IN the second of this six-part series on Scotland’s most famous regiments, I will be concentrating on the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB). It was one of the oldest infantry regiments in the British Army but ceased to be a regiment in its own standing when it amalgamated with the Royal Scots in 2006, shortly after the formation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Until then, both the KOSB and the Royal Scots had never previously been amalgamated, a distinction held only by five infantry regiments in the entire British Army. They jointly became the Royal Scots Borderers, and are now designated 1 SCOTS, The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

As I wrote last week: “When the Strategic Defence Review of 2004 proposed reducing the number of soldiers and battalions still further, the writing was on the wall for the Royal Scots and the KOSB and the amalgamation came to pass on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 – ironically that was Minden Day on which the KOSB celebrate their participation in the 1759 Battle of Minden, a key victory in the Seven Years War.”

I will write more about Minden later. Meanwhile, I am indebted to the redoubtable Trevor Royle and his book The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, A Concise History – published by the late and much-lamented Mainstream Publishing of Edinburgh – for much of the early history of the regiment, with the website also an invaluable source of information. I thoroughly recommend both book and website.

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The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, usually affectionately known as the Kosbies, though not by its members, began life as a regiment raised by David Leslie, 3rd Earl of Leven, following the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 when Prince William of Orange and his wife Mary Stuart were invited to share the throne by English politicians desperate to have Protestant heirs to James VII and II. They were offered the Scottish Crown by the Scottish Government, the Convention of Estates, but it was clear the followers of James VII would rise up for the Stuart cause.

A diplomat and soldier, Leven – who had been born David Melville – had been in William and Mary’s court in the Netherlands, and as the grandson of the great Scottish general Alexander Leslie, Lord Balgonie, he seemed to have inherited military genes. He was instrumental in the successful usurpation of James VII’s throne, bringing his own force of 25 officers and 257 other ranks to England alongside William – he captured and held the vital port of Plymouth for the new king and queen.

With General Hugh Mackay and his Dutch-Scottish Brigade, Leven went north to Scotland to negotiate with the Convention of Estates on the transfer of power to William and Mary. There was a major obstacle, however, namely Edinburgh Castle, held for James VII by the Duke of Gordon.

Leven decided to form his own regiment and the foundation document of the KOSB was promulgated: “The Committee … may be pleased to grant warrant to the Earl of Levin, with all expedition to levie ane regiment of foot consisting of eight hundred men, and to beat drummes to that effect. And that so soon as they are in readiness, he cause them Rendezvous in the Abbey Close.”

ACCOUNTS vary but in the space of less than four hours, 800 men volunteered to join Leven’s Regiment as it became known. Leven made it clear he wanted staunch Protestants only, and Edinburgh had a plentiful supply of them. The castle was duly surrendered by Gordon.

Leven trained his recruits hard in time for their first engagement with the Jacobites, which took place at Killiecrankie on July 27, 1689. It was disaster for the Government army, which broke in the face of a phenomenon known as the Highland charge. Leven’s regiment distinguished itself by not running away immediately, and some claim that it was their volley which killed John Graham, Bonnie Dundee, who was the Jacobite leader. Having researched the subject, I recognise there are several competing claims as to the identity of Dundee’s killer,

but there’s no doubt as to the effect of his death as the 1689 Rising petered out without his leadership.

The regiment fought against the Jacobites in Ireland and then had a change of leader and name, with James Maitland taking over in 1694. As Maitland’s Regiment they fought in the Nine Years’ War against France in Flanders, and suffered horrendous casualties in the Siege of Namur, earning the regiment’s first Battle Honour for their role.

By now firmly established as a Borders institution, the regiment went through several name changes as colonels came and went, and became the only Scottish regiment to fight against the Jacobites in all three major Risings – 1689, 1715 and 1745-46, when they fought at Culloden as Semphill’s Regiment.

Designations changed in an army reorganisation and Semphill’s became the 25th Regiment of Foot. It was in that guise that the regiment won arguably its greatest honour at the Battle of Minden on August 1, 1759, during the Seven Years’ War. They were one of six regiments who repelled the attack of 10,000 French cavalry, and then advanced under heavy fire to break the French army completely. Seven officers and 138 other ranks were killed or wounded at Minden, and to this day, the Borderers wear red roses to mark Minden Day.

Serving in the West Indies during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, the Regiment lost many more men to disease than enemy fire. In 1805, the regiment was named the King’s Own Borderers, a year after the formation of a second battalion.

The regiment served in many theatres of war during the Victorian era, fighting in Ceylon as Sri Lanka then was, India and Afghanistan. The reformed second battalion earned battle honours at Chitral in 1895 and Tirah two years later.

