Raising of the Regiment
The Royal Scots, the 1st Regiment of Foot and holders of the coveted position at the right of the line, are the oldest surviving regiment in the British army and the senior regiment of infantry. It was formed in 1633 by Sir John Hepburn of the family of Athelstaneford, who was authorised by Charles I to recruit in Scotland in order to add to a body of men who were survivors from much earlier regiments. These regiments were so old that their origins are obscure and so the Royal Scots lay claim to an ancestry of considerable antiquity. It is not for nothing that they were nicknamed 'Pontius Pilate's Bodyguard'.
It was agreed between Louis XIII of France and Charles I that the regiment would be in the service of the French. It was then called Le Regiment d'Hebron. Three years after the regiment was raised, when it was 8000 strong, John Hepburn was killed, in 1636, and succeeded by his brother George, and then by Lord James Douglas. The regiment came home temporarily in 1662 and in 1667, but it was not until 1678 that it was finally recalled and put on the Irish establishment. It fought with distinction at Tangier from 1680-1684 and established it's precedence as the regiment on the right of the line at Sedgemoor which ended the Monmouth rebellion.
During the Glorious Revolution of 1688 the regiment remained loyal to King James II. It was only after the departure of the Catholic Earl of Dumbarton and the purging of many officers and men, that the regiment finally gave its allegiance to the Protestant successors William and Mary. It was known by the Colonels' names but also as the Royal Regiment of Foot. It did not have the name of 1st of Foot until 1751.
South Africa 1884- 1891
The 1st Battalion Royal Scots were part of a 4000 strong force of British and Colonial troops that went to Bechuanaland in December 1884 under the command of Sir Charles Warren. This expedition was given the task of providing a deterrent to the Boers who were encroaching on tribal land a stealing cattle. Also German interest in the region had to be discouraged. The expedition was accomplished without bloodshed and it ended in 1885. The battalion stayed in South Africa and took part in operations in Zululand in 1888. They returned to the UK in 1891.
Mounted Infantry was employed on a large scale on the Boer War of 1899-1902 but the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots were training on ponies in Burma in 1895. The ponies were quite small, between 14 and 12 hands. The officer in command was Lieutenant J M H Davie. The detachment was taken to South Africa along with two sections from other regiments. A piper accompanied the detachment and at first experienced difficulty playing the bagpipes and riding, but found that the pony soon got used to it.
Boer War 1899-1902
If in the earlier stages of the war this fine old regiment did not get much chance to distinguish itself, it is at least satifactory to know that for over two years it did good, if not very showy, work, making no mistakes and keeping out of all 'regrettable incidents'. At Lydenburg and Bermondsey the officers and men engaged showed that the regiment is worthy of it's past.
While the 2nd Battalion were in India at this time, the 1st Battalion went to South Africa and were placed in the 3rd Division under the command of Sir William Gatacre. Fortunately they were left behind when the rest of the division suffered the defeat at Stormberg. Half the Royal Scots remained at Molteno Station and were frustrated at not being able to help their comrades as they retreated from the Boer-held hills.
Siege of Wepener April 1900
A mounted section of the Royal Scots served with the Colonial Division Mounted infantry under the command of Captain Price of Brabant's Horse. They took control of the town of Wepener in early April and were almost immediately under siege from de Wet's Boers. The Royal Scots were responsible for holding the weakest point to the left of the position. The only casualty they sustained was Lieut Hill, an officer attached to the Royal Scots from the Berkshires. The relieving force contained the rest of the 1st Battalion in the 3rd Division, this time under Lieut-Gen Chermside. They drove the Boers off and relieved the town on 25th April.
Zwaggershoch 5th Sep 1900
The battalion were next sent, with General Ian Hamilton's column, to help relieve Buller who was having difficulty reaching Lydenburg. At one stage the enemy had to be cleared from a mountain called Zwaggershoch and the Royal Scots were selected for the job. A officer of the regiment wrote about the action and told of the precipitous climb to reach the enemy. There were no casualties as the Boers retreated very quickly. But at the top the men were all soaked through with perspiration. It was 2am and despite the cold they all fell asleep except for the officer who was kept awake by the man next to him snoring 'vigourously all night'.
Lydenburg 8th Sep 1900
Hamilton's column were able to join up with Buller on 7th Sep, their advance made easier because the mountain was now clear of snipers. The approach to Lydenburg was made in good spirits as the countryside around was lush and green compared with the bare mountainous landscape they had just passed through. But the Boers were entrenched in an area protected by ravines with steep sides. The Royal Scots, 1200 strong, were in the front line on the right. They had to climb down into a 400 foot ravine and advance along it, covered by accurate artillery fire. Buller remarked to Smith-Dorrien the commander of the Brigade: 'By Jove! Those Royal Scots are devils to go. I never saw a regiment cross such ground so quickly.' They fixed bayonets as they went but were disappointed to find the Boers gone when they reached the trenches.
