Rory Bremner sets out to discover why rebel clansmen became loyal servants of the military establishment. Is the Scottish soldier's loyalty to Queen and country running out?
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Scotland, according to an old saying, was born fighting.
Over the centuries, her soldiers have crossed swords with many enemies -
the Romans, the Vikings, the English.
Especially the English.
To their enemies, they were savages, a warrior race, the stuff of nightmares.
The names of their heroes and battles have gone into legend -
Bruce, Wallace, Bannockburn.
And, of course, Culloden.
It was at Culloden in 1746 that the Scottish Highlanders
led by Bonnie Prince Charlie were massacred by the British Army.
And yet, within a few years, men who had lined up on opposite
sides of the battlefield were fighting side by side.
Highlander and Englishman, shoulder to shoulder.
Men like my own great-grandfather,
surgeon John Ogilvy from Aberdeenshire.
He was decorated in the Crimean War,
proud to play his part in Scotland's great military history.
Here on the Somme, and on battlefields around the world,
Scots gave their lives for King and Empire.
And that's the thing.
They died for Britain's kings and queens, and the British Empire.
Yet for centuries, the Scots and the English had been bitter enemies.
What fascinates me is how and why all that changed.
How, in the space of little more than a generation,
they went from being the kilted bogeymen to the heroes of Empire.
This is Culloden Moor near Inverness.
Here in 1746 was fought the last battle on British soil.
It's a place central to the history of Britain
and the history of the Scottish soldier.
The records show that Bremners fought here, possibly my ancestors.
Soldiering is in the family.
I must have come here for the first time about
all of 30 years ago as a boy.
But I can still remember
it's got an extraordinary eerie, desolate atmosphere to it.
The Act of Union in 1707
had united the parliaments of England and Scotland.
As Britain built an empire abroad it hoped for stability at home.
But one man had other ideas. In 1745, Charles Stuart, the Young Pretender,
returned from exile in France and raised an army of Highlanders.
He planned a coup d'etat,
an overthrow of George II and the Hanoverian dynasty.
His Highland soldiers were feared and despised across much of Britain,
including most of lowland Scotland.
They marched south.
By December they'd reached Derby, only five days' march from London.
The capital lay at their mercy and the citizens were terrified
of an assault by the Highland barbarians.
It didn't happen.
When the promised support from France failed to appear,
Bonnie Prince Charlie's generals persuaded him to turn back.
After one more victory at Falkirk,
they reached the Highlands, where they'd take their last stand.
On 16th April 1746, 7,000 Highlanders lined up here
to do battle against the Duke of Cumberland's 8,000 Government troops.
Four of Cumberland's regiments were themselves Scottish,
loyal to the British crown.
What followed was savage, short and exceptionally bloody.
Inside an hour, 1,200 men were killed, almost all of them Jacobites.
An eyewitness wrote that the moor "was covered in blood,
"and the soldiers looked more like butchers than Christian soldiers".
Here was the ruin of the Jacobite cause.
Absolutely brutal. Not just brutal in the fight itself,
but what happened in the battlefield afterwards. No quarter given.
Prisoners, any survivors dispatched where they stood or where they lay.
It is one of the darkest days of the British Army.
No British regiment has Culloden on its battle honours.
What the British Army wanted to do,
what the Government army wanted to do was to get rid
of the Highlands as soon as possible and go back to the real action
in the continent of Europe fighting French armies.
This is a sideshow as far as they were concerned.
The best way to do that of course
was just to brutally repress the Highlands as quickly as possible,
make sure that nothing could ever rise
against the Government army again.
New repressive laws were rushed through
to crush any Highland resistance.
Scots were forbidden to carry weapons,
clan chiefs lost their legal powers.
Even Highland dress was outlawed.
They banned tartan.
Banned the kilt, banned tartan.
The kilt was if you like the symbolic garment of the Highlands,
it made them different from the rest of Britain
and that is one thing the Government didn't want to do.
It wanted to integrate the Highlands with the rest of the country.
Yet even after Culloden
policing the Highlands was a drain on British resources, a festering sore.
In order to end the Highland threat once and for all,
a different tactic was tried.
an extraordinary solution if you think about what was happening in Culloden Moor in 1746,
was, just ten years later, to start recruiting Highland regiments,
many of them made up by people who had faced Government troops
and fought against them just a few years previously,
taking them into the British Army as regiments,
sending them across the world to fight for the British Empire against France.
It is an amazing turnaround, one of the most extraordinary turnarounds,
I think, in Scottish history.
People thought that France, Bonnie Prince Charlie's great ally,
but the Government in London's greatest enemy,
people up here in the Highlands thought that the French
had sold them down the river.
Joining the British Army, fighting the French wherever
they were across the globe, this is their way of getting their own back.
I think a lot of it has got to do with that. Of course,
there's another very good reason for fighting with the British Empire
and that is the fact they won.
