Quick Guide to the Scottish Regiments
To keep things simple, I've decided to base the following on the regular Scottish regiments as they were at the time of the Second World War.
The Royal Scots Greys
Scotland's only regular cavalry regiment. They trace their origins back to troops of horsemen raised in 1678 as the Royal Regiment of Scotch Dragoons to hunt down strict Presbyterians who revolted against attempts to impose an English-style church in Scotland. The name “Greys” was first applied because of their grey uniforms but later they were mounted on grey chargers. The regiment was also distinguished by being the only cavalry one to wear bearskin headgear. Most famous for their charge at the Battle of Waterloo (See Scottish Military Disasters Chapter 19 ; “Scotland for Ever”), the regiment also took part in the successful, but now mainly forgotten, Charge of the Heavy Brigade, during the Crimean War. The regimental headquarters is at Edinburgh Castle. In 1971 the Scots Greys were amalgamated with the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales Dragoon Guards), itself a 1920s amalgamation of two other cavalry regiments, to form the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.The Carabiniers had recruited in Cheshire and North Wales. The Welsh connection is recognised by Men of Harlech, arranged for the bagpipes, being one of the duty tunes played by the regimental pipe band. The officers' reputed fondness for champagne in times past once led to the regiment being nicknamed the "Bubbly Jocks".
The Scots Guards
The Scots Guards claim descent from a regiment raised in 1642 by the Duke of Argyll for service in Ireland. They became the third regiment of Foot Guards in 1661, following the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards in precedence. During the Crimean War they were known as the Scots Fusilier Guards. In 1861 it had twice as many Englishmen as Scotsmen in its ranks. The regiment recruits from throughout Scotland. The regimental headquarters is in London.
The Royal Scots
The oldest regiment in the British Army. The regiment used to refer to itself as Pontious Pilate's Bodyguard. The unit claims descent from the Scottish mercenaries who served the Kings of France. It lineage can safely to be traced back to Hepburn's Regiment which fought for the Swedes in 1625. It was authorised as a British regiment in 1633 and lent to the French. When the British decided to number their regiments rather than identify them by the names of their colonels, the Royal Scots were named the 1st Foot. Also known simply as “The Royals” or “Royal Regiment of Foot” at some points in their history. When regimental recruiting areas were assigned in 1881, the Royal Scots were given Edinburgh and the Lothians; the depot was in Edinburgh. The regiment's 2nd Battalion was almost wiped out when the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in 1941 (See Scottish military Disasters Chapter 30 ; The Fleet of Foot ). In 2006 the regiment was merged with the King's Own Scottish Borderers to form the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland “The Royal Scots Borderers” (1 SCOTS). The re-organisation of 1881 saw the regimented kitted out in Black watch tartan trews. The tartan was changed in 1901 to Hunting Stewart. The Royal Regiment of Scotland wears Black Watch, also known as Government or Universal, tartan kilts. Members of 1 Scots wear a black hackle on their Tam o'Shanters.
The Royal Scots Fusiliers
This regiment was formed in 1678, like the Scots Greys to hunt religious dissidents, and eventually numbered the 21st Foot. Fusilier regiments were usually assigned to protect artillery guns. In 1707, following the union of the English and Scottish Parliaments, the regiment dropped its “Scotch” appellation and was known as The North British Fuzileers. Five years later it became a Royal regiment and adopted the name Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1871. In 1881 it was assigned Ayrshire and Galloway as its recruiting ground and the regimental depot was at Ayr. Galloway was transferred to the King's Own Scottish Borderers' regimental district before the First World War. In 1914 the regiment was wearing Government tartan with a dark blue overstripe. This changed in 1948 to Hunting Erskine tartan. The regiment was merged with the Highland Light Infantry in 1958 and the new unit was christened the Royal Highland Fusiliers. The RHF wore MacKenzie tartan trews. It is now the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland “The Royal Highland Fusiliers” (2 SCOTS) and members wear a white hackle on their Tam o'Shanters. All the RRoS battalions wear Black Watch, Government tartan, kilts.
The King's Own Scottish Borderers
Formed in Edinburgh within a matter of hours in 1689 to help put down a rebellion by Highland clansmen which intended to restore the Stuarts to British throne, this unit's first battle was a defeat. But the raw recruits were among the few soldiers to keep their heads at the Battle of Killiecrankie. Known as the Edinburgh Regiment and eventually numbered the 25th Foot. Between 1782 and1805 it was known as the Sussex Regiment before becoming the King's Own Borderers. The reorganisation and regionalisation of the British Army in 1881 saw it narrowly escape becoming a Yorkshire regiment and was instead assigned the Scottish border counties; the depot was at Berwick on Tweed. As with all the Lowland regiments in 1881 it was authorised to wear Government (Black Watch) tartan trews. In 1898 Leslie tartan trews were authorised. It was amalgamated with the Royal Scots to form the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006 (1 SCOTS). The battalion, known as the Royal Scots Borderers, wears a black hackle on its Tam o'Shanters. All the RRoS battalions wear Black Watch, Government tartan, kilts.