Bermondsey 16th May 1901
From the autumn of 1900 to the close of the war the battalion operated in the Eastern Transvaal, some doing garrison work and some companies trekking. During the early part of 1901 Colonel Douglas was in command of a column which included 700 men of the Royal Scots. The column operated in the neighbourhood of the Delagoa line. On 16th May the Boers were found to be holding a strong position at Bermondsey. Their flanks were well protected by precipices, but a company of the Royal Scots, with great difficulty, eventually got round the Boer right, and the position was then captured. Three officers and four men were commended for gallantry in Kitchener's despatch and Lieutenant Price was recommended for the VC.
Early in 1902 some companies were with Colonel Park in a column which made some useful captures. At the close of the campaign the battalion was doing garrison work about Balmoral and Middleburg. Garrison duty in this case meant manning the thousands of blockhouses built in lines by Kitchener to contain the Boers. They were sturdily constructed of local stone and many have survived to the present day. The men inside were generally quite safe from attack but it was a tedious way to spend the time.
World War 1
The Royal Scots entered the war with 2 regular battalions, the 3rd in reserve, and 7 Territorial Army battalions. As the war progressed more battalions were raised, 34 in all. They won 71 battle honours, 6 Victoria Crosses and lost 11,160 men.
The 1st Battalion were in Allahabad in 1914 but were back in the UK by the middle of November. They were placed in the 81st Brigade in the 27th Division and sent to France just before Christmas. A year later they were sent to Salonika on the Bulgarian front. For the first half of 1916 there was little fighting, but from positions in the Struma Valley they assisted in capturing Bala and Zir in Sept. The battalion spent the following 2 years in and out of the line, and during the Allied summer offensive of 1918 mounted raids and diversionary attacks in the Vardar sector. This was an unhealthy place that brought many casualties from disease.
The 2nd Battalion, based in Plymouth, was part of the British Expeditionary Force, in 8th Brigade in General Smith-Dorrien's Second Army Corps. They took up positions around Mons on 23rd Aug 1914 but were very soon ordered to withdraw to Le Cateau. Private Thomas Hunter wrote about their experience there:
"We held our ground at Le Cateau from an early hour in the morning til half past four in the afternoon, a terrific fire pouring in on us all the time. The shells dropped on us like rain, many of them bursting in the trenches around. C Company of the Royal Scots got the worst of it there, the shrapnel causing terrible havoc among them. The transport we had was completely destroyed. It was stationed in a farmyard - many wagons containing ammunition and provisions - and when the Germans got the range of it, it was absolutely wiped out, many of the horses being killed and the wagons being blown into the air like matchwood."
The battalion moved on to Cambrai for two days, then south through St Quintin. At Vailly just east of Soissons they encountered strong fortifications on the River Aisne. The 8th Brigade led the attack across the river and dug themselves in but were heavily bombarded by German artillery on the heights and had to retire. Finally they arrived at Meaux on the River Marne. The withdrawal halted here and an advance was made to Orly-sur-Marne and Braisne where the Royal Scots helped eject the Germans.
On 14th July 1916 the 2nd, 11th and 12th battalions attacked in the Longueval sector. The German forward positions were captured, but in the village itself the enemy put up a fierce resistance and they could not keep possession of their gains. Later the 2nd attacked south of Guillemont.
By late August the 2nd met stiff resistance in the Ancre Valley and were counter-attacked while holding positions on the Somme. In October they suffered heavy casualties fighting around Cambrai. The battalion produced two winners of the VC, Private Robson and Private McIver.
5th and 6th Battalions
The 5th Battalion Royal Scots was formed in 1908 from the Queen's Edinburgh Rifles. This volunteer unit provided the 4th and 5th Battalions. The 5th were employed on coastal defence work in 1914 but were part of the 29th Division at Gallipoli when they landed on 25th April 1915. They advanced three miles, in constant contact with the Turkish enemy and had to dig in at Achi Baba Nullah under heavy fire. The Turks attacked on 1st May and the battalion mounted a successful bayonet charge against them.
For a while the battalion were in reserve but were called forward to the attack. This was against a very strong force of the enemy and they lost 300 men whilst making only a small gain. They stayed in the trenches at Sulva until they were withdrawn from Gallipoli in December 1915. They arrived in France in 1916 and were amalgamated with the 6th Battalion because of depleted numbers.
The 6th Battalion were sent to Egypt in early 1916. Their task was to defend British garrisons from the Senussi. These tribesmen were quickly defeated and the battalion did not remain there for long. They were sent to France and amalgamated with the 5th.
In August 1918 they were advancing steadily and in September the final offensive was launched and the 5th/6th attacked the Hindenburg Line by the St Quentin Canal. They met the fiercest resistance in the village of Sequehart which changed hands several times on 3rd October but was finally held by them. Later that month, on the Sambre Canal and Hoogmolen they had a stiff fight against strongly held positions. It was at Hoogemolen on 22nd Oct that Lieutenant David MacGregor of the 6th Btn lost his life and won a VC.