You fight with the winners, you ally yourselves to the winner.
They had knocked the stuffing out of the Highlands comprehensively
in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising.
Gaels had seen what the Government did to people in the losing side,
they didn't want to be on the losing side again.
The new Highland recruits from these faraway lands
would have to be organised and trained into British regiments,
ready to take on the French.
That task would fall to the clan chiefs,
many of whom had led the Jacobite forces.
This is the island of Coll in the Southern Hebrides,
home to a historian whose own military roots go back to those distant days.
It was a covenant, if you like, between them.
The Government would give commissions to form regiments
to a major landowner
who could raise men for rank.
Then it gave enormous political power to people wanting commissions.
He would do it in exchange for their vote. And somebody like the Earl of Breadalbane,
who could raise 1,600 men on his own estate which stretched from one side of Scotland to the other,
1,600 men wasn't enough for the amount of regiments he'd got.
So he would go to one of his friends who he knew in the Highlands society in Scotland,
say, Alexander Maclean of Coll, who had been in the Western Fencibles in the previous war.
And he'd get him and he'd produce 100 men.
And that was a company.
And so as a result of that, he became the major.
And he was followed, I'm quite certain he was followed by people
out of loyalty, they had always followed him.
He would have done the same. So they would want to do it.
So in creating the regiments, you had a structure there already.
-Built it into the society.
-They were private armies.
-They had private armies.
-To form a regiment it was a question of putting together these private armies,
the laird's household men, putting them together, amalgamating them and forming regiments.
And going off to be assembled and join the regular army and sign on
and have your medical and all things that happen today.
Over the last 30 years, MacLean-Bristol has rebuilt this,
his ancient family home, Breachacha Castle.
That's Alan Maclean who was the younger son of Maclean of Coll and he went to India in 1781.
'The Macleans of Coll have been soldiering since the 17th century.'
The Scots here, or the Highlanders, have produced soldiers since the beginning of time.
It is built in their culture right back from
-when they first arrived here.
-It is a warrior culture.
It is a warrior culture, it has got warrior...um...mores.
And I suspect that every time, every generation, the old men inspired the children,
captured their imagination to want be soldiers, to be heroes.
They want to come back and have their stories told in the crofthouses at ceilidhs,
telling those stories, or in castles that this, at great feasts the lairds would have.
Everybody wants be a hero, we wanted it when we joined the army.
One wants to come back and win lots of medals and things like that.
It never actually happened.
But it doesn't stop you wanting to do it.
I think that is why a lot of people join the army, why they've always joined.
Before Culloden, there were seven Scottish regiments loyal to the British Government.
After Culloden, no fewer than 37 were created from the Highland clans.
The process of integrating them into the Government army was never likely to be easy.
The men from the Highlands were hated and feared in equal measure by conventional British regiments.
Here's an insight into how some English officers saw the Scottish soldiers.
This is a letter from Lieutenant Colonel James Wolfe, later General Wolfe, to his friend Captain Rickson,
who was about to undertake an operation in North America in 1751.
"Yours is now the dirtiest as well as the most insignificant and unpleasant branch of military operations.
"No room for courage and skill to exert itself, no hope of ending it
"by a decisive blow and a perpetual danger of assassination. I should imagine
"that two or three independent Highland companies might be of use.
"They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country and no great mischief if they fall.
"How can you better employ a secret enemy than by making his end conducive to the common good."
For Wolfe, who had fought at Culloden,
throwing the Highlanders to the enemy canons was a win-win situation.
Britain could harness their fighting spirit and, at the same time,
every dead Highlander reduced the odds of another Jacobite rebellion.
But could the Highlanders integrate with the rest of the British Army?
How would they fare fighting alongside their erstwhile enemy?
Among the first to find out was General Wolfe himself.
Eight years after writing his letter, his 4,000-man army included a regiment of Fraser Highlanders.
Their task was to capture the French stronghold of Quebec.
On the evening of 12th September, 1759, Wolfe ordered his entire force across the St Lawrence River.
The Fraser Highlanders were among the first ashore.
Legend has it that skills they learned in the service
of the French Jacobites won the day for the British.
When the British were coming up to the Plains of Abraham,
when Wolfe was making his landing, they were challenged by the French.
Quite a few of the officers had served in the French army
after the Jacobite uprising, and that wasn't particularly unusual.
Scottish troops served around Europe.
And so, serving in the French army, obviously they had had to learn French. They spoke fluent French.
It was a Highland soldier at the front of the first boat, he spoke French,
and he convinced the French guard that they were a supply convoy coming to Quebec from Montreal.
And that's what allowed Wolfe to land his troops.
And so of course it was the Scottish Highlanders who were
responsible for the victory at Quebec, for the conquest of Canada.
What followed was perhaps the most famous British military victory of the 18th century.