The Cameronians/Scottish Rifles
The 1881 reorganisation also involved creating two battalion regiments. All the regiments up to the 25th already had two battalions or were allowed to create a second one. The 26th Foot were the Cameronians and they were amalgamated with the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry to create the Scotch Rifles (Cameronians). This name was quickly changed to The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). But for years only the 1st Battalion, the old 26th Foot, went by the name Cameronians while the 2nd Battalion insisted on being referred to as The Scottish Rifles. During the First World War all the battalions raised were known as The Scottish Rifles. The regiment was assigned Lanarkshire, which included much of a Glasgow area, as its recruiting ground. The depot was at Hamilton. The regiment switched from Government tartan trews to Douglas tartan in 1891.
The Cameronians were raised 1689 from former Presbyterian rebels, the people the Scots Greys were raised to hunt down, to thwart the mainly Catholic rebels seeking to restore the Stuarts to the throne after they were replaced by the Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary. The regiment stopped the Highland Host at Dunkeld and prevented it moving any further south following its victory over Government troops at Killiecrankie.
The 90th Perthshire Volunteers was raised in 1794 by Scottish nobleman Thomas Graham who had been outraged when French revolutionaries insisted on searching his wife's coffin for contraband when he was bringing her back home to Scotland for burial. The regiment was distinguished in its early days for wearing cavalry helmets and grey trousers. Sometimes known as Graham's Greybreeks or the Perthshire Greybreeks. In 1815 the regiment became known as the Perthshire Light Infantry. At one point in the run-up to the 1881 reforms it looked as if it would be “married” to the 73rd Perthshire Regiment – neither regiment was regarded as particularly Scottish by the 1860s. Three soldiers who rose to be commanders-in-chief of the British Army served with the 90th – Evelyn Wood, Rowland Hill and Garnet Wolseley.
In 1968 the regiment decided that it preferred disbandment to amalgamation with another Scottish unit. The disbandment parade was held near the Lanarkshire village of Douglas where it had had been raised almost 300 years earlier.
The Black Watch
The oldest of the kilted Highland Regiments. The unit started in the 1720s as a paramilitary police force made up of clans loyal to the British government. It was formed into a line regiment of the british Army in 1739 and originally numbered as the 43rd Foot but the disbandment of another regiment soon made it the 42nd “The Gallant Forty-twa”. It suffered heavily casualties at Ticonderoga (See Scottish military Disasters Chapter 10 ; Death Prophesied ). The regiment gained “Royal” status in 1758 and was officially known as The Royal Highland Regiment. But to many it was always the Black Watch, the name dating back to its paramilitary police days and the dark “Government” tartan it was issued with.
In 1881 it merged with the 73rd Perthshire Regiment and assigned Perthshire, Fife, and the area around Dundee as its recruiting ground; the depot was in Perth. The 73rd had started life as the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch but has been made a separate regiment in 1786. It was one of the Highland regiments which lost the kilt in 1809 in a bid to attract non-Scottish recruits. The regiment struggled to maintain any semblance of Scottishness and by the 1860s many regarded it as an English regiment. By the time it was designated the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch in 1881 there was a suspicion that it had been heavily infiltrated by militant Irish nationalists.The 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS) carries on the traditions of the Black Watch. The battalion sports the traditional red hackle associated with the Black Watch. All the RRoS battalions wear Black Watch, Government tartan, kilts.
The Highland Light Infantry
Although a number of Highland regiments were raised following the success of the Black Watch, they were all disbanded at the end of their war service. The first to survive the coming of peace and remain in existence was the 73rd Highlanders. Raised by former Jacobite John MacKenzie, Lord MacLeod, in 1777 it was a true clan regiment and contained no fewer than 17 officers called MacKenzie. It was sent to India and was soon renumbered the 71st. In 1806 the entire regiment was captured by the Spanish at Buenos Aires ( See Scottish military Disasters Chapter 16; The Treasure Seekers ). The regiment remained kilted until 1808 when it was selected to become one of the elite Light Infantry regiments of the British Army and went into Mackenzie tartan trews. The regiment shed it's MacKenzie origins and became closely associated with the city of Glasgow. The regiment resumed wearing the kilt in 1947 but went back into MacKenzie tartan trews in 1958 following the amalgamation with the Royal Scots Fusiliers to form the Royal Highland Fusiliers. Its traditions are now carried on by the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 SCOTS). The new battalion sports the white hackle formerly assicationed with the Royal Highland Fusiliers.
