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 –
326. The Imperial War Museum Book of the Somme
by Malcolm Brown
Military historian Malcolm Brown delves into the archives of the Imperial War Museum to paint a vivid picture of one of Britain's bloodiest battles. The 1916 summer offensive in France is burned into the national consciousness as the prime example of British Army blundering and Lions led by Donkeys. Brown paints a far more subtle and thoughtful picture using the writings of the frontline participants, in letters, dairies and even the occasional book. Brown chose his contributors well. They range from the surprisingly optimistic and keen to the heavily disillusioned. Many of the contributors did not survive the fighting or were killed later in the war. There are even a couple of German contributors and some French representation. This is a definitely a worm's eye view of the fighting. Brown does enough in the text linking the soldiers' thoughts and recollections into context but there is little detailed discussion of what the Generals were trying to achieve or assessments of their competence - or incompetence. When the book was first published in 1996 first person accounts of the fighting on the Western Front from non-professional writers were not as common as they are now. But today's reader may still be impressed by the fresh perspectives and surprises provided by Brown's harvest from the museum archives. As one of pioneers, perhaps Brown got the pick of the litter when it came to the IWM archives. Brown also takes a quick look at the home front, trench newspapers and the 1918 fighting on the old 1916 battleground. This book wears its age very well.
325. The Eyes of the Fleet
by Anthony Price
Thriller writer and former journalist Anthony Price takes a look at the lives of some of characters who captained the workhorses of Nelson's navy. The frigates were the jacks of all trades during the wars against the French between 1793 and 1815. It was the frigates which formed the backbone of the blockades of enemy ports and hunted down the warships and merchant shipping of the French and their allies. The frigate's crews also staged commando-style raids on harbours and enemy installations. The ships were often the first really important command of many of the heroes and villains of the Royal Navy. Price expertly mixes background material on the Royal Navy of those days, both for officers and seamen, with a closer look at the adventures of six of the frigate captains of the time. Oddly, he sustains the conceit that the fictional character Horatio Hornblower was a genuine historical figure. He also takes a look at the oft forgotten clashes at sea between the British and American navies during what the Canadians call The War of 1812 - which did not reflect well on the former. This was a good read and Price seems to know his stuff; but from such an experienced author I, for some reason expected, a slightly smoother writing style.
324. Manstein - Hitler's Greatest General
by Mungo Melvin
It quickly dawned on me after I started this book that Mungo Melvin was a Scot. He mentioned things that only a Scot would care about. A little research revealed that Major General Melvin was privately educated in Edinburgh before beginning an army career with the Royal Engineers. The latter part of his British military career was spent as a historian and analyst - an intellectual at the Ministry of Defence. This means that he is able to give an informed opinion on the Second World War achievements of Erich von Manstein; reckoned by many to be Hitler's best general. Although it was Manstein who was the driving force behind the plan which destroyed the French Army in a matter of weeks in 1940, most of the focus of the book is on his campaigns against the Red Army. It is not too much of a leap to suggest that the book owes a lot to Melvin's professional analysis during his time with the British Army, and at the German Armed Forces College in Hamburg, of the respective performances of the Werhmacht and the Red Army during the Second World War. What better preparation for a Soviet invasion of modern day western Europe than an objective look at how the Red Army got to Berlin in 1945? Manstein later insisted that it was only because the Germans were so heavily outnumbered by the Soviets that the war was lost. Melvin does not agree and takes a couple of swipes at those, particularly the Americans, who buy into this viewpoint. Melvin is a sympathetic but not uncritical biographer. Manstein who, like everyone else, was a complex man not without blindspots and flaws. There are many types of courage and perhaps moral courage is one of the most important in this life. This is no expanded academic treatise but a readable and thought provoking look at a fascinating soldier. There is also a swipe at some of modern Britain's senior generals, more politicians in uniform than soldiers, in the context of Manstein's own relationship with Hitler.
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