Prior to that the regiment was involved in controversy over its name and headquarters. The history takes up the story: “While the regimental HQ was from 1869 in Portsmouth, in 1873 it was allocated a Depot at York, and in 1881, when territorial titles and regimental districts were introduced, it was proposed that the 25th Foot should be re-designated ‘The York Regiment (King’s Own Borderers)’. Such was the outcry that Parliament was successfully lobbied, and on July 29, 1881, ‘The King’s Own Borderers’ moved to a new Depot at Berwick-upon-Tweed Barracks. The national origins of the Regiment were further recognised in 1887 when it acquired its lasting title ‘The King’s Own Scottish Borderers’.”

The regiment’s first Victoria Cross was won by Lieutenant Gustavus Hamilton Blenkinsopp Coulson during the Boer War. He rescued a Corporal Cranmer of the 7th Mounted Infantry and when Coulson’s horse was wounded, Coulson insisted that the corporal should get away on the horse. Coulson was shot and killed shortly afterwards and the VC was awarded posthumously.

The First World War saw the KOSB expand with numerous battalion raised including the 7th and 8th which fought at the Battle of Loos. It was here that the legend of the Piper of Loos was born when Piper Daniel Laidlaw of the 7th played his pipes to inspire the men around him to attack the Germans, carrying on playing despite several wounds, an action which earned him the VC.

THE 4th and 5th battalions were Territorials who were called up in 1914, and their first active service was alongside the 1st battalion in the following year’s campaign at Gallipoli. It has gone down as one of the worst defeats of the British and Empire forces in the entire First World War and much of the blame for this strategic catastrophe must be laid on Winston Churchill, who insisted on a campaign in the Dardanelles region near Istanbul – then called Constantinople and capital of the Ottoman Empire. The Gallipoli peninsula was undoubtedly a legitimate target as its capture would probably have ended Turkish involvement in the war, in which they were allies of Germany.

The KOSB were one of many units who found that the Turks were not the pushovers that British propaganda made them out to be. The casualties among the Australian and New Zealand divisions were horrendous, with half of their number killed, but the KOSB also suffered severe losses.

An official regimental record tells us what happened on the fatal day – July 12, 1915 – that the KOSB attacked the Turkish lines at Achi Baba Nullah, only to be hit by their own artillery and withering Turkish machine gun fire. Carnage ensued and the attack was halted.

The report stated: “Around each station were rows upon rows of stretchers, each containing what had been or, rather, what remained of a human being. The slightly wounded were waiting in long queues for treatment. What impressed one was the absolute deathly silence which prevailed over each station – not a word or a groan to be heard.”

Individual gallantry abounded. The report continued: “When all were so brave and wore fearlessness like a shroud, it may seem invidious to make any distinctions, but special note may be made of the gallantry of Captain Wallace, whose stirring cry, ‘Come away, Borderers! Don’t be beaten!’ inspired the eager men he led, and who, although badly wounded and with blood streaming down his face, continued to advance until he was wounded a second time, on this occasion fatally. Pipe Major Bertram spoke to him as he lay dying, and his last words were ‘I’m done for’.”

Out of the 20 officers who took part in the attack, 11 – including the Colonel and his Adjutant –were killed and a further six were wounded. By the end of the war, the Regiment had raised 14 battalions and been awarded 66 Battle Honours and 4 Victoria Crosses. The price was very heavy, however, as the KOSB lost the staggering total of 7740 men during the course of the war.

One of the soldiers who served at Gallipoli was Louis McGuffie from Wigtown, who was promoted to sergeant by the time the Hundred Days Offensive in 1918 turned the war in favour of the Allies. In September he found himself in charge of a platoon as its officers had all been killed or wounded.

That day he won the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour that can be bestowed on a soldier of the British Army or Commonwealth forces.

The citation stated: “For most conspicuous bravery and resourceful leadership under heavy fire near Wytschaete on September 18, 1918. During the advance on Piccadilly Farm, he, single-handed, entered several dug-outs and took many prisoners, and during subsequent operations dealt similarly with dug-out after dug-out, forcing one officer and 25 other ranks to surrender. During consolidation of the first objective he pursued and brought back several of the enemy who were slipping away, and he was instrumental in releasing some British soldiers who were being led off as prisoners. Later in the day, when in command of a platoon, he led it with the utmost dash and resource, capturing many prisoners.”

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Poignantly, the citation added: “This very gallant soldier was subsequently killed by a shell.”

That happened four days later, before he even learned he had won the VC.

The regiment had a very busy time in the Second World War, being evacuated at Dunkirk and returning in 1944 on D-Day. They fought all the way into Germany and having trained as airborne troops, the 7th battalion suffered heavy losses at Arnhem.

The 2nd battalion served in the Far East throughout the war and displayed particular valour in Burma, now Myanmar.

The KOSB also fought with distinction in the Korean War when Private Bill Speakman won the VC for his bravery in November, 1951.

The regiment served no fewer than 14 tours in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and also took part in the Gulf Wars before the 2006 mergers which saw the name Borderers retained in the Royal Regiment of Scotland.