Wolfe's forces scaled the impossibly steep Heights of Abraham.
The next morning, they crushed the French.
Wolfe, who'd said of the Highlanders that it no great mischief if they fell,
was killed in the fighting.
When you get this great heroic painting by Benjamin West, of Wolfe's death, there is
very specifically a Highland soldier there with Wolfe, with all the other troops painted there,
to show that it is clear that Highlanders are there and are participating in this campaign.
Does this turn the war around?
It's very strange, because almost overnight the British start winning great victories.
Whereas through to 1757 the British have suffered a whole string of defeats.
When Highland troops arrived, suddenly the British start winning.
Wherever the Highland troops are, they win.
So they've become almost like... from the defeated Clansmen of Culloden
they've become almost like a talisman.
It's about the structure and organisation of the Scottish regiments.
This is a time when the British are moving from encouraging men to fight
by fear of punishment. Men no longer fight because they're afraid to be
executed if they desert, because they're afraid of being brutally whipped or beaten.
This still goes on but it's not the motivation for fighting and it's the beginnings of pride in regiment.
You fight because you're proud of your regiment, to protect your comrades,
to protect your brothers in arms.
The way that the Scottish regiments are recruited promotes this.
Everybody knows one another, there are very close ties of kinship.
This makes the Scottish regiments much more coherent and, of course, they look very different.
They're wearing kilts.
They're back in the kilts. In Scotland the kilt is banned,
but the only people who are allowed to wear the kilt are troops in the British Army...
Highland soldiers serving in the British Army.
And a lot of them are speaking Gaelic.
This makes them distinctive.
They look different, they sound different and, of course, this makes it very easy for them
to make themselves proud of who they are and make themselves stand out from other British regiments.
How are people reading about this, how are people seeing imagery?
Does the printing at the time help?
Nearly every colony in North America had its own newspaper -
printed reports of what was happening in these campaigns.
I think they had a slight soft spot for Scottish troops. In the 18th century there's no law of copyright.
If you're publishing a newspaper in Edinburgh, you just republish everything
that's come from the Virginia Gazette or the Pennsylvania Gazette as is.
So these stories get reprinted word for word in Britain.
"In about seven minutes, Lascelles and the Highlanders rushed in upon them
"with bayonets fixed and sword in hand,
"making a most dreadful slaughter
"and the field of the battle was soon covered with the dead and the wounded of all ranks."
Quebec was certainly a promising start, a valiant action in the distant Americas.
The Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century gave the Scots a chance to prove themselves closer to home,
first in the Peninsular Wars in Spain and Portugal and then, in 1815, at Waterloo.
There it was the action of one man, Ensign Charles Ewart of the Royal Scots Greys,
who captured the British imagination with an audacious cavalry charge.
While thousands of Scots were commemorated with monuments and memorials across France
and in their native Scotland, Ensign Ewart received the ultimate accolade,
a grave on the Castle Esplanade and a themed pub!
That summer day in 1815, Ewart rode into the heart of the French ranks to seize the ceremonial eagle
of the French 45th regiment,
which from then on was to become the ceremonial emblem of the Royal Scots Greys.
It was a spectacular piece of military theatre and Ewart was celebrated across the country.
Almost 70 years had passed since Culloden.
The notion of the Scottish soldier as an insidious threat was slowly being replaced
by an image of courage and loyalty to the British Crown and the British Empire.
And this is where my great grandfather arrives in the story.
John Ogilvy from Aberdeen, a surgeon general with the 33rd Regiment of Foot.
He saw action in the Crimean War in the 1850s.
Only last year, I discovered his war diaries.
He'd written them out here, in present-day Ukraine.
In fact, our guide has just told me that they were written right here in these very fields.
They would have camped here in the winter, where your great grandfather wrote his letters.
It was just here.
Britain and France were fighting the Russians.
John was here for the winter of 1854 to '55, the coldest in living memory.
The conditions were horrifying.
Britain lost ten times more men to illness than to enemy action.
As a surgeon, he must have seen more than his share of misery.
So here you were, John.
One hundred and...
-What will it be? 155 years ago.
Your great grandson's back.
"November 1854, conditions already very bad, slept in the trenches last night.
"The roads are so bad, it's said no ration will be issued tomorrow.
"felt sick and ill all night. Diarrhoea in the morning.
"The ration of salt pork today is reduced to a quarter of a pound." And that would be for several days.
"It's a foggy, rainy day. 29 November, dreadful day, rainy and windy.
"Confined to the tent all day.
"Got Aberdeen Journal at night.
"So a bit of Scotland arrives in the Crimea."
The Crimean War was the first to be photographed.
Roger Fenton's black and white stills have preserved all the colour of a distant conflict.
Image became important and one battle of this far-off war would provide the defining moment
of the Scottish soldier in the service of the British Army.
The battle was in defence of this place - Balaklava.
