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 third battalion – 3SCOTS – better known by one of the most famous names in military history, the Black Watch, winners of more than 150 battle honours.

To divert first: as I have already shown in this series, the various reforms and reviews of the British Army by politicians over many decades have often seemed capricious and quite ignorant of Scottish military traditions, and even after I penned the first column of this series the Tory government axe was wielded and a piece of Scottish military history was obliterated earlier this month with the establishment of a new Ranger Regiment.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Stuart Crawford, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Tank Regiment, has just written for the UK Defence Journal website: “The Borderers, 1 SCOTS, has become one of the four regular infantry battalions from which the new Ranger Regiment will be ‘seeded’ as it is stood up …

“For Scottish readers, however, a few more details of what this actually means for us should perhaps be underlined. First of all, obviously the Royal Regiment of Scotland, loses another battalion, down from an initial five to three plus one company. On top of this, each Ranger battalion will be only 250 strong, half that of 1 SCOTS.

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

“Furthermore, the new battalion will, as far as I can ascertain, sport the grey beret and other accoutrements designated for it, and there would appear to be no record left of its previous ‘Scottishness’, subject to confirmation at time of writing. So, essentially, another Scottish infantry battalion has been lopped off the order of battle in a smoke and mirrors operation that would make any magician proud ...

“What is not in doubt is that the Scottish element of the British army has once again been diminished.”

I hope readers will conclude that the creation of the new Union Division and this further diminution of Scotland’s proud military names make this current series necessary reading for those who wish to understand our Scottish history.

So in this latest part of what is now a timely series on Scotland’s most famous regiments, I will be concentrating on the history of the Black Watch. As I have written before, 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 past honours won are preserved – we can only hope that the Royal Scottish Borderers and their history survive in some form within the new Ranger Regiment.

IT hardly seems like 15 years ago that I sat in the audience of an Edinburgh Fringe production in an old drill hall converted for performances by the newly minted National Theatre of Scotland. It was called simply Black Watch and was the work of writer, Gregory Burke, of whom I was aware due to his brilliant play Gagarin Way.

It was an enthralling and compelling piece of theatre which brilliantly mixed both the history of the Black Watch and the blood-curling experiences of its soldiers in the Iraq War. Raucous at times, harsh at others, and with folk songs and pipe tunes superbly arranged by Davey Anderson, the play put the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions, and no-one who saw it then or in the later various

award-winning international touring productions will ever able to forget the play and the regiment it portrayed.

Burke himself said: “The central core of the regiment has always been the heartland of Perthshire, Fife, Dundee, and Angus. It both represents and reflects those communities ... The Black Watch is a tribe.”

Tribe, family, clan – there is no doubt that the Black Watch has been all of these and more since its formation in the 1720s.

Unlike other regiments such as the Royal Scots who were effectively founded in a day, it took many months to get the original forebears of the Black Watch together.

The idea was simple. After the 1715 Jacobite Rising, the government of King George I brought in the Disarming Act which prohibited any Highlander to have “in his or their custody, use, or bear, broad sword, poignard, whinger or durk, side pistol, gun, or other warlike weapon.”

That didn’t stop trouble, and in 1729 several clan chiefs loyal to the Hanoverians offered to create companies of soldiers to maintain the peace in the north of Scotland. General George Wade was then commander-in-chief of “North Britain” and he began and structured the “militia” scheme. In all there were six such independent companies, the three largest of 100 men each being formed under their captains – Lord Lovat, Sir Duncan Campbell of Lochnell, and Colonel Grant of Ballindalloch.

The most obvious differences from the redcoats of the regular army were that these were all native Gaelic speakers and had a uniform that was markedly different.

Black Watch officer and historian Major-General David Stewart of Garth wrote in his famous “Sketches” a century later: “The uniform was a scarlet jacket and waistcoat, with buff facings and white lace, tartan plaid of 12 yards plaited round the middle of the body, the upper part being fixed on the left shoulder, ready to be thrown loose and wrapped over both shoulders and firelock in rainy weather. At night, the plaid served the purpose of a blanket, and was a sufficient covering for the Highlander.”