All the RRoS battalions wear Black Watch, Government tartan, kilts.The 74th Highlanders was raised in 1787 for service in India by Sir Archibald Campbell and at was first recruited from the Argyllshire area, it needed a strong infusion of recruits from Glasgow and Paisley to bring it up to strength. It suffered heavy casualties in India and was one of regiments deprived of the kilt in 1809 to encourage English and Irish recruits and long struggled to maintain even a Scottish identity. This was partially recovered when the regiment was authorised to wear Government tartan trews with a white overstripe (Lamont) in 1845. It was originally was paired with the Cameronians in the run-up to the 1881 reforms but ultimately it was married to the Highland Light Infantry. The HLI had the City of Glasgow for a recruiting area and had its depot there from 1920, the original post 1881 depot having been at Hamilton. During the First World War the HLI had three well known what the English called Pals Battalions, the 15th (Tramways), 16th (Boys' Brigade) and the 17th (Chamber of Commerce).
The Seaforth Highlanders
The Earl of Seaforth raised a regiment from his Highland estates in Ross-shire and Lewis in 1778 which was originally numbered the 78th Highlanders. Eight years later it was renumbered the 72nd Highlanders. Despite being predominately Scottish it lost the kilt in 1809 and dressed as an English regiment. The regiment's Scottish character was recognised again in 1823 when it was kitted out with Royal Stewart (sometimes known as Charles Edward Stuart) tartan trews and named The Duke of Albany's Own Highlanders. The uniform was Highland style, including ostrich feather bonnet, despite the lack kilts.
A second regiment was raised from the MacKenzie lands and surrounding area in 1793 and numbered the 78th. Known as the Ross-shire Buffs, the regiment remained staunchly Scottish and retained the Mackenzie tartan kilt. In the run-up to the 1881 reforms which created the Seaforth Highlanders, the 72nd were paired with the 91st Argyll Highlanders, while the 78th was linked to the Highland Light Infantry. The Seaforth Highlanders had their depot at Fort George near Inverness and recruited from the areas north and east of the Highland capital.
In 1961 the Seaforth Highlanders and the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders were merged to form the Queen's Own Highlanders. Then in 1994 the regiment was merged with the Gordon Highlanders to form the unimaginatively named The Highlanders. The 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS) perpetuates a blend of the Seaforth, Cameron and Gordon traditions. Members of 4 SCOTS wear the blue hackle on its Tam o'Shanters first sported by the Camerons, then the Queen's Own Highlanders and latterly by The Highlanders. All the RRoS battalions wear Black Watch, Government tartan, kilts.
The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
This regiment was raised in 1793 from the Cameron clan's traditional lands in western Inverness-shire. Orginally known as the Cameronian Volunteers the name was quickly changed to The Cameron Highlanders. It retained its Scottish character and was the only line regiment not forced into a shotgun marriage in 1881 with another regiment – there was talk of it becoming part of the Brigade of Guards. A second battalion was authorised in 1897. The Camerons had their depot in Inverness and recruited from Inverness-shire. The 1st battalion is reputed to have been the last Highland unit to go into action wearing the kilt, against the Germans in 1940. While the other Highland regiments wore kilts or trews based closely on government tartan, the Camerons wore a distinctive red, green and yellow tartan known as Cameron of Erracht. The Camerons merged with the Seaforths in 1961 to form the Queen's Own Highlanders which in turn merged with the Gordons in 1994 to become a regiment known as The Highlanders. Now the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS), its members wear a blue hackle on their Tam o'Shanters. All the RRoS battalions wear Black Watch, Government tartan, kilts.
The Gordon Highlanders
This regiment was unusual because it took on the name of the higher numbered battalion involved in the 1881 merger. The 92nd Highlanders had been raised mainly from the Duke of Gordon's Highland estates, which included much of Inverness-shire, in 1794 and was originally numbered 100th Highlanders. It's first commanding officer was a Cameron. The regiment remained staunchly Scottish, and kilted, in the years up until 1881. For much of the 1870s it was paired with the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, regarded by many as the most Highland of the Highland regiments. The regiment wore Gordon tartan kilts, basically the dark Government tartan with a yellow over-stripe.
But in 1881 it was decided to merge the Gordons with the 75th Stirling regiment. This had been raised in 1788 as a the 75th Highlanders but was amongst those which were de-kilted in 1809 in a bid to attract more English and Irish recruits. By 1881 it was no longer considered Scottish and had spent much of the previous decade linked with the Dorsetshire Regiment.