It's now a prosperous holiday resort.
In my great grandfather's day, it was the British supply base.
It's strange to think, really, that it was on this scratty outcrop,
almost a rubbish dump, really,
between vineyards on that side and derelict factories and a boat graveyard on the other,
was where the 93rd Highland Regiment wrote one of the most
legendary chapters in the history of Scottish infantry.
It was morning of the 25th of October 1854.
The Highlanders were all that stood between the advancing Russian cavalry and the British supply base.
It was one of the key moments of the battle of Balaklava.
In front of them, 400 or 500 charging Russian cavalrymen.
Behind them, the port of Balaklava. Between, two lines of Highland infantrymen, the 93rd Regiment.
Sir Colin Campbell, their commander, said, "There's no retreat from here, men, you must die where you stand."
At which his aide, Private John Scott, is said to have replied,
"Aye, Sir Colin. If needs be, we'll do just that."
Campbell ordered his men into two defensive lines.
A highly unusual formation.
Their commander, Sir Colin Campbell, commanded to stay on the line but it was a very extraordinary line.
It was not the usual square, four people deep,
it was very unusual because it was only two people deep.
There were not enough people there to form this square, but two people deep
gave an opportunity to make this line very long.
So we know that the cavalry are coming towards this line of Highland infantry
but what are the 93rd seeing at this stage?
They saw very courageous Russian cavalry, because the Russian cavalrymen
were very brave and they were very famous for their courage.
So you really had two reputations.
-You have the Russian cavalry...
-Clash of reputations.
The Highlanders began to fire and they fired the first volley, then the second volley,
maybe the third volley, because there are different versions as to the number of volleys.
The cavalry stopped there and didn't move.
After the third or second volley, they turned back and they retreated.
The most dramatic account of the Battle of Balaklava reaches London
three weeks later on November 14th, 1854,
in a report in The Times, by William Russell, a famous report
which later describes the charge of the Light Brigade.
"The Russians drew breath for a moment and then in one grand line dashed at the Highlanders.
"The ground flies beneath their horses feet, gathering speed at every stride.
"They dash on towards that thin red streak, topped with a line of steel."
That's the 93rd Regiment.
The first reference to what became known as, "the thin red line",
which was later immortalised in a painting by Robert Gibb, done in 1881,
called just The Thin Red Line.
The image of the steely Highlanders in their kilts and bearskins, standing firm
against the Russian cavalry, played very well back in Victorian Britain.
Balaklava's thin red line would become synonymous
with the bravery and loyalty of the men from the Scottish Highlands.
Scottish soldiers returned to a country becoming more tartan by the minute.
The Highlands, and the Highlanders, had become fashionable.
Walter Scott had started the trend.
The novelist and arch Tory had been horrified as Europe
was convulsed first by the French Revolution and then Napoleon.
The natural order of things, as he saw it, had been threatened.
In common with the European Romantics, he looked for examples of a traditional, settled society.
And like them, he found it in the Highland clan system.
In the Waverley novels, he depicted the Highlanders
as every bit as wild and Romantic as the scenery they inhabited.
By the second half of the century, the movement was all the rage,
with Queen Victoria its most ardent supporter.
An avid reader of Scott, she had fallen in love with the Highlands.
In 1848 she bought Balmoral, which she called "our own dear paradise".
The Queen's enthusiasm for all things Scottish bordered on the obsessive.
Britain's monarch would play her part in transforming the fighting Scotsman
into a cultural phenomenon, a true Victorian icon.
The British are falling in love with the romance of Scotland and the kilts and the pipes and all the rest of it.
There's a reinvention going on.
Queen Victoria was largely responsible for
the transformation of the Scottish soldier, her soldiers.
She took a special delight in the performance of Scottish troops,
which again helped to play up to their changing image.
The Scottish regiments within the army started to reflect this romanticism
and this tied in with the whole introduction of tartans and kilts and regimental paraphernalia.
So you have lowland regiments with kilts and tartan trews
and all these various fripperies and romantic nonsense
which would have been anathema to any sensible soldier.
Essentially, it created the Scottish soldier as somebody
that could be readily identifiable, whether he was from a highland or lowland background.
It gave them a shared sense of identity.
Also, while they were becoming the poster boys of the British Army,
they also enjoyed very good PR and press coverage.
So if the war correspondents or the sketch artists record anyone, they covered the activities
of the Scottish soldier rather than the British Army as a whole.
The great irony of the period is that at the time when the Scottish soldier
had become the darling of Britain's upper classes, recruitment levels were at their lowest.
Scottish regiments increasingly looked to Ireland and England to sign up new men.
Changes in the fabric of Highland life threatened the very existence of Highland regiments.
This is the whole period of the Highland clearances, where essentially crofters,
who had loyalty to their clan chiefs, were being replaced by sheep,
which obviously didn't have much loyalty to anyone.
