Historical Military Prints of the Royal Scots, (1st of Foot) Military prints published by Cranston Fine arts the Military print company.
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History of the First Royal Scots
Excerpt from The Glories and Traditions of the British Army. (Naval and Army illustrated Feb 26th 1897). The First Royal Scots or Lothian Regiment by Chas Lowe
It was by a very happy coincidence that Queen Victoria may be said to have been born in the regiment which claims, not only to be the oldest in the British Army, but the oldest in the world. For at the time of Her Majesty's birth, her father, the Duke of Kent, was in command of the 1st Royal Scots, whose origin is lost in the mists of an obscure antiquity, and whose War Office record, after the battle of Baugé, in 1421, contains a list of more than 230 battles and sieges. Certainly no regiment in the world, whatever its pedigree, can boast of such a lengthy roll of glory. For Scotsmen especially, who have figured so conspicuously in the military annals of the Empire, it must be very flattering to think that they have contributed the regiment which tops the list of the British Army, and claims to be the oldest of any.
There is only one other regiment which ever seriously ventured to dispute with the Royal Scots the honour of seniority, and that was the famous French Regiment of Picardy. Once when the Royals were serving in France, a controversy broke out between the officers of the two regiments as to the antiquity of their respective corps, when a proud Picard, treating with contumely the superior claims of the Scots, scornfully advised them to end the matter at once by calling themselves "Pontius Pilate's Guard". To which a haughty Scot, with equal scorn, replied: "You must be mistaken, Monsieur, for had we really been the Guards of Pontius Pilate, our sentinels would certainly never had slept at their post." This identification of the Royal Scots with "Pontius Pilate's Bodyguard" - a sobriquet which still attaches to them - probably arose from the circumstance, as asserted by some, that the Temple Guard at Jerusalem, from which Pontius Pilate selected the sentinels set to watch over the Holy sepulchre, was furnished by a legion of Caledonians who had been drafted into the Roman service and sent to Palestine - a story which will not, perhaps, bear the strain of much historical criticism.
But whatever the claims of the Royal Scots to a hoary antiquity co-eval with the Christian era, it is argued by some that they can commence their pedigree with the year 882 AD, when a body of Scottish gentlemen formed a guard to Charles III of France, a body which gradually developed into the famous "Garde Ecossaise" of the French Kings, familiar to readers of Quentin Durward. But while on one hand it might thus be contended that the 1st Royal Scots are in part descended from the famous "Archers of the Scottish Guard" who hedged around the persons of the Kings of France for more than nine centuries, it can at least be proved that their lineage on the other side of the house is equally illustrious. For whereas the "Garde Ecossaise" of the French Kings might be regarded as the mother of the Scots Royals - though the point is a little doubtful - their male parent was the immortal Green Brigade, which did doughty deeds under Gustavus Adolphus -"the Lion of the North the bulwark of the Protestant faith"- and in which at one time a pike may even have been trailed by Rittmeister Dugald Dalgetty of Drumthwacket, "to your honourable service at command." During the thirty years' war the great Gustavus was served with no fewer than 13 Scottish regiments, comprising about 20,000 men, who were the terror of his foes; and of these regiments none were more redoubtable than the Green Brigade, commanded by Sir John Hepburn, in which the King of Swede, to quote Munro, the historian of the war, "always principally confided, conferring on them the glory of every critical and trying adventure."
To mention the principle feats of derringdo performed by "Hepburn's Scots", as they were called, during their service with the King of Sweden would be to enumerate the chief battles and sieges of the thirty years' war; and by Gustavus himself they were repeatedly thanked and eulogised in presence his entire army. Thanks, indeed, constituted for a long time the principal part of their pay- a fact which may appear incredible to those who suppose that the overmastering passion of a Scotsman is his love of the "bawbees". But in Hepburn's Scots it was otherwise; for, as Dugald Dalgetty remarked to Montrose, "I have seen whole regiments of Dutch and Holsteiners mutiny on a field of battle, like base scullions, crying out Gelt! Gelt! signifying their desire of pay, instead of falling to blows like our noble Scottish blades, who ever disdained, my lord, postponing of honour to filthy lucre". I have read much about the Thirty Years' War and the part taken in it by the Scottish regiments of the great Gustavus; but never did I realise the full extent of their heroic services until I paid a visit to Stockholm and there beheld, piled up and around in the old picturesque Riddarholm Kirke, the immense number of colours and war trophies captured, at point of pike, by Hepburn's Scots and their compatriot brigades.
At the death of Gustavus on the field of Lützen (1632), Hepburn and his redoubtable Green Brigade, by a process of transfer not at all unusual in those days, were taken into the French service and incorporated into another body of Scots, who were related, at least, to the Garde Ecossaise of the French Kings - if they were not this Garde itself - the new corps being thus formed being known as the "Regiment D' Hebron", the phonetic French for Hepburn. In the army commanded by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar in the pay of France - consisting of French, Scots, Swedes and Germans - Hepburn's new regiment campaigned up and down the Empire, covering itself with every fresh glory; but at the siege of Saverne in Alsace, it lost its idolised chief, whose "last words were touchingly expressive of his regret that he should be buried so far from the secluded kirkyard where the bones of his forefathers lay."