The Gordons were based in Aberdeen and recruited from Aberdeenshire. The Gordons merged with the Queen's Own Highlanders in 1994 to form The Highlanders. Now the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS). Members of 4 SCOTS wear a blue hackle on their Tam o'Shanters. All the RRoS battalions wear Black Watch, Government tartan, kilts.
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
The 91st Argyle Highlanders were raised by the Campbells in 1794 (and originally numbered the 98th Highlanders). Although most of the officers came from Argyll, the regiment had a strong Lowland character and later a large Irish contingent. It was de-kilted in 1809 but struggled to retain its Scottish character, which was recognised again in 1864 when it was put into tartan trews. A large draft of men for the 91st was on board the troopship Birkenhead when it sank off South Africa in 1852 (See Scottish military Disasters Chapter 20 ; Women and Children First ). In 1864 the 91st was authorised to wear Government (Black Watch) trews with a red and light blue over-stripe (known as Campbell of Cawdor). The battalion went back into the kilt in 1881 when it merged with the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders to form the Sutherland and Argyll Highlanders. The names were quickly switched to the more fluent sounding Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, shortened further by many to The Argylls.
The 93rd Sutherland Highlanders were raised in 1799 from the estates of the Countess of Sutherland by General William Weymss. Legend has it that Weymss had all the fit young men of each Parish lined up for his inspection and gave men selected a pinch of snuff and orders to report to military service. Many of the recruits had previously served with the home defence Sutherland Fencibles. The regiment narrowly avoided being disbanded during a brief period of peace between Britain and France in 1802. It suffered heavy casualties at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 (See Chapter 18 ; The Stonewall Highlanders in Scottish Military Disasters) and was the original of Thin Red Line described by war correspondent William Russell which drove off a large force of Russian cavalry at the Battle of Balaklava in 1854. Russell actually wrote “thin red streak” in his report by the it is remembered as “thin red line”. Often described as the most Highland of the Highland regiments, in 1853 it was reported that only 30 men in the unit were not from the counties of Inverness, Ross or Sutherland. The Sutherlands were very religious and supported their own mobile Church of Scotland parish. The regimental tartan was sometimes referred to as Sutherland, supposedly a little lighter than the Government sett issued to the Black Watch. This was the tartan adopted by the Argylls.
The 1881 merger brought the regimental depot to Stirling and it lost all link with Sutherland. The regiment recruited from central Scotland, Argyll, and Dunbartonshire. As the “junior” Highland regiment it came close to being disbanded in 1971 but a vigorous public campaign and the need for soldiers to serve in Northern Ireland saved it. The regiment had been reduced briefly to company strength, about 100 men, and some experts say an over-rapid expansion back to full battalion level was responsible for disciplinary problems which plagued the regiment in the following decade. The regiment's traditions are continued by the 5th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 SCOTS). The battalion wears green hackles on their Tam o'Shanters. All the RRoS battalions wear Black Watch, Government tartan, kilts.
Recruitment Areas of the Scottish Regiments Circa 1914
The move towards fixed recruiting areas for each regiment was well in train by the 1870s and the boundaries pretty much set by the 1881 Cardwell Reforms. But even then, those boundaries were not set in stone. The Royal Scots Fusiliers had to turn the Galloway area over the King's Own Scottish Borderers in around 1900. The map reflects the recruiting areas around the time of the First World War.
I'm no artist and the map's not the greatest. If anyone spots a major error, let me know and I'll alter the map.
Space restrictions mean the map shows Glasgow as solely Highland Light Infantry territory. The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) also recruited heavily in Glasgow. Once again, space restrictions mean the Cameronians' recruiting area is labeled "Scot. Rifles". During the First World War only the 1st Battalion of the regiment went by Cameronians, all the other battalions called themselves the Scottish Rifles. In the Second World War all the battalions called themselves Cameronians.
Glasgow provided recruits to all the Scottish regiments. Lacking any cities or major population centres, the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and the Seaforth Highlanders both had a hard time filling their wartime ranks from their recruiting areas. An old Cameron, captured with much of the old 51st Highland Division at St. Valery in 1940, used to joke "Moskovitz, Schellenberg, O'Hara, Snodgrass, Goldberg, - A Company Cameron Highlanders reporting for duty, Sir."
The Scots Guards and the Scots Greys both recruited from throughout Scotland.
For a details of the counties assigned to each regiment for recruiting purposes check out Recruiting Area Map
You may also be interested in Photo Identification
And as I know a number of you are interested in the uniforms of the Royal Regiment of Scotland I thought this link to the Royal Highland Fusiliers website might be appreciated.