DUE to public demand I have decided to extend this continuing series of columns about Scotland’s most famous regiments. So far the series has been based on the template provided by the Royal Regiment of Scotland, but several readers pointed out that just confining myself to that structure would mean missing out on the Scots Guards and other famous regiments of the past such as the Cameronians. I will devote future columns to those two famous regiments, and I have been persuaded to devote a whole column to the Gordon Highlanders who would normally have been included in today’s episode.

You may recall that I started this series after the Tory Government announced that the British Army was to be reorganised into four divisions, with the name chosen for one of the new groupings being the Union Division which will include the Royal Regiment of Scotland. The UK Government has also decided that The Borderers, 1 SCOTS, will merge into one of the four regular infantry battalions from which the new Ranger Regiment is being formed.

I quoted Stuart Crawford, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Tank Regiment, on what that interference – without a parliamentary vote – will mean: “Obviously the Royal Regiment of Scotland loses another battalion, down from an initial five to three plus one company … 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.”

Having the Royal Regiment of Scotland in the Union Division is nothing other than a piece of Johnsonian Union Jackery, and an insult to the proud history of Scottish regiments. Why Scottish politicians, especially from the SNP and Alba, are not jumping up and down about this insult is beyond me, but I suspect many modern politicians are ignorant, wilfully or otherwise, about Scottish military history. Oh, they are all quite happy to stand in line on Remembrance Sunday, but no one appears ready or willing to tackle what to me is a Unionist scandal.

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Today we have reached the Royal Regiment of Scotland’s fourth battalion – 4 SCOTS – known as the Highlanders and descended from three of the most famous names in military history – the Seaforths, Camerons and Gordons. I will write about the latter next week.

Though they may be reduced to battalion status within the Royal Regiment of Scotland, at least the regimental names are carried on and the honours won by the Highlanders in their past guises are preserved. The Highlanders are very much part of Scottish military history, and as I have previously written, the early history of those regiments in the British Army can be quite complex.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, individual regiments would be raised with royal approval almost on an ad hoc basis to confront any potential enemy. To recap: aristocrats – or in some cases, professional soldiers – would raise a regiment, which would then be named after them. The raisers 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.

That is exactly what happened with the Camerons and Seaforths. The latter was the first to be raised in January 1778 at Elgin. Kenneth Mackenzie, the Earl of Seaforth, recruited more than 1000 men for his regiment, the vast majority of them Highlanders and a sizeable contingent from his own clan. The earl raised the regiment in a political gesture to show his loyalty to King George III who had restored the family fortunes and his title which had been forfeited when the earl’s grandfather joined the Jacobites in the 1715 Rising.

Set for the American War of Independence, the Seaforth (Highland) Regiment marched south in August 1778, but got no further than Edinburgh where almost half of the men camped around Arthur’s Seat and refused to budge in what was not quite a mutiny but certainly a challenge to the authorities. It was resolved, largely in the soldiers’ favour, not least because of the intervention of figures like James Boswell, the Edinburgh lawyer and biographer of Dr Samuel Johnson, who knew and admired the earl.

The Seaforths first saw active service in Jersey in 1779 when they led the force that repelled the first French invasion. On January 6, 1781, the Seaforths played a major role in defeating a much larger French invasion. It was a close-run thing but the Seaforths were instrumental in winning the British victory. They were led by a Captain Lumsdaine who wrote: “The face of the affairs being in a few hours thus changed, the enemy’s vessels quit the Island, the troops that they had landed being drowned, killed, wounded or prisoners.”

Despatched to India, the regiment suffered the loss of more than a quarter of its men on the sea voyage, including the Earl of Seaforth. He was succeeded as Colonel by his cousin Thomas Frederick Humberston Mackenzie, who died from wounds received when Maratha pirates attacked his ship in April 1783.

In turn he was succeeded as clan chief by his young brother Francis Humberston Mackenzie, a remarkable soldier who had overcome deafness to forge his distinguished career. He raised his own regiment, the Ross-shire Buffs, the 78th of Foot, when war with the French broke out after the Revolution.

Under the command of Major General James Murray, the Seaforths had been redesignated the 72nd of Foot in 1786, and they and the 78th fought with distinction in the French Revolutionary War and in southern Africa in the Xhosa Wars.

In 1823, the Seaforths became the 72nd Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders, and under that designation, they fought as part of the Highland Brigade in the Crimean War, showing great courage in the battles before and during the Siege of Sevastopol.

The National: Kenneth Mackenzie, 1st Earl of Seaforth.