He was succeeded in the command of the regiment, of which he had been the first Colonel, by his cousin James Hepburn, who was killed the following year (1637) in Lorraine; and then the corps - now numbering over 8,000 officers and men! - was given to Lord James Douglas, being now known as "Le Régiment de Douglas". It is curious to note that, at this time, its establishment included one piper and ninety-six drummers, which reminds one of Sir John Falstaff's pennyworth of bread to his "intolerable quantity of sack". For the next twenty years the regiment incessantly served against the enemies of France, either in France itself, Flanders, or Italy; and its national character was afterwards strengthened by the incorporation with it of "Rutherford's Scots", called "Le Régiment des Gardes Ecossois", who had come over from Scotland after the accession of Louis XIV to help in the battles of the Grand Monarque.
At the Restoration (1660) the splendid regiments of Cromwell were all disbanded by Charles II, who soon found, however, that he could not do without regular troops of some kind, and so the "Douglas Regiment" - now under the command of Lord George Douglas, brother of Lord James who had been killed at the siege of Douay - was brought over (1661) from France, where it had served so long and gloriously, and became the basis of our standing army. It will thus be seen how the Royal Scots come to stand first in the Army List, though it was not till 1678 that it took a permanent place on the establishment. In the interval it had suppressed an insurrection in Ireland, and then returned to France, in the service of which country it took part in all the campaigns of Turenne in the Low Countries and the Rhine, gathering fresh laurels on every battlefield, and once they were thanked for their heroic conduct by Louis XIV.
But by this time the English government had become jealous of the growing power of Louis XIV, and determined to deprive him of one of the chief instruments of his conquests. Accordingly it recalled the Scots of Douglas, now known as "Dumbarton's Regiment" from the fact of its commander having become Earl of Dumbarton; and even to this day does the regiment not march past to the tune of "Dumbarton's Drums"? Soon after its arrival in England it was increased by the addition of a number of men, forming a company, who each carried a large pouch filled with hand grenades - pocket shells so to speak. These men were taught to light the fuses and cast the grenades into forts, trenches or amidst the ranks of their enemies, where the explosion was calculated to produce much execution; and the men deriving their designation from the combustibles with which they were thus armed, styled "Grenadiers". Their duties were deemed more arduous than those of pikemen or musketeers, so that the strongest and most active men were selected for the Grenadier company. As the brave old marching ditty, dating from this period, runs:-
The enemy about whose ears Dumbarton's Scots were destined first to throw their hand-grenades were the Moors, who had laid siege to Tangier, which had fallen to the British crown, and which we retained for about a quarter of a century as a place of arms against the pirates who infested the Barbary coast, and as possessing the only harbour for nine hundred on the Moorish shores of the Mediterranean. Whilst our occupation lasted, Tangier was to our officers, as remarked by Lord Wolseley in his "Life of Marlborough" "what Egypt has lately been - a drill ground for practical soldiering"; and, in particular, it had been the training school of Colonel Kirke's "Lambs", with whom John Churchill saw some hot service. The "Lambs" or Tangier Regiment, - now the second of the line (Queen's Royal West Surrey) - were so called from the Christian emblem of a Paschal lamb on their flag, as they had been levied with the purpose of waging war with an infidel race. But at Tangier they comported themselves more like tigers than like lambs, and the appropriateness of their popular title lay in its bitter irony. A time came, however, when even the rude ferocity of the Lambs was unequal to the fierceness of their foes, and so Dumbarton's brave and highly-disciplined Scots were sent out (1680) as so many lions to help the tigers.
John Ross, the author of "Tangier's Rescue", thus described the arrival of these celebrated veterans under Sir James Hackett: "After this landed the valorous Major Hackett with the renowned regiment of the Earl of Dumbarton; all of them men of approved valour, fame having echoed the sound of their glorious actions and achievements in France and other nations; having left behind them a report of their glorious victories wherever they came; every place witnessing and giving large testimony of their renown; so that the arrival of this illustrious regiment more and more increased the resolution and courage of the inhabitants, and added confidence to their valour."
Dumbarton's Scots were not long in giving a good account of themselves and the recital of their achievements reads like Homer's account of the combat around Troy. More than once they plucked the Lambs from the very jaws of the Moorish wolves, on one occasion forming the forlorn-hope in a sally having for its object the rescue of the garrison in a detached fort, and brilliantly succeeding with a loss of fifteen killed and several wounded, including their leader (Captain Hume). In another sally Captain Forbes and eight men were killed.
