Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Black Watch

The 42nd Regiment of Foot at Fontenoy
11 May 1745
War of the Austrian Succession
Having a great deal of Scots blood in me, it was inevitable that I would eventually number one of the Highland Regiments in my list of immortal military units. Of course, in the battle depicted above, the unseen enemy are the French of King Louis XV. As I also have a great deal of French blood in me, it's quite possible that I had ancestors on one or the other side of the field, perhaps on both sides. As it's not unknown, even now, for my family to squabble from time to time, this is nothing unusual.

Though now-a-days these family conflicts tend not to resort to bayonet, musket, cannon and sword. Though there are times when I wish I had a claidheamh mòr handy to at least intimidate some of my more obstreperous relatives.

What's a claidheamh mòr you ask? Why it's the two-handed Scottish great sword, one of these:

What those who cannot speak Gaelic would call a "claymore", which is roughly how claidheamh mòr is pronounced. (Not that I speak Scottish Gaelic, more's the pity).

So certainly one of the many famous regiments of Highlanders should be included in my Immortals series. As I have actually been in a parade with members of the Royal Highland Regiment (as the Black Watch were called until 2006) I decided that they would be a superb representative unit from Scotland. (Honestly, I consider all Scottish units "elite" but that's just cultural snobbery on my part.)

So just who are these men?

From Wikipedia:
After the Jacobite rising of 1715 the British government did not have the resources or manpower to keep a standing army in the Scottish Highlands. As a result, they were forced to keep order by recruiting men from local Highland clans that had been loyal to the Whigs. This proved to be unsuccessful in deterring crime, especially cattle rustling. Therefore Independent Highland Companies (of what would be known as the "Black Watch") were raised as a militia in 1725 by General George Wade to keep "watch" for crime. He was commissioned to build a network of roads to help in the task. The six Independent Highland Companies were recruited from local clans, with one company coming from Clan Munro, one from Clan Fraser, one from Clan Grant and three from Clan Campbell. These companies were commonly known as Am Freiceadan Dubh, or the Black Watch, this name may well have been due to the way they dressed. Four more companies were added in 1739 to make a total of ten Independent Highland Companies.
 The regiment's earliest days were inauspicious: ordered to London in 1743 for an inspection by King George II, rumours flew that they were to be shipped to the West Indies to fight in the War of Austrian Succession, and many left for Scotland. They were recaptured, three of the leaders shot in the Tower of London, and the remainder of the regiment shipped to Flanders.

The regiment's first full combat was the disastrous Battle of Fontenoy in Flanders in 1745, where they surprised the French with their ferocity, and greatly impressed their commander, the Duke of Cumberland. Allowed "their own way of fighting", each time they received the French fire Col. Sir Robert Munro ordered his men to "clap to the ground" while he himself, because of his corpulence, stood alone with the colours behind him. For the first time in a European battle they introduced an infantry tactic (alternately firing and taking cover) that was not superseded. Springing up and closing with the enemy, they several times drove them back, and finished with a successful rear-guard action against French cavalry. Robert Munro's cousin John Munro, 4th of Newmore also fought bravely and was afterwards promoted to be a lieutenant-colonel.

When the 1745 Jacobite Rising broke out, the regiment returned to the south of Britain in anticipation of a possible French invasion. However one company of the regiment fought for the Hanoverians under Dugald Campbell of Auchrossan at the Battle of Culloden, where they suffered no casualties. From 1747 to 1756 they were stationed in Ireland and then were sent to New York.
Though they were on, what most Highlanders would consider, the "wrong" side at Culloden, I don't hold that against them. Though it's been a long time, I'm still not sure how I feel about Bonnie Prince Charlie. Of course, though I have a number of friends who are Campbells, I'm not sure how I feel about them as a clan either. Like I said, the Scots have long memories.

But enough of that. The regiment has served all over the world since those days. They're noted for their ferocity in combat and of course their distinctive dress. The kilt, the feather bonnet, the sporran and all the other accouterments of Highland military kit.

Pipers of the Black Watch

During my NATO assignment I had the distinct honor and pleasure of being part of an annual ceremony honoring the crew of a downed B-17 in the town of Bérismenil, near La-Roche-en-Ardenne, a lovely place in Belgium. Even lovelier people I might add.

One year it so happened that a number of pipers from the Black Watch would be on hand.

While many might disagree, I actually enjoy marching as part of a military unit and one thing that needs to be experienced (in my not so humble opinion) is to march to the sound of the bagpipes. The hair stands up on the back of my head even now thinking of it. So, time for a brief musical interlude (Buck go get a beer while the rest of us listen)...

Ah, the pipes...

Now where was I? Oh yes, the pipers of the Black Watch and La-R0che-en-Ardenne. Well, after the parade there was a celebration. A celebration in which Your's Truly and certain kilted lads of the Black Watch had perhaps a bit too much fun. I was all set to go "back" to the Highlands with my new found comrades before my good Colonel collected me and reminded me that I was in the United States Air Force and not the Royal Highland Regiment.

(I told you it was pretty!)

So, there's that. A good regiment in my book.

From 1739 to 1748, they were numbered the 43rd Regiment of Foot. When in 1748 on the disbanding of the existing Oglethorpe's 42nd Regiment of Foot, the Black Watch was renumbered to be the 42nd. By which they were known until 1881. From 1881 t0 1921 they were known as the "The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)". From 1931 to 2006 they were "The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)" and then (sadly) in another reorganization of the British Army they became simply "The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS)". From ten independent companies to a regiment and then to a single battalion. But still they are known, and will be remembered as:

The Black Watch

Attack on Fort Ticonderoga
8 July 1758
French and Indian War

Battle of Quatre Bras
16 June 1815
The Waterloo Campaign

Battle of the Alma
20 September 1854
Crimean War

Battle of Tel el-Kebir
Anglo-Egyptian War
13 September 1882

Battle of Magersfontein
11 December 1899
2nd Boer War

World War One
28 July 1914 - 11 November 1918

World War Two
01 September 1939 - 02 September 1945

Korean War
25 June 1950 - 27 July 1953

Persian Gulf


It's worth noting that Canada also has a regiment known as The Black Watch. Every bit as worthy (and tough) as their Scottish counterparts!

So raise a glass to the Black Watch. Good lads to have by your side when the going gets tough and the bullets start to fly!


  1. Well done, with the possible exception of that infernal screeching. ;-)

    1. Heh. Well I did warn ya on the first one. (Skipped my mind to warn you on the second!)

  2. Do you have any more information on the WWII photo? What are the lads doing there (other than sharing a cup of tea/coffee/something stronger)?

    1. That photo was taken in North Africa, what the Jocks are doing is painting the logo of the Highland Division ("HD") on the side of a building. That can you see is a can of paint.

      Strong beverages? Scots?

      Well okay, that was one possibility.


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