7th (Leith) Battalion
The 7th battalion boarded a train for France but most of them never left Scotland. A terrible train crash occurred at Quintinshill just north of Gretna in May 1915. They were packed into the train like sardines, and it collided with a local train containing civilians. This would have been bad enough but a high speed Glasgow express with two engines smashed into the wreckage. On top of this, the wooden carriages caught fire and burned fiercely. There were 470 soldiers on board but only 58 were able to attend a roll-call. 227 died, along with 50 civilians.
4th and 7th Battalions
The remains of the battalion, in the 52nd Lowland Division, were sent, with the 4th Battalion to Gallipoli, arriving in June. They were ordered to attack Gully Ravine and Achi Baba and sustained heavy casualties. The two battalions went on to Egypt with the 52nd Lowland Division and were employed in the Suez Canal defences for several months.
In August 1916 they fought at the battle of Romani on the Sinai coast and helped defeat the Turks decisively. They advanced into Palestine and acted as fire support in the second battle of Gaza. They also took part in the 3rd battle of Gaza. The 4th Battalion were very successful in seizing the fortifications at El Arish. They pushed on to Jerusalem and finally routed the Turks from Palestine at the river Auja. In April 1918 they were sent to the Western Front. The two battalions assaulted German positions in late August near the Hindenburg Line at Queant, and captured them.
9th (Highland) Battalion
In 1914 the 9th kilted battalion went to France in the 27th Division. Later they were placed in the 51st Highland Division and fought at High Wood in July 1916, and Beaumont Hamel. On 9th April 1917 they were in the 6 day Battle of Arras and made some good progress but in the German counter-attack they suffered heavy casualties.
In the next offensive in August 1917 they were involved in the attacks in the Ypres area on Passchendaele, but gained little ground. At the battle of Cambrai on 20th Nov they captured much ground at Fontaine. When the Germans launched their final offensive against the British line in March 1918, all the Royal Scots battalions were heavily involved over a long period. The 9th, which held its positions successfully, was nevertheless almost entirely wiped out.
|Nemo me impune lacessit
(no-one goes unpunished who provokes me)
|Pontius Pilate's Bodyguard
|1881 - 1974
|1881 - 1974
|Pipes and Drums
|1881 - 1968
|1881 - 1974
|1881 - 1968
|28th March - Foundation Day
|Quick: Dumbarton's Drums
The Daughter of the Regiment
(when Royalty is present)
Slow: The Garb of Old Gaul
|1881 - 1974
EGMONT OP ZEE
ST LUCIA 1803
SOUTH AFRICA 1899-1902
MARNE 1914, 1918
YPRES 1915, 1917, 1918
SOMME 1916, 1918
ARRAS 1917, 1918
DEFENCE OF ESCAUT
NORTH-WEST EUROPE 1940, 1944-5
WADI AL BATIN
RETREAT FROM MONS
LA BASSEE 1914
ALBERT 1916, 1918
ANCRE 1916, 1918
ARRAS 1917, 1918
SCARPE 1917, 1918
CANAL DU NORD
ST QUENTIN CANAL
FRANCE AND FLANDERS 1914-18
LANDING AT HELLES
ST OMER-LA BASSEE
DEFENCE OF RAURAY
SOUTH-EAST ASIA 1941
RELIEF OF KOHIMA
The Royal Scots Regimental Museum
Tel: 0131 310 5015
'The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment)'
by A M Brander (Leo Cooper 1976)
Historical Record of the First, or Royal Regiment of Foot: containing an account of the origin of the regiment in the reign of King James VI of Scotland and its subsequent services to 1846
by Richard Cannon (Parker Furnivall & Parker 1847)
The Royal Scots 1914-1919'
(2 vols) by J Ewing (Oliver & Boyd 1925)
'Regiments and Corps of the British Army'
by Ian S Hallows (New Orchard 1994)
'The Scottish Regiments'
by Diana M Henderson (Harper Collins 1993)
'A Regiment at War: The Royal Scots 1939-45'
by McBain (Pentland)
'Records of the Royal Scots 1633-1911'
by McCance (Alexander Thorn, Dublin)
The Scottish Regiments 1633-1996
by Patrick Mileham Spellmount 1996
'The First of Foot: The History of the Royal Scots'
by A Muir (Edinburgh 1961)
The Scottish Regiments (Europa Militaria No.24)
by Ted Nevill The Crowood Press 1999
The Lowland Regiments
by W Pratt-Paul (Impulse 1972)
The Best Soldier: Sir John Hepburn, Marshal of France
by Elizabeth Scott (2012) (2nd Edition 2015)
'Three Hundred Years: The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment)'
by H J Simpson (Skinner 1933)
'The Royal Scots
by Laughlan Maclean Watt (W P Nimmo, Hay and Mitchell, Edinburgh 1916)
The Story of the Royal Scots (The Lothian Regiment)
by Lawrence Weaver Country Life, (London 1915)
An Historical Account of His Majesty’s First, or the Royal Regiment of Foot: General George, Duke of Gordon GCB, Colonel.
Compiled by Major Joseph Wetherall
'The Scottish Soldier'
by Stephen Wood (Archive Publications 1987)