A general sally, or sortie, of the garrison had been ordered; and, when the signal for attack was given, "the Scots and their Grenadiers", wrote Ross, "charged first, if there was any time at all between their charging; for like fire and lightning, all went at once." The Moors - fourteen to fifteen thousand strong- were reposing behind their trenches, when suddenly, at the first dim dawn of the September day, they were aroused out of their sleep, like the soldiers of the rebel Arabi at Tel-el-Kebir, "by the sound of a trampling multitude rushing to battle", and the next moment they were thrown into confusion by a shower of bursting hand grenades. Dumbarton's veterans quickly carried the first trench, and "mixing in fierce combat with the Moors, soon proved that a valiant Scot was more than a match for one of the dusky sons of Africa. The first trench having been won, a portion of it was levelled for the cavalry, when the British and Spanish horsemen charged the Moors, and plunging amidst the dark masses, trampled and cut down the astonished Africans. At the same time the British Grenadiers were seen using their hatchets with dreadful execution on one side, the pikemen were bearing down all before them on the other, and the musketeers, having slung their muskets, were fighting sword in hand with an impetuosity which the Moors could not withstand. The wavering masses of the barbarians were broken, and they fled like a scattered swarm over the land; the British troops pursued and a number of single combats followed, for the Moors were more expert in personal combats than fighting in large bodies. These combats, however, generally terminated in favour of the British and Scots, and in particular Captain Hodges and his grenadier company were distinguished for the number they slew," while they also captured a splendid standard from the Moors. Out of five British corps, including the Lambs, who took part in this action, Dumbarton's Scots were the greatest sufferers losing many officers and men.
Now officially recognised as the Royal Regiment of Foot, their next battlefield was that of Sedgemoor - the last on English soil- (1685), where they formed the extreme right of the royal line, and behaved in such a disciplined manner as to secure the victory of King James II over the usurper Monmouth and his rustic levies. When viewing from a distance the royal infantry, Monmouth, as Macaulay wrote, "could distinguish among the hostile ranks that gallant band, which was then called from the name of its colonel, Dumbarton's Regiment, but which has long been known as the first of the line, and which, in all the four corners of the world, has nobly supported its early reputation. 'I know these men', said Monmouth, 'they will fight. If I had but them all would go well.'
What says Lord Wolseley in his "Life of Marlborough"? "Lord Grey (commanding Monmouth's cavalry) found himself facing Dumbarton's Regiment. The officers of this battalion, of greater experience in war than those of the other regiments, were somewhat more on the alert. As it was the only regiment present which still retained the matchlock, the others being armed with the newly-introduced snaphaunce or flint-musket, Grey was able to mark its position by the burning matches"; and thus he was lured on to his destruction as if by so many will-o'-the-wisps in that boggy region.
When trying to cross the broad ditch in front of them ( the famous Bussex Rhine) Grey's horsemen were challenged by Dumbarton's Regiment and a battalion of Foot Guards from the opposite side. "Who are you for?" "The King". "What King?" "Monmouth, and God with us!" was the prompt reply. "Take this with you then!" as the battalions poured a volley upon the startled troopers. Soon after this Monmouth hurried forward his foot, directing his advance upon the burning matches of Dumbarton's Scots, and on the royalist side this was the only regiment to return the fire of the rebels. The latter made a stout stand against repeated volleys and charges of cavalry, but the backbone of their resistance was at last broken " by a determined attack of the grenadier companies of the Guards and Dumbarton's Regiment", which the latter, being foremost in the pursuit, captured the Duke of Monmouth's standard.
Four years later - in 1689- our bloodless Revolution was accomplished, and Papist James II fled for France before Protestant Dutch William, after the latter had landed at Torbay. In the midst of all the treachery and "ratting" which now distinguished the statesmen and soldiers of England - including Churchill - the Royal Scots almost alone stood firm to the King for whom they had bled so profusely at Sedgemoor; and when their commander, Lord Dumbarton, even left them to accompany his fugitive sovereign to France, and Marshal Schomberg received the regiment with orders to ship so doubtful a corps off to Holland, the inheritors of so much military glory flatly refused to become the tools of the Dutch usurper, and briskly set out for Scotland. "These mutineers, if they may be so styled," as Lord Wolseley well remarks, were overtaken in Lincolnshire, brought back, put upon their trial, found guilty, and pardoned - all but three or four officers, who were dismissed. The royal clemency was exercised all the more readily, as the new king had repeatedly, in private, expressed his admiration of the steadfast loyalty and attachment evinced by the officers and men of the Royals to their former sovereign. All the same, it was the conduct of Schomberg's Scots regiment which brought about our system of annual Mutiny Acts, on which our standing army depends for its existence to the present day.
That the Scots had been false to their colours by proving true to their sovereign was a reproach which wounded them to the quick. But it was a reproach which they wiped out in the most complete and brilliant manner when next they took the field in the "lowlands o' Holland" with their pipers, perhaps, playing that lovely old air - and fought to extermination almost under the eyes of their new sovereign, William III, whose Dutch dominions were being invaded by the French. For many years the Royals had shown what they could do when fighting for the French, and at Steinkirk (1692), they showed how terrible they could be when fighting against them.