The National: Officers of the 42nd Highlanders regiment, known as the 'Black Watch' during the Crimean WarOfficers of the 42nd Highlanders regiment, known as the 'Black Watch' during the Crimean War

That plaid of the “watch” companies tended to be dark in colour, hence Black Watch. Each company kept to its own area, and were thus effectively policemen. In 1739, General Wade was sent north again to organise four more companies and amalgamate them with the existing six to form a new regiment – the 43rd Highland Regiment of Foot – called Crawford’s Highlanders after their first colonel, the Earl of Crawford and Lindsay. The first gathering of the regiment took place in a field between Taybridge and Aberfeldy in May, 1740.

The new regiment had an inglorious start. Though promised they would serve outside Scotland, they were forced to march to London, apparently to be inspected by King George II. Hanoverian treachery was afoot, however, and on being told they were to be sent to serve in Flanders against the French army, about 100 infantrymen of the regiment mutinied and began to march back to Scotland. They were surrounded by a large number of English soldiers and agreed to surrender in return for a pardon. Three of the ringleaders of the mutiny learned the hard way not to trust the word of perfidious Albion as they were executed on July 18, 1743, at Tower Green.

SENDING the regiment to the Continent may have been George II’s greatest error. As the official history states: “It must remain a question for speculation whether the 1745 Rebellion could ever have taken place had the Black Watch been left fulfilling its role in policing the Highlands rather than being posted to the Continent two years previously.”

The bravery of the Black Watch at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745 impressed both the French generals and the Allied commander, the Duke of Cumberland. Three new companies of the regiment fought for the government at both Prestonpans and Culloden during the Jacobite Rising of 1745-46, but in 1748 those companies were disbanded. In 1749 the regiment was officially renumbered the 42nd regiment of foot, remembered in that old folk song as The Gallant Forty-Twa.

From 1756 onwards, the 42nd fought in many of the major battles that took place in the Americas, and they only finally returned to Scotland in 1790.

The regiment’s fame grew during the French Revolutionary wars, particularly during the Battle of Alexandria in Egypt in 1801 when it captured a French eagle but suffered the loss of hundreds of men.

Two battalions of the regiment saw service in the Peninsular Wars and the Black Watch played a heroic part in the battles against Napoleon, being one of only four regiments mentioned by the Duke of Wellington for gallantry during Waterloo.

Reduced in size, the regiment stayed on garrison duty for many years until the Crimean War where they gained several battle honours. Then it was on to India to help quell the mutiny where Lieutenant Francis Farquharson won the first of the regiment’s 14 Victoria Crosses.

The tradition and culture of the Black Watch was described by a 19th century historian: “In a Highland regiment every individual feels that his conduct is the subject of observation and that, independently of his duty, as one member of a systematic whole he has a separate and individual reputation to sustain, which will be reflected on his family and district or glen.”

In 1881, the regiment’s name was changed by Royal warrant to the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). After service in the Boer War, the regiment increased considerably in numbers at the start of the First World War and fought in almost every major battle on the Western Front. At the Battle of Chambrecy, the 6th Battalion, attacking alongside a French unit, received the distinction of being awarded in its entirety the Croix de Guerre for its bravery.

The Second World War saw the regiment serve in almost every theatre of the war, and they featured heavily in the Battle of El Alamein which was such a crucial turning point in the war.

READ MORE: Back In The Day: How the Royal Highland Fusiliers won their name

The 2nd battalion served in Asia where, as the official history states, it “was specially trained for participation in the Second Chindit Expedition. Divided into two columns and often working in smaller groups, the battalion spent five months operating behind the Japanese lines, disrupting their communications, their supplies and flow of reinforcements”.

The Black Watch played a crucial role in the Korean War. As is stated on the regiment’s official website: “ In 1952 the 1st Battalion sailed to Korea to be part of the Commonwealth Division in the United Nation force containing the Chinese invasion of South Korea. There it took over a vital position known as ‘The Hook’ from American troops. On November 19, 1952, it was subjected to attack by waves of Chinese troops attempting to take the position. After stiff hand-to-hand fighting and even having to resort to bringing artillery fire onto its own defensive positions, the Battalion succeeded in fighting off the hordes of attackers. The Hook became the Regiment’s 151st and most recent battle honour.”

On November 13, 1963, the regiment’s pipes and drums were afforded the signal honour of playing before President John F Kennedy and his family on the lawn of the White House. Nine days later the president was assassinated, and at the express wish of his widow Jackie, nine members of the band took part in the funeral procession in Washington. The first lady explained that their “gig” at the White House was the last time they had been together as a family.

The Black Watch saw service in Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles and were also the last British military to leave Hong Kong when it was handed over to China in 1997. About their service in the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no better description than the play Black Watch.