So when a clan chief before might have essentially
raised his own regiment and offered all his tenantry to be soldiers,
this wasn't going to happen.
There's even the case of the Duke Of Sutherland, he tries to raise a regiment and his crofters
tell him pretty bluntly that this wasn't going to happen.
The stream of Highland men flowing into Highland regiments was drying up.
But the Highland image was a potent recruiting device.
Men from all over Britain and Ireland rushed to Queen Victoria's tartan regiments,
now among the most dashing and prestigious of the British army.
Wars in Afghanistan, Sudan and South Africa enriched their reputation.
Jingoism hadn't yet become a dirty word.
The Scottish soldier had never been more popular.
So, in 1914, when the British Government asked for volunteers to fight in France,
it was the Scots who rushed to enlist in numbers greater than any other part of Britain.
Within months, these young men, and their laughing enthusiasm,
would be thrown into the carnage of World War I
The final reckoning may never be known, but it's thought very likely that Scotland, with ten per cent
of Britain's population, suffered at least 13 per cent of her casualties.
That extra three per cent might seem almost insignificant
until you realise it equates to an extra 30,000 souls.
This is Dud Corner Cemetery in Northern France.
Buried here are the casualties of the Battle of Loos.
What's striking about this cemetery at Dud Corner,
so-called after all the unexploded munitions that were found here after the war,
is that at first glance you think it's a war cemetery surrounded by
a plain wall until you realise that each part of the wall has 15 panels
and each panel contains 200 names of those who were killed or wounded
in this battle.
This is very much a Scottish selection of panels, Highland Light Infantry,
Seaforth, Gordons and then the Cameron Highlanders.
Here, one, two, three, four, five, six.
All men from Wester Ross, Invernesshire, who would never return to their homes again.
Of the 72,000 soldiers who took part in the assault phase, at least 36,000 of those were Scots.
So on this battlefield, on this great plain in northern France,
were brought together the largest number of Scottish soldiers
since the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
And the account is extraordinary because they walked in this line, just walking into enemy fire.
We can still imagine what it must have been like.
The roar of artillery in advance of the infantry attack.
The infantry moving slowly and inexorably off across this open ground.
They were buoyed up for this battle, wearing their kilts.
They wore a khaki apron over their kilts, so they were instantly identifiable,
not just as Scottish soldiers, but as Highland soldiers.
They got on to the German lines, they got beyond them, but then they were counter-attacked
and had to withdraw. But even when they were taking the roll call later that night,
all that was said when a man's name wasn't returned and he was obviously dead,
they just shouted back, "Over the hill, over the hill."
All across northern France are reminders of the Scots who lost their lives.
This is the memorial to the Highland Division at Beaumont-Hamel on the Somme.
It's a great memorial.
It is indeed, and it represents to me everything that's good and honourable
about the service of the Scottish soldiers on the Western Front during the First World War.
We're hundreds of miles away from the Highland counties, yet this part of the Somme battlefield
at Beaumont-Hamel is forever a part of Scotland.
The granite plinth from the north-east
and above all the Scottish soldier standing there, proud in his kilt,
they all were desperately proud to be part of the Highland Division
and the words of the motto here, "La a bhlair s'math na cairdean" -
"Friends are good on the day of battle" -
that sums up everything that was great and decent about this fighting force.
These were men from all over Scotland but if we look to the south of us, there's a place
where the 17th and 16th Highland Light Infantry went into the attack, very interesting battalions.
Both from Glasgow. One representing the Glasgow Boys Brigade, the other
representing the Glasgow Chambers Of Commerce, so when the casualty list came in,
it meant that huge areas of Glasgow were affected by the deaths in this part of France.
And these were the Pals battalions?
Yes. If you were in the Glasgow Boys Brigade in 1914,
you joined up together and you were amongst friends and
that was a very important factor in maintaining unit solidarity in the Scottish infantry regiment.
And there was a tremendous spirit of bravado as they went in
because obviously we now know the Somme as being one of the most bloodiest and attritional battles
but on the eve of battle they had no idea what they were in for.
They didn't look at themselves as lambs going to the slaughter.
They had a great conceit of themselves. They were well-trained.
And morale was sky-high.
Indeed, we know from the commanding officer of the 16th HLI, the Boys Brigade Pals,
that the men were whooping and whistling
as if they were going to a football match, and not about to take part in one of the most
exacting battles any soldier was likely to undertake on the Western Front.
And what happened on that first day?
On the first day, the casualty rate in the British Army was appalling.
It was known ever afterwards as the black day of the British Army.
And for the two HLI battalions it meant up to 900 casualties killed, wounded or missing.
The following day, and the days that followed, the papers were full of the casualty lists.
And the people back home could just see how high
the attrition rate was for their menfolk on the Western Front.