Among the foremost in this action, as the old chronicler wrote, "was seen the brave Sir Robert Douglas at the head of the 1st battalion of his regiment, emulating the noblest actions recorded in the annals of war. Having led his battalion against the troops behind the first hedge, "he soon cleared it of its French defenders, and drove one of the battalions from the field in confusion. A second hedge was assailed and carried by the Scots in a few moments, a third was assaulted - the French stood their ground - the combatants fought muzzle to muzzle, but again the Royals proved victorious, and the third hedge was won. The toil of conflict did not cool the ardour of the veteran Scots, but forward they rushed with a loud huzza, and attacked the troops lining the fourth hedge. Here the fighting was severe but eventually the Royals overthrew a fourth French battalion and drove a crowd of combatants from their cannon."
In this desperate conflict the battalion lost one of its three colours. Sir Robert Douglas, seeing the colour on the other side of the hedge, leaped through a gap, slew the French officer who bore the colour, and cast it back into the midst of his own men; but this act of heroism cost him his life, a French marksman having shot him dead while in the act of rejoining his ranks. "Thus the Scots commander improved upon the Roman general. For the brave Posthumous cast his standard in the middle of the enemy for his soldiers to retrieve; but Douglas retrieved his from the middle of the enemy, and cast it back for his soldiers to retain."
After disastrous Steinkirk there followed several years of campaigning in the Low Countries, and in particular at the siege of Namur, which was deemed impregnable, the Royal acquired a reputation for fire-eating second only to that of the English "Salamander", the immortal Cutts. At all the great battles of Marlborough too- Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet- the Royals, ever freshly recruited from Scotland, bore themselves with bravery and discipline worthy of their long illustrious past.
At the Schellenberg, commanding Donauwerth, which preceded Blenheim, the Royals, at a frightful cost of life, helped to storm the entrenchments of the French and Bavarians on a hill top; and when, in spite of all their desperate efforts to oust the foe from his terribly strong position, the scales of battle seemed to be against them, the Scots Greys impatiently flung themselves from their saddles, and stormed up the hillside to the succour of their hard-pressed countrymen, with whom they presently shook hands on the abandoned ramparts of the enemy. Curiously enough the Schellenberg had once before (in 1632) been similarly stormed by "Hepburn's Scots", who were the lineal ancestors, i.e, ante-cessores, of the Royals.
At Blenheim, both battalions of the regiment- it never had less than two- were present and took a prominent part in the overthrow of the Bavarians and the French. To the latter it was their first Sedan, for the battle ended in the capitulation of all who escaped cutting down; and the second battalion of the Royals formed part of the escort of the immense number of prisoners who were sent to Holland. The French lost Blenheim for the same reason that they lost Agincourt - their jammed position between the Danube and the village of Lützingen left them no room to deploy, and in the end they had only the choice of being massacred, drowned or taken prisoners. The Scots Greys were mainly instrumental in preventing their escape, and the Scots Royals helped to take possession of the sheep which their mounted countrymen had driven into a corner. At Blenheim there was great emulation among the various nationalities who fought under the combined banners of Marlborough and Prince Eugene, and the Royal Scots were second to none in their contribution to what old Caspar pronounced to be a "famous victory".
On the morrow of the battle, Marlborough visited his prisoner, the Marshal Duke de Tallard, to whom he expressed his sorrow that "such a misfortune should happen personally to one for whom he had an esteem so profound." "I congratulate you", replied the Marshal, "on having vanquished the best troops in the world!" "I think my own must be the best", responded Marlborough, "as they have conquered those on whom you bestow so high an encomium".
At Ramillies, which followed two years after Blenheim, the Royals again contributed to a most complete and crushing victory over their old friends the French, under Marshal Villeroi, an immense number of prisoners with guns, standards, and colours being captured. The regiment was posted on the right, and with several other British, Dutch and German corps was employed in making a feint on the French left, while Marlborough himself at the head of his shining cavalry, made a dash for and crumpled up the centre and right. The Royals were passive and impatient spectators of the fight for about an hour; but at length their time came, and with a cheer they dashed forward on the foe. The heroes of the Schellenberg and Blenheim fought like men resolved to die rather than lose their reputation; and the French, Spanish and Bavarians were speedily overthrown and driven headlong from the field with a terrible slaughter.
Oudenarde was almost Steinkirk over again, though this time the victory was with the allies; and the crushing defeat of the French was felt all the more bitterly by our exiled James II, who had beheld the battle from the steeple of an adjacent church, as he knew the ranks of the victors to include that loyal Scottish regiment which had been the main pillar of his throne at Sedgemoor, and which had incurred the odium of mutiny on his account.
At Malplaquet too- which was the greatest battle which had hitherto ever been fought in Europe - the Royals, who had just been reinforced by a body of fine recruits from from Scotland, were again in the forefront of the fight, and took a prominent part in the determining incident of that day. Two battalions of the Foot Guards, who had been told off to assault the entrenchments in the wood of Taisnière, were driven back by the terrific fire of the foe. But now the dour devils of the Scots who had stormed the Schellenberg advanced to the support of the Guards, their line being prolonged by Argyll's "Buffs" - the third oldest regiment in the army- and several other corps; and these troops, says the old chronicle, "rushing forward, with the native energy and resolution of Britons, forced the entrenchments in gallant style, the French falling back into the woods". It now became a wood-fight of the most desperate kind, every tree being fiercely disputed.
