REGULAR readers may recall that I have embarked on a series of histories of Scottish regiments following the announcement that the Royal Regiment of Scotland is to be incorporated into the new Union division of the British Army.

In order for readers to appreciate the deep insult such a new piece of blatant Union Jackery proffers to our Scottish soldiery, you really need to know the history of regiments some of which, as I have shown, predate the Union itself. Indeed, one of the two subjects of today’s column was founded before the 1707 Union was even up for discussion.

Let me start by posing some questions: who is the most famous person ever to have served as an officer in a Scottish regiment? Which Scottish battalion can look back on the most regimental battle honours in British history? And which regiment has its excellent museum in a Charles Rennie Mackintosh building on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow? Read on for the answers …

In this continuing series of columns about Scotland’s most famous regiments based on the template provided by the Royal Regiment of Scotland, we have reached the second battalion, 2SCOTS, better known as the Royal Highland Fusiliers.

The battalion has its antecedents in two of the most famous regiments in the history of the British Army, and the current Royal Highland Fusiliers battalion are worthy descendants of those illustrious forebears – in recent years they have served with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is an excellent element of Army culture that even though they may be reduced to battalion status, the regimental names are carried on and the honours won are preserved. That is why the Highland Light Infantry and the Royal Scots Fusiliers remain very much part of Scottish military history, and this country’s proud soldierly traditions, even in their new guise in the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

READ MORE: The story behind the King’s Own Scottish Borderers regiment

The Royal Highland Fusiliers came into existence only as recently as 1959, when two of Scotland’s greatest regiments combined into one. In trying to give a brief account of each regiment’s history, so far I have concentrated on the earliest years of their existence. And, in response to one reader who wrote in to say I had left out much of the recent history of one particular regiment – I can only reply that it is very easy to google the name of a battalion. You’ll find good records of what they’ve been up to since the Royal Regiment of Scotland was formed in 2006.

In order of seniority, I will deal with the history of the Royal Scots Fusiliers first. As has become obvious since I started the series, the early history of regiments in the British Army can be quite complex. Very few regiments have survived with their original name, especially if they date from the 17th and 18th centuries. That is because in England, Scotland and Ireland, there were no real standing armies, apart from the years of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. These years saw Oliver Cromwell’s all-conquering New Model Army as the standing army of the Parliamentary side and afterwards, his Commonwealth (effectively his dictatorship) that included forcing a “Union” on Scotland. Even that most formidable standing army did not survive the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

In the latter part of the 17th century, it became the practice that individual regiments would be raised with royal approval almost on an ad hoc basis to confront any potential enemy. Aristocrats – or in some cases, professional soldiers – would raise a regiment, which would then be named after them. They would either act as the commanding officer, the colonel or, appoint someone in their place to run the actual day to day business of the regiment. The colonel “owned” the regiment and was responsible for organising pay and provisions, always on the understanding that such regiments could be called up for the service of the monarch and his or her government.

READ MORE: The UK Government's 'Union Division' makes no sense. Here's why

Charles Erskine, the 5th Earl of Mar, raised what became the Royal Scots Fusiliers in September 1678, largely for the purposes of suppressing the Covenanters – the strict Presbyterians who rebelled against the dictates of King Charles II. Known as Mar’s regiment, the Earl was its first colonel and his men are believed to have seen action at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge the following June. That battle ended with the defeat of the Covenanters, some 1200 of them being imprisoned.

MAR also played his regiment into the strife that followed the accession of the Catholic King James II in 1685, specifically dealing with Argyll’s Rising. Thomas Buchan, a professional soldier from a Catholic family, took over the regiment in 1686, but he sided with James Stuart at the Glorious Revolution and the usurping monarchs, William and Mary, installed a loyal Irishman, Francis Fergus O’Farrell as a colonel in Buchan’s place.

It was under his name that the regiment began to earn fame during the Nine Years War, which they mostly spent on the Continent. By 1691 they had been equipped with weapons known as fusils, a variety of musket, and were also probably one of the first regiments to use grenades.

Remember that at this time, the regiment was effectively fighting just for a king, as the Union was more than a decade away. It is interesting to reflect on who they would have sided with had there been any dispute of a military type between England and Scotland.

There was an unseemly incident in 1695 when O’Farrell surrendered the town of Deinze (now in modern Belgium) and paid for it with his job – while the entire regiment endured several months of imprisonment by the French.

When Archibald Row took over as colonel, the regiment appears to have become an impressive fighting force. From 1702 it saw action in the War of the Spanish Succession. During the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, Row, by now a major general, told his men to hold their fire until he had touched the palisade at the village, and in the act of doing so he was shot and killed. The regiment was awarded its first battle honour for Blenheim, the first of more than 200 won by the fusiliers and the HLI and their successor regiment, a record for the British Army.