And the casualties, and the effect on the communities back home, I think, was it something like
100,000 or more over the First World War as a whole?
If you go up to the Scottish War Memorial in Edinburgh, where the dead of the First World War
are commemorated, it now stands at over 140,000. I think that's a fair indication.
Because casualties weren't just people who were killed in battle.
They were people who were maimed, either mentally or physically, and suffered afterwards.
But I think it's a fair bet to say that the Scottish casualties were in the region of about 140,000-150,000.
So why exactly did the Scots rush to the British colours and pay such an agonising price?
Soldiering in Scotland was considered to be an honourable profession.
Young men joined the Territorial Army, which was a part-time volunteer force.
They did it for all sorts of reasons - the chance to wear a turkey-cock uniform, wearing a kilt.
The opportunity to learn something.
And there was also companionship and steadiness.
And the notion that you were doing something for your country.
These were very important virtues in Presbyterian Scotland.
And the Scots responded accordingly.
During the great volunteer craze of the 19th century, more Scots volunteered to join
in these part-time forces than any other part of the country.
I suppose not just that. I mean, that's the more romantic side of it.
But also, there would have been a lot of unemployment, and for some,
it was an obvious choice when they couldn't get a job elsewhere.
When the call for volunteers went out in September 1914, to build these great volunteer armies,
which fought here on the Western Front,
the young men who joined up looked at the Army as being a good option.
You got three square meals a day. You got running hot water.
Didn't always get that in a tenement in the industrial West of Scotland.
Didn't get that if you were living on the land in the Highlands of Scotland.
You got companionship and a sense of adventure.
These were young men who never thought what death was going to bring to them.
They probably thought they were going to live for ever.
They joined up, they felt part of a company of friends.
And they went into battle together.
Many of them died together.
Those who died lie here in the battlefields of western France.
Back home, the war had touched everyone.
The losses and the bravery of the fighting Scots
had earned them a position at the heart of the British Army.
Only 20 years later, Britain would come calling once again.
But could Scotland's soldiers continue to be both British and Scottish?
Were they in danger of losing their own hard-won identity?
Just weeks into the war, it certainly might have seemed so.
The kilt was no longer to be worn into battle.
The War Office had laid down that henceforth
the Highlanders would fight in battledress.
They got the dress code!
The dress code. That's right.
This caused consternation in Highlands circles.
The Highland Society sent a delegation down to London to try and
persuade the authorities to change their minds, but to little effect.
In fact, the 5th Gordon Highlanders actually burnt a kilt on their parade ground
as a mark of protest against this attack on the Highlanders' traditional dress.
Scots served on every front. But it's the 51st Highland Division who,
more than anyone, took Scotland's image and personality into the war.
The entire division was captured by Rommel, as the Highlanders covered the British retreat from France.
Within two years, the 51st had reformed and prepared to face Rommel again, in North Africa.
The new division was commanded from June 1941 by, erm, Major-General Douglas Wimberley.
Wimberley was a passionate Highlander.
He was known as Tartan Tam
to his soldiers. And he was determined to
instil a strong Scottish national identity across the division.
They weren't just volunteers, these were conscripted troops as well.
These were conscripts as well. Absolutely.
It was very important to him that it had this very strong Scottish esprit de corps.
Why would that be?
Well, I think it's because he was a passionate Highlander.
But I think he felt that, in order to get the best out of the troops,
a strong Scottish esprit de corps is what was required.
So, kilts were to be worn whenever possible.
Pipe bands were to be turned out at the first opportunity.
And he insisted that all his junior officers
learnt how to Highland dance for the divisional battle school.
Very important part of military warfare.
If you can't do the sword dance, you're no use in a firefight.
Er, so, what happened?
Did they have some success?
Well, they did. I mean, perhaps the other thing I should say is that he was insistent that Scots,
preferably Highlanders, but where necessary Lowlanders, should be posted to his division.
And he was indefatigable in poaching Scots from other units
and formations, in order to keep that strong ethnic recruitment profile.
I'm Scottish, and this is a bit embarrassing, this kind of constant painting the army tartan!
-But it went on.
-It went on.
-What happened in El Alamein?
Well, the new division's baptism of fire was at El Alamein.
Montgomery chose the division to be one of the spearhead divisions for the assault.
And the division's objectives were codenamed after
towns and cities associated with the Highland Regiments -
Inverness, Aberdeen, Montrose, Arbroath and so on.
And Wimberley's order of the day to his troops was, "Scotland for ever and second to none."
And that night, the opening night of the offensive, the troops advanced
towards enemy lines with the moonlight glinting on their bayonets,
with crosses of St Andrew's on their backs as an aid to identification, and with the pipes playing.
The stirring deeds of the Highland Division at El Alamein received widespread praise.
There was a great deal of adulation in the newspapers and on radio.
Indeed, such was the adulation that there were letters in the Welsh press
complaining about Scots-mania on the BBC.