For the next forty years the Royals enjoyed a period of comparative peace, doing garrison duty in England, Ireland, and the West Indies; and during this period it was only at Fontenoy and Culloden that they were called upon to re-assert their ancient prowess- the 1st battalion at the former battle, and the 2nd at the latter. But Fontenoy was one of the Isandhlwanas which each of our regiments, according to Lord Wolseley, can boast of; for this time the British Army was essentially an army of Lions commanded, if not by asses, at least by an ass- the red-faced, stupid, blustering Duke of Cumberland, afterwards known as the "Butcher". At Culloden he butchered Prince Charlie's men, but at Fontenoy he massacred his own, and the splendid heroism and self-sacrificing spirit of the British force under his command were of no avail when the genius of a Marshal Saxe was pitted against the flustered muddle-headedness of a mere "Martial Boy", as the Duke of Cumberland was ironically called by the nation. But for the stubborn gallantry of the Royals, who covered the retreat of the blundering Duke's forces, and sacrificed 277 officers and men in doing so, the battle might have been an Isandhlwana for the whole British Army.
Hitherto the Royals, recruited and officered mostly form the Lowlands, had monopolised the infantry honours of Scotland in the English Army; but side by side with them at Fontenoy there had fought, for the first time with a British Army in the field, a regiment of Highlanders, the famous "Black Watch"; and between these two regiments- one mainly Saxon, the other mainly Celtic - there now sprang up a rivalry that was destined to make itself felt on many a bloody battlefield of the future.
This rivalry was first displayed at Quiberon Bay in 1746, when the Royals and Black Watch brigaded together under General James Sinclair, colonel of the former, stormed an eighteen-gun battery, and, steel in hand, drove the French headlong out of it; and again the following year, at Hulst in Holland, where the same two battalions held the outlying Fort Sandberg against all attempts of the French to take it. A Dutch regiment gave way, and the French continued their triumphant career until they encountered the Royals, when there ensued a most sanguinary conflict of musketry that was kept up throughout the night. When the dawn came it was found that about 400 officers and men of the Royals were down; yet the survivors, standing amidst the dying and the dead, and being unable to move without treading on a killed or wounded man, maintained their ground with unabated resolution, and continued to pour their fatal volleys at the enemy, who had lost just as heavily, until relieved by their comrades of the Black Watch, and then it was all over with the French. "The troops", said a writer in the Scots Magazine, "did honour to their country, particularly the 1st battalion of the Royal Scots, who were put to the hardest trials, behaved heroically, and suffered much."
They behaved with equal heroism at the siege and capture of Louisburg, on Cape Breton, where their rivalry with the Black Watch was now exchanged for emulation of the Fraser Highlanders; and subsequently the Royals, now generally known as the First or Royal Regiment of Foot, were foremost in the second and successful attack on Ticonderoga, where the Black Watch had previously sacrificed no fewer than 647 of its rank and file in the heroic but unavailing effort to storm its impregnable ramparts.
If the Royals had only been there to support the "Forty Twa's", they might have done with Ticonderoga what they did a few years later (1762) with the Morro, the key of the fortifications of the Havanah (i.e. Harbour) in the island of Cuba, which England, having now declared war against Spain as well as France, had resolved to attack. So the 2nd battalion of the Royal Scots were called away from their war of extermination against the Cherokee Indians, and commanded to subdue the pride of the Spanish Dons. This was a task which did not take them very long; and after some painful siege operations the besiegers sprang a mine. A dreadful roar and splitting sound was heard, and when the smoke and dust cleared away, there was seen in the massive wall of the Morro a breach which the Earl of Albemarle described as being "just practicable enough for a file of men in front".
That was quite good enough for the Royal Scots, as well as the men of the 9th and 90th regiments, who formed the storming party. Lieutenant Charles Forbes of the Scots led the assault, and mounting the breach untouched amid the storm of musketry that swept it, with signal gallantry formed up the survivors of his forlorn hope on the summit, and with levelled bayonet charged the whole line of the rampart. "The attack," wrote the Earl of Albemarle, " was so vigorous and impetuous that the enemy were instantly driven from the breach, and His Majesty's (George III's) standard was instantly placed upon the bastion." As Lieutenants Forbes, Nugent of the 9th, and Holroyd of the 90th regiments, were congratulating each other on their sudden and splendid success, the latter two were shot down by a party of desperate Spaniards, who fired from an adjacent lighthouse. Forbes was so exasperated by the death of his friends that he attacked the lighthouse, at the head of a few of his Scots, and put all its occupants to the sword.