Under successive colonels the regiment took part in all of the Duke of Marlborough’s famous victories and became known as Marlborough’s Own. Awarded the title of Royal by Queen Anne, the regiment found itself in the extraordinary position of fighting against the son of their founder, the 6th Earl of Mar, who led the Jacobite forces at the Battle of Sheriffmuir during the 1715 Jacobite Rising. That inconclusive encounter nevertheless finished that Rising, but 30 years later Prince Charles Edward Stuart led another Jacobite Rising and the regiment took part in the final defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden.

Redesignated the 21st Regiment of Foot, the fusiliers saw action in the American War of Independence and again in the War of 1812, but spent much of the 19th century on garrison duty, apart from service in the Crimean War.

Various army reviews saw the regiment given a new home at Ayr where they called their barracks after John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, and from 1881 they were formally accorded the name the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

The regiment fought in the Boer War and it was during that conflict at the Battle of Colenso that Irish-born Private George Ravenhill won the regiment’s first (of six) Victoria Crosses. During the First World War One they raised a formidable 18 battalions, mostly fighting on the Western Front.

IT was in the trenches that the most famous person ever to be an officer in a wartime Scottish regiment saw service with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. He was Winston Spencer Churchill, who became lieutenant-colonel with the 6th Battalion which was in the process of being rebuilt after losing two-thirds of its officers and half of its rank-and-file members at the Battle of Loos in September 1915.

The National: Winston Churchill photographed in 1916 during the First World WarWinston Churchill photographed in 1916 during the First World War

Though popular with the ordinary soldiers, Churchill was not liked by fellow officers – though they came to acknowledge his professionalism. “Although an Englishman, it was in Scotland that I found the three best things in my life: my wife, my constituency and my regiment,” he once announced to those officers.

The Fusiliers fought with distinction in both world wars, winning many battle honours and awards for bravery in several theatres of war.

In 1959 they formed the Royal Highland Fusiliers by amalgamating with an equally illustrious Scottish regiment, the Highland Light Infantry, always known as the HLI.

Very much Glasgow-based for much of its existence and recruiting its soldiers from Scotland’s largest city and its environs, the HLI was nevertheless, as the name suggests, Highland in origin.

Its history stretches back to 1777, when the 73rd (Highland) Regiment of Foot was originally raised by John Mackenzie, Lord MacLeod, in and around Elgin.

Known as MacLeod’s Highlanders, it was the first clan regiment formed following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War but it was to India that the regiment was first deployed. A second battalion was formed in 1778 and before being disbanded five years later it took part in the Siege of Gibraltar, By 1786, the Regiment had been redesignated the 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot (MacLeod’s Highlanders).

The following year saw the 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot being raised in Glasgow by Major-General Archibald Campbell, its first colonel, and in by now traditional fashion it became known as Campbell’s Highlanders. The 74th saw service in India where its pay and expenses were furnished by the East India Company.

The 74th most famously took part in the Battle of Assaye in 1893, losing more than half its number killed and wounded, and earning its first battle honour.

Further service in India was followed by valiant deeds in the Peninsular War and just about the only major battle they missed was Waterloo. The 71st did fight there as part of the 3rd Brigade at Waterloo.

Both regiments saw extensive service in the Americas and the Caribbean before an incident in 1852 made the 74th very famous and gave us a phrase which is used to this day. On board the troopship HMS Birkenhead that was conveying them to Port Elizabeth in what is now South Africa, Colonel Alexander Seton and his officers and men stood firm when the ship struck a submerged rock. They stayed resolutely in line when the Birkenhead began to sink and the Colonel insisted that female passengers and children should board the few lifeboats. Then he commanded his men not to jump into the sea in case they swamped the lifeboats. To this day the cry “women and children first” emanates from that courageous action which cost Colonel Seton and 49 men of the regiment their lives.

The 1881 reforms of the Army amalgamated the 71st and 74th into the Highland Light Infantry, the City of Glasgow Regiment.

The HLI has long assumed legendary – almost mythical – status, as one of the greatest of all Scottish regiments. Only a year after its formation the HLI won its first Victoria Cross, awarded to Lieutenant William Edwards for his actions during the Battle of Tell El Kebir.

The regiment saw action in the Boer War and at the outbreak of World War I they were one of the first units into the trenches of the Western Front, while battalions of the HLI fought in what was then Mesopotamia and Gallipoli.

The regiment fought throughout the Second World War rom Dunkirk to the invasion of Germany, before the amalgamation with the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1959.

Find out more about the regiment at the Regimental Museum of the Royal Highland Fusiliers museum, housed in a Charles Rennie Mackintosh building, at 518 Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.