-The Welsh got cross?
'The enthusiasm of the crowd boiled over anew as the distant
'rumble of transport grew to a roar, which was to finally emerge with a triumphant skirl of the pipes.
'The glorious 51st Highlanders!'
Whenever we've got Scots and Highlanders in battle,
inevitably there's an image of kilts and tartan.
That was banned at the beginning of the war, but the imagery creeps in during the course of it,
with the cross of St Andrew, and what have you. How far did that extend?
Well, it even extends to Englishmen.
Erm, although he hailed from an old Oxfordshire family, Mad Jack Churchill led his commandos
into battle playing the March of the Cameron Men on his bagpipes and then storming ashore with his claymore.
-And he was from Oxfordshire!
Slightly getting in there!
'How to tackle a bloke with your bare hands.
'Knock him out, spoil his prospects and pinch his weapons.
'And his gold watch, too, if he's got one.'
Mad Jack Churchill belonged to the commandos - a new breed of British soldier,
with a special tie to the Scottish Highlands.
First established in 1940, the commandos were all volunteers,
elite troops, designed to travel light and hit hard.
Their basic training centre was established at Achnacarry House.
This was the home of the Camerons of Lochiel, who, of course,
he was one of the leading supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the '45.
And it's interesting that in 1943 there was a fire at Achnacarry House,
which did quite a bit of damage.
And the Cameron family rather wryly commentated this was the second time
the British Army had burned down their house, the first time being in 1746.
From 1942, soldiers from all over Britain marched to the Highlands -
the wild lands that 200 years earlier had given birth to the Jacobites.
'Bonnie Scotland - it's a helluva place.
'It rains here, too. Twice every five minutes.
'The seven miles soon went by and we marched into Achnacarry Camp.
'It's a bit of a shocker, that name, if you don't happen to be Scottish.'
This wonderful sculpture, by Scott Sutherland in 1951, commemorates the commandos
who were set up and trained here, at Achnacarry, in the heart of the Highlands, in 1942.
You can see how the copper and metals from the soldiers
is leaching into the local stone,
just as the soldiers dissolved into the countryside around here,
where they trained.
Once again, that bond between the soldiers and the landscape,
that goes right back to when the clansmen and the warriors
came out of the Scottish Highlands two centuries ago.
Just 100 or so yards from Scott Sutherland's statue,
individual tributes have been left to generations of soldiers.
You look at all the wartime dates. 1942, '43 and...
And then suddenly you see Iraq, Afghanistan.
It brings you up short.
That it's not just history.
It's happening now.
The Gallant Forty-Twa, the Black Watch, saw some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq.
Yet this would be their final battle as a regiment.
In 2004, during their deployment to Camp Dogwood near Baghdad, the British Defence Secretary announced
the death of the individual Scottish infantry regiments.
The Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers will merge.
This and the other four battalions, including the Black Watch,
will become part of a new, large regiment -
the Royal Regiment Of Scotland.
For centuries, recruits had been attracted
to the traditions and romance of the individual Scottish regiments.
The Government's decision brought down the curtain on 300 years of history.
There has to be some truth in the sentiment that 300 years of history,
if it comes to a grinding halt, an abrupt stop, a guillotine stop,
erm, you know, that is very sad and it is very terminal.
Erm... My own view is that of course you've then got to say,
well, so, what is left and where do we go from here?
And actually the decision was that the Black Watch, the Argyles, the Highlanders,
the Royal Highland Fusiliers, the Royal Scots, the King's Own Scottish Borderers were no more.
But the Royal Regiment of Scotland was, and it would be carrying forward the 2,500 years of history,
tradition, culture, ethos - the business of being Scottish fighting infantrymen -
in a way that perhaps might be more appropriate for the 21st century.
The saddest thing of all would be if all of our battalions had, over time,
as it were, all been withering on the vine simply through want of manpower.
-Where d'you think you're going, laddie?
Yet the loss of the regimental structure itself contributed to a reduction in recruitment.
Right, lads, we're now going for a short nature ramble.
Individual regiments had recruited in their own territories.
Young men had followed their fathers into the family regiment.
The army called it the Golden Thread.
Veterans claimed that thread had broken.
There are 30 trades open to men who join the infantry.
Starting pay for three-year men, £19.53 a week.
A more disturbing threat to Scottish recruitment came from the army's treatment of its own soldiers.
In 2004, Fusilier Gordon Gentle, from Pollok in Glasgow, was killed in Iraq.
An English coroner found a failure to provide suitable protective equipment
and blamed army negligence.
There was undoubtedly a huge dip in 2004/5.
I think there was a coincidence of factors.
The tragic death of Fusilier Gentle and the effect that had in Scotland,
cos all politics are local and this was regional Scotland becomes
national Scotland, and there was a whole approach to Iraq and that particular and very sad death.