This was fine training for the corps which was afterwards to take conspicuous part in the storing of such places as Badajoz, Burgos, and San Sebastian in the time of Napoleon; and curiously enough the Royal Scots- 2nd battalion - were the first British regiment with which Bonaparte ever came into conflict, though before the end of his Satanic career he and his troops were destined to see much more of it and to feel the force of its bayonets, too. Nay, as Napoleon himself received a bayonet wound in the thigh in one of the combats around Toulon, may this wound not have been inflicted by one of the Royal Scots who, with some more British and other troops, were holding the great French arsenal in the Mediterranean on behalf of the anti-revolutionists? And may not the cannon shot which covered with dust the letter which sergeant - afterwards Marshal - Junot was writing to the dictation of Napoleon have come from Fort Mulgrave that was held by the Royal Scots?
It was at Corunna that the Royals - now officially designated as the First Regiment of Foot, or Royal Scots- began that career of glory which only ended at Waterloo. Two fresh battalions raised in Scotland had, in 1804, been added to the regiment, which now consisted of four; and it was the 3rd which gloriously carried the colours of the Royals from Corunna to Quatre Bras. The battle of Corunna had been precede by the retreat of Moore's army to the sea, before an overwhelming French force- at first under Napoleon, then under Soult - for about 250 miles along roads covered with snow, over mountains and rivers, and through narrow defiles - a retreat entailing far more hardships and hazards than that of Xenophon from the Euphrates to the Euxine; and in this retreat, together with the victorious battle which Moore's army had to fight at Corunna before being able to embark, the Royals (who were brigaded with the Cameronians, and were posted not far from the Black Watch) lost just as many men as the miles they had to traverse before reaching their ships. Their losses, indeed, were the heaviest of all, a proof that their colours had waved where danger was deadliest, and they were thanked in general orders for their gallant conduct.
Having thus received its baptism of fire at Corunna, the 3rd battalion of the Royals next was destined to engage in the positive eating of that element at the adjacent sea-side fortress of San Sebastian, after having lived, in the interval, mainly on bullets at Busaco, Fuentes D 'Onoro, Cuidad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Burgos, and Vittoria. At the last named battle, which completed the wreck of the French field-armies in Spain, the Royals turned the enemy's right and cut off his retreat to France; and all that now remained for Wellington to do, before standing "on the summit of the Pyrenees, a recognised conqueror", was to reduce the immensely strong fortress of San Sebastian, which would give him direct sea-communication with England. Accordingly, Sir Thomas Graham, with the 1st and 5th Divisions - the latter including the Royals - was told off to invest that formidable place of arms, and before long two breaches, reported practicable, had been made. To the storming of one of these the Scots had the good fortune to be set, and at the dawn of a July day they started up out of the trenches and dashed forward to the gap.
"Major Peter Fraser", says the regimental record, "while gallantly encouraging his brave men, was killed. Though the cannon of the fortress thundered in front, the French poured down their volleys of musketry and grenades, shells and stones darkened the air, yet onward went the Royal Scots and assailed the breach with a degree of valour and intrepidity which rivalled the gallant exploits of their predecessors under the great Gustavus. But the defence around the breach had not been destroyed. Success was found impossible, and the stormers were ordered to retire." As the Divisional orders said, "The Royal Regiment proved by the numbers left in the breach, that it would have been carried had they not been opposed by real obstacles, which no human prowess could overcome." In this terrible struggle the battalion lost, in killed and wounded, 333 officers and men.
But though the ranks of the Royal Scots had been thus far more than decimated, their courage was far from damped. A few days afterwards a false attack was ordered in the night to make the enemy spring their mines, a most desperate service undertaken by Lieutenant Macadam. The order was so suddenly issued that neither volunteers were asked nor rewards offered for it, but instantly some of the Scots leaped forth to court what seemed instant death. With a rapid pace and loud shouts, in extended line, and firing rapidly, they rushed towards the breach, where the whole party perished save their leader, who was twice wounded, but survived to obtain high rank in the service.
After a month's more battering at the walls, another assault was ordered, and again the forlorn hope was headed by the fire-eating, perfervid Scots, with whom to take a thing in hand was finally to accomplish it.
As a voice - recorded by Kinglake - sang out at the Alma, when the Highland Brigade was advancing, after the Guards and Light Division had failed to make headway against the Russian squares: "Let the Scotsmen go on! They'll do the work". And never did these Scotsmen go on with a brisker appetite for work than at fortressed San Sebastian with its terrific means of defence. The Royals, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Barns, and supported by the 38th regiment, were directed to assault the left of the second breach. "The assault", says the record, "was made with great gallantry. Some of the traverses of the semi-bastion were carried by the leading companies, but were retaken by the enemy. Nothing could have exceeded the bravery and steadiness of the troops employed at this point, and the enemy, observing the whole division in motion, sprang a mine on the top of the curtain, but the explosion was premature, and only a few of the leading men of the Royal Scots suffered from it. Yet, undismayed by the bursting mine and the fierce opposition of the enemy, the Scots pressed forward upon their adversaries and carried the coverlain: troops crowded into the town in every direction"; and after several hours of the bloodiest and most stubborn fighting recorded in all history, San Sebastian was won, the citadel surrendering some time later. "Indeed", wrote Sir Thomas Graham, "I conceive our ultimate success depended upon the repeated attacks made by the Royal Scots", who, in two assaults, had lost 531 officers and men, or more than half their entire number."