Kenneth Mackenzie, the Earl of Seaforth, raised a regiment to show loyalty to the king

The 78th fought in Afghanistan and won undying fame during the Indian Mutiny in 1857 when it won no fewer than eight Victoria Crosses and became known as the “Saviours of India”. The 72nd also fought in Afghanistan and India and was awarded its first Victoria Cross, won by Lieutenant Aymer Cameron on March 30, 1858. His citation read: “For conspicuous bravery at Kotah, in having headed a small party of men, and attacked a body of armed fanatic rebels, strongly posted in a loop-holed house, with one narrow entrance. Lieutenant Cameron stormed the house, and killed three rebels in single combat. He was severely wounded, having lost half of one hand by a stroke from a tulwar.”

In the transformation of the Army known as the Childers Reforms of 1881, the 72nd and 78th were amalgamated as the Seaforth Highlanders. Battalions of the regiment fought in Egypt, the Sudan, South Africa and the North-West Frontier of India but won great fame for their remarkable achievements in 1914-1918.

The First World War saw the Seaforths hit their highest numbers with no fewer than nine regular, territorial and service battalions seeing action on the Western Front and in Mesopotamia and Palestine, as they were then.

The list of battle honours won by the Seaforths contains all the major battles of the Western Front including no fewer than three won at Ypres. Sergeant John Meikle, a railway clerk from Kirkintilloch, won both the Military Medal and Victoria Cross, the latter awarded posthumously for his bravery on July 20, 1918 – he was just 19 years old.

The Seaforths’ 1st battalion was in China when the Second World War started, and served in Asia until 1945. The 2nd battalion was captured at Saint-Valery-en-Caux in June 1940 and the battalion had to be reconstituted, serving in North Africa, Italy and France and Germany, with other battalions joining it.

Post war, the regiment served in Malaya until 1961 when the Seaforths and the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders were amalgamated as the Queen’s Own Highlanders (Seaforths and Camerons) which subsequently joined with the Gordons to form the Highlanders in 1994.

The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders can trace their history back to 1793 when they were raised by Sir Alan Cameron of Erracht at Fort William on August 17, 1793. Sir Alan was a career soldier who had been imprisoned by the colonists during the American War of Independence. He had only gone to serve there after killing a man in a duel in 1772.

Cameron was freed in 1784 and went home to Scotland where, like so many other men from noble families, he was angered and fearful after the French Revolution, but decided to do something about it. Thus the Cameron Highlanders were born.

There’s a great story told about Cameron of Erracht and his early troops. The Rev Somerled MacMillan relates it in his book Bygone Lochaber: “When the 79th Highland Regiment was formed in Lochaber by Cameron of Erracht, most of the volunteers had no English and he had to use Gaelic terms in order to make them understand his instructions when going through their drill. Hay was tied to the left foot and straw to the right, and when he wanted them to march he cried, ‘Feur, stràbh, feur, stràbh’ (‘Hay, straw, hay, straw’). In this way they came to understand the command: ‘Left, right, left, right.’ When he wanted them to turn right he shouted ‘Taobh a’ phutain’ (‘The button side’), and when he wanted them to turn left he cried: ‘Taobh tuilt’ (‘Button-hole side’).”

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The regiment was designated the 79th of Foot (Cameron Highlanders), and soon saw action against the French. They would continue to fight against Napoleon’s forces throughout the Peninsular War and in France and Belgium, especially at the final battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo where the regiment lost two-thirds of its number killed and wounded. They were one of the four regiments singled out for praise by the Duke of Wellington.

During the 19th century, the Camerons served as a garrison regiment in Canada and Gibraltar before joining the Highland Brigade during the Crimean War where they took part in the Siege of Sevastopol. They then participated in the suppression of the Indian Rebellion and the tales of their courage in that conflict saw them became one of Queen Victoria’s favourite regiments, so much so that in 1873 she presented them with new colours and awarded them the title Queen’s Own.

So it was as the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders that they fought in the Sudan and in the Boer War before the First World War saw many men flock to their famous colours, with no fewer than 11 battalions being raised, who all saw service in France at one point. Its first Victoria Cross was won by Private Ross Tollerton who at the First Battle of the Aisne in September 1914 carried a wounded officer (Lieutenant J S M Matheson), under heavy fire, as far as he was able, into a place of greater safety. The citation stated: “Then, although he himself was wounded in the head and hand, he struggled back to the firing line where he remained until his battalion retired. He then returned to the wounded officer and stayed with him for three days until they were both rescued.”

The Camerons fought in most of the theatres of the Second World War, winning many more battle honours as far apart as Monte Cassino in Italy and Mandalay before that 1961 merger.