Then there was the reductions and what was seen as the loss of Scottish regimental identity,
while we formed a new one.
Then there was the whole business with the Iraq War.
Was it good or bad or indifferent?
At the same time, the army was giving its recruiting system the biggest shake-up for 40 years,
so there were a number a contributory reasons
for why the foot, in a sense, came off the pedal. It's coming back up again.
2009 has seen the first rise in Scottish army recruitment since 2003.
Perhaps the result of increased unemployment and an unsteady economy.
Left. Quick march!
One figure though is even more revealing.
It's the continued difference between Scotland and England.
If Scotland is producing an infantry battalion for every 700,000 people,
in England it's about every 1.3 million to produce a battalion.
If you're thinking about contribution to the fighting capability of Britain,
Scotland is owed an extraordinary debt by the rest of the country.
This is a troop from a cavalry regiment, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
Descendants of Ensign Ewart, the man who liberated the French regimental eagle at Waterloo.
And these young men are already veterans of Iraq.
MOCK GEORGE BUSH ACCENT: And I know folks say we got it wrong but we called it right in Iraq.
They said there was no link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.
Let me tell me, there is now.
Stand at ease. Stand easy.
And what's next for you guys? Will some of you go to Afghanistan?
Scheduled to go to Afghanistan soon.
-I don't know how soon but...
-How do you feel about that?
-Can't wait. Excited to go.
-It'll be good.
There is that pride and tradition which is heavily relied on but the other side of that
is people say, these are kids. The cannon fodder argument.
How do you respond to that?
I would refute it absolutely, Rory, because
I don't think there are many organisations that give their young people the depth
and breadth and extent of training that is designed to produce soldiers who are fit for purpose.
We're pretty clear what the purpose is and it's not to be cannon fodder.
It is to be thinking individuals, members of a team and able to play their part in difficult situations.
Times when we've stripped out the vocational aspect of so many other parts of the country's workbase,
I would hold my hand up tomorrow and say that we put young men
who may choose to leave at the three or four year point, they are better people
than they came in. And we have made them so.
One day I thought, well, I'll see if I can make a bit of my life.
Obviously, being the way the world is right now, there's not many jobs.
It's hard for a young person to get into some sort of thing, so I thought I'd challenge myself.
This being Scotland's only cavalry regiment, I thought I'd give this regiment a try.
It really is good... It's proud to...
Guys play football, they get to represent their country.
Guys play rugby, they get to represent their country.
Unfortunately I'm rubbish at both, so I'll come and represent my country in this fine regiment.
By the left. Quick, march!
When you are fighting, who are you fighting for?
Each other, the country, the regiment, the army
and ourselves as well.
It's really one big whole.
One big happy family.
So if I said you're fighting for the British army,
you are but you're fighting for a bit of the British army.
No, we're fighting for the whole army but we're still fighting
for Scots as well because we're the only Scottish cavalry regiment.
We're fighting for everybody but you're doing it for Scotland
because we're the only Scotland's cavalry regiment.
Looking back to the years after Culloden, I wonder if the men who
came from these hills to fight under the British flag realised just what they were starting.
Their impact on two and a half centuries of British history has been astounding.
They built a deserved reputation for ferocious loyalty.
Time and again, they surrendered only their lives.
This is the Scottish National War memorial inside Edinburgh Castle.
It was opened in 1927 as a tribute to the Scots who fell in the Great War.
Today, the rolls of honour include every Scot who's fallen since that date.
A list that continues to grow.
Given the sacrifice of Scottish soldiers in the Great War,
it's appropriate that this, the focal point of the Scottish National War Memorial, this casket containing
the names of all those who fell in the war, should be set here at the very pinnacle
of the rock on which the castle is built.
The very top of the castle.
That tells you how important these names are to the people of Scotland.
Soldiering has come naturally to Scotland throughout history.
The Scots have been there for glorious victories and bloody defeats all over the world.
So, after 300 years of service to Britain's Kings, Queens and Empire,
what will become of the Scottish soldier in the modern world?
Will their illustrious reputation, like their famous regiments, simply disappear?
Frankly, I doubt it.
While the names of these great regiments may have altered,
the tradition of the Scottish soldier is as alive and strongly felt as ever.
I think it's in the blood of the nation.
The role may be changing but the fighting Scots are here to stay.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
The Scots have a reputation as brave, ferocious warriors. Despite a troubled history with England, history shows that more of Scotland's young men sign up to fight for the crown than anywhere else in Britain.
Rory Bremner, whose own father and great grandfather were distinguished Scottish soldiers, sets out to discover why rebel clansmen became loyal servants of the military establishment.
His story takes him to Culloden, Crimea and northern France. As the sound of the pipes floats over Scottish military camps in Afghanistan he asks if, after 250 years, the Scottish soldier's loyalty to Queen and country is running out?