Small wonder that to the remnants of the heroic battalion, which had thus surpassed the storming achievements of its parent Green Brigade in the service of Gustavus, there was accorded the honour of being the first portion of the British Army to cross the Bidassoa and enter France. But apart from the fresh laurels they had plucked with the bayonet on the walls of San Sebastian, this was honour to which the Royal Scots were also entitled in respect of the ancient connection of the regiment with the soil of France; and curiously enough, at the very time when the 3rd battalion crossed the Bidassoa and entered the country of its partial origin, of its mother's family so to speak, the 4th battalion was with the anti-Napoleonic Army of the Crown Prince of Sweden at Stralsund, on the Baltic shore, where, exactly 200 years before, Hepburn had embodied his redoubtable Green Brigade male parent of the Royal Scots, for the service of the Swedish monarch of his age.
The 4th battalion presently came to utter grief- to its Sedan- at the ill-planned attack on Bergen-op-Zoom; but at the same time honour of the ubiquitous and indomitable regiment was being gloriously maintained by the 2nd battalion in India, where among the victories, it was to add the names "Nagpore" and "Maheidpore" to its colours- Maheidpore where, in the words of the commander-in-chief of the army of the Deccan, "the undaunted heroism displayed by the flank companies of the Royal Scots in storming and carrying, at the point of the bayonet, the enemy's guns, was worthy of the high name and reputation of the regiment".
At the same time also the 1st battalion, emulating in the New World the martial prowess of its sister battalions in the Old, was plucking Canadian laurels with the point of the bayonet; and in particular at the storming of Fort Niagara, the Royals carried all before them. "I have to express my admiration", wrote Colonel Murray to General Drummond, "of the valour of the grenadier company of the Royal Scots under Captain Bailey, whose zeal and gallantry were very conspicuous . . . Their instructions were not to fire, but to carry the place at the point of the bayonet. These orders were punctually obeyed, a circumstance that not only proves their intrepidity, but reflects great credit on their discipline."
But it was now reserved for the 3rd battalion to show upon the ensanguined plains of Quatre Bras and Waterloo that it could handle the bayonet better even than its sister bodies at Niagara in the New World and Nagpore in the Old one, better even than the invincible veterans of Hepburn's Green Brigade had wielded their pikes. The 3rd battalion, after taking part in the siege of Bayonne- the birthplace, by the way, of the bayonet - was the last of the British army of occupation to leave France as it had been the first to enter it; and on the escape of the Corsican ogre from Elbe, it was again one of the first that reached Belgium for the purpose of catching and finally caging him up. It formed part of Pack's Brigade in Picton's Division, and at Quatre Bras its square sustained and repulsed no fewer than seven successive charges of French cavalry, without ever flinching. "Though charged six or seven times", wrote an eye-witness, "by an infinite superiority of numbers, the French cavalry never for an instant made the slightest impression upon the square of the Royal Scots", and finally, after having been volleyed at by the enemy's musketeers, and slashed at by their furious squadrons of steel-clad horsemen, who could make not even the slightest impression on their serried, rock-fast ranks, they were formed into line and led forward to the charge by Picton himself, when, with the 28th regiment, they tumbled back the enemy in headlong rout, and enabled Wellington to maintain his mastery of the field.
Again, two days later at Waterloo, the behaviour of the Royal Scots evoked repeated compliments from their commander, Picton. "Though I have been present with the battalion," wrote an officer, " at the battles of Busaco, Fuentes d'Onoro, Slamanca, Vittoria, both stormings of San Sebastian, the passage of the Bidassoa, etc. etc., in which they bore a conspicuous part and suffered severely, I can assure you they never evinced more steadiness or more determined bravery than at the late battle . . . I have often seen the battalion engaged; but I must confess, on this trying day, it far excelled anything I had ever witnessed". While the thunder of 400 guns, the roll of musketry, the occasional explosion of caissons, the hissing of balls and grape-shot, the clashing of arms, and the impetuous shouts of the combatants proved an awful scene of carnage and confusion, the Royal Scots were seen amid the storm of battle, boldly confronting the torrent of superior numbers, and fighting with a constancy and valour which the enemy could not overcome. In the two days fighting, the exhibition of these qualities had cost the Royal Scots a loss of 360 officers and men killed and wounded. After the peace the 3rd and 4th battalions were disbanded, the men of the former being divided between the 1st and 2nd, which thus also received the right to inscribe on their colours the victories of the battalion which had fought so gloriously from Corunna to Waterloo.
