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Issue 23 - Set for the history books

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 23
October 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Set for the history books

In the latest in our series on the Scottish regiments, Mark Nicholls looks at the Royal Highland Fusiliers and Glasgow, the vibrant city where it still recruits many of its soldiers

As an independent regiment, days are numbered for the Royal Highland Fusiliers.

With the planned merger of Scotland’s six infantry regiments into one ‘super regiment’ next year, the RHF is set to be absorbed.

However, it is somewhat ironic that it owes its existence and name to the last major reorganisation of the British Amy in 1959 when the Royal Scots Fusiliers and The Highland Light Infantry became the Royal Highland Fusiliers (Princess Margaret’s Own Glasgow and Ayrshire Regiment).

With its regimental headquarters in Glasgow, the RHF recruits in the city and Ayrshire, as the name suggests.

Undoubtedly, there will be a determination to uphold its traditions, despite becoming a battalion of the planned new Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Its formal motto is Nemo Nos Impune Lacesset – “No one molests us with impunity.” But it also proudly proclaims “we continue to uphold the reputation of our forefathers.” And post-reorganisation, that is unlikely to change.

Under the process, the Royal Scots and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers would merge and form one battalion of the new regiment with the other four battalions made up by the Black Watch, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Highlanders and the RHF.

The RHF can trace its history back almost 330 years. The Royal Scots Fusiliers, the 21st Foot, were raised by the 5th Earl of Mar in 1678 in response to internal instability in Scotland. They gained the distinction of becoming a fusilier regiment, the term fusilier derived from the elite troops of the age who were armed with the new flintlock musket known as a Fusil.

The regiment achieved Royal status in 1712 and served under the Duke of Marlborough for a decade, including at the battles at Blenheim and Ramilles.

The Highland Light Infantry was raised just under a century later, in 1777, by John MacKenzie, Lord Macleod, as the first clan regiment in response to the outbreak of the American war of Independence. Through various mergers and amalgamations, by 1923 it became known as the “City of Glasgow Regiment.” The RHF still wears the HLI’s Mackenzie tartan trews (trousers) and retains the Flaming Grenade cap badge of the RSF.

Both the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry saw extensive service during both World Wars and had fought in the Crimea, Boer War and served in India prior to the turn of the 20th century.

Over time, soldiers from the regiments have been awarded 20 Victoria Crosses, the highest award for gallantry in the field. The first was to Private George Rogers for daring conduct in attacking a party of seven rebels single-handed at Marar, Gwalior, in India in June 1858.

The last RHF Victoria Cross was Fusilier Dennis Donnini for his bravery during an assault on a village in north west Europe in 1945. At 20, he was the youngest recipient of the VC during WWII.

Perhaps the unluckiest was Private Charles Kennedy who carried a seriously wounded comrade to safