millions of lives and changed the course of world history. Stevenson takes a wider view of the war than just the fighting and weaves in international power politics, economics, and social history. The focus is firmly on the Western Front, too much so some might argue, but it was after all the decisive theatre of operations. Stevenson takes the story beyond the 11th of November 1918 to look at how the loss of wartime unity among the Allies and United States of America in the years following the war pretty much squandered the victory and looks at the lessons of the conflict that we still apparently have to learn. Though not definitive, this is a very valuable contribution to the discussion.
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
In the News Again
I happened to be checking out the closing-down sale at one of the last remaining locally owned bookshops in Edmonton recently when a newspaper reporter pounced on me as I left and asked me comment on the closure. As a former reporter, I know what a pain grabbing random people on the streets for quotes can be; so I was only too pleased to help. Imagine my delight when the story appeared and I found my quote printed in large type. It made me look like a big deal. There were some genuine big deal Edmonton writers quoted in the story but whoever was designing the page must have just grabbed the first quote they found for the break-out - and luckily for me....
Sadly, the break-out does not appear in the online version of the story but if you're interested Edmonton Journal
In the News
The Scotsman newspaper invited me to put in my tuppence-ha'penny when it published an article about the controversy surrounding the 400th anniversary celebrations in Norway of Battle of Kringen - Scotsman Article
The battle and subsequent massacre of Scottish prisoners in 1612 featured in Scottish Military Disasters.
A new Canadian history magazine The Dorchester Review published a tongue-in-cheek go at the spate of books about How the Scots Created/Invented the country in its launch issue. In an article called How the English Invented the Scots Dr. Chis Champion argued, well, that the Scots are an English invention. Paul’s equally tongue-in-cheek rebuttal can be seen in the second issue of the magazine which is now out. The article, which also includes essays by Canadian columnist John Ivison and London-based writer Hugo Rifkind, is available on line at