I have already alluded by anticipation to the services of the 2nd battalion at Nagpore and Maheidpore in 1817, and their conquering career in the Deccan culminated two years later in the assault and capture of the celebrated fortress of Asseerghur, which, on account of its great strength, was termed the "Gibraltar of the East". Some years later the battalion proceeded to Burma, where it added to its reputation for invincibility with the bayonet by the storming of the stockades.
With Ava added to their colours, the Royal Scots (2nd battalion), after 23 years continuous service in the East, returned home, and were presently despatched to the far west, exchanging the Irawaddy for the St Lawrence; and they had not been long in Canada before they were called upon to help in putting down a rebellion which had broken out among the disaffected of the Dominion. It is never a very congenial task for troops to have to suppress an armed civilian rising of their own race, though the Royals on this occasion did their duty with a firmness and self-restraint worthy of strong and generous men.
But it was not on a battlefield during their stay in Canada that they were called upon to exhibit heroism of the highest kind; it was on the deck of a sinking ship. While on the way from Quebec to the West Indies with the headquarters and several companies of the Royals on board, the transport "Premier" was wrecked in the Gulf of St Lawrence, and all on board would undoubtedly perished but for the splendid order and discipline preserved by the Scots. It was pitch dark, "the snow", wrote Sir Daniel Lysons, who was on board, "was falling fast, and every sea was breaking over the ship as she crashed and banged among the rocks. . . . Ned Wetherell and I went below to see how the men were getting on. The women were sobbing and their children were clinging round them, while husbands were endeavouring to cheer their wives with hopes they could not entertain themselves, but all were quiet and resigned."
By dint of great efforts, all on board were gradually conveyed ashore when daylight came; and on receiving a report on the whole affair, General Sir James Hope, commanding at Quebec, assembled the garrison in order that he might have "the satisfaction of personally expressing to the troops his entire and perfect approbation of the admirable conduct of the right wing of the Royal Regiment under the most trying circumstances. There is no regiment in Her Majesty's service that has distinguished itself more than the Royals have done, but good conduct in the presence of an enemy is so common an occurrence with British soldiers, when the excitement to gallant conduct is at its height, that the Major-General would not think it was necessary to advert to what is now well known. On this occasion, however, the distressing condition of the men during the peril of the shipwreck was calculated to call for that cool and resigned intrepidity which has been shown, etc."- in fact the Royal Scots now evinced those heroic qualities in face of imminent destruction which were a few years later to be again so conspicuously displayed by their countrymen of the 74th Highlanders, and others, on board the "Birkenhead", when sinking off the coast of South Africa during the Kaffir war of 1852 - an exhibition of such coolness and discipline in the very jaws of death that even the King of Prussia ordered an account of the incident to be solemnly read out to every regiment in his service, as a proof that British soldiers broke not their steadfast ranks even when the roaring waves were closing above them.
Two years after the sinking of the Brikenhead, the Russian war broke out, and the Royals were ordered to the East. Two battalions strong, forming part of the 3rd Division commanded by Sir Richard England, they were present, as recorded by the proud blazonry on their colours, at the battles of the Alma, Inkerman, and the siege of Sebastopol. Here they had another opportunity of fighting side by side with their old friends and fellow comrades, the French; and several of them- rank and file- were decorated with the Legion of Honour. At the Alma the Royals had the misfortune to be used as a kind of reserve force, while their comrades of the Highland Brigade were set to break the backbone of Russian resistance on the heights; but at the siege of Sebastopol they did their ample share of duty in the trenches, and were conspicuous for their silent, dogged endurance of the terrible hardships entailed by that most mismanaged of all campaigns.
Somewhat down in their luck as to the share of front-rank fighting which had been assigned them in the Crimea, the Royals were still more unfortunate in not being sent out to India in time to share in the suppression of the Mutiny. But now, again, there turn came when they proceeded to China to take part in the reduction of the Taku Forts and the capture of Pekin, where they again fought side by side with their ancient friends, the French, to whom they proved most decidedly superior in pint of discipline, while not inferior to them in respect of courage,. And then their lot, comparatively speaking, fell on piping times of peace, which ill accorded with the past history and fighting ardour of the regiment. They were within an ace, it is true, of taking part in the Nile expedition of 1884, but on reaching Gibraltar they were diverted to South Africa to form the backbone of Sir Charles Warren's Bechuanaland field force, and afterwards sent out to Zululand to quell Dinizulu's revolt.
...Men who are filled with the glorious traditions of the ancient corps to which they are so proud to belong, and who are inspired with the ambition to live up in every respect to the standard of their famous predecessors. No wonder that the Queen herself proudly referred to the fact of her being the daughter of this regiment, when presenting the battalion with new colours at Ballater in 1876- just about two hundred years after it finally returned from France and took its permanent place on the British establishment. "In entrusting these colours to your charge," said Her Majesty, " it gives me much great pleasure to remind you that I have been associated with your regiment from my earliest infancy, when my dear father was your Colonel. He was proud of his profession, and I was always taught to consider myself a soldier's child . . . I now present these colours to you, convinced that you will uphold the glory and reputation of my 1st Regiment of Foot, the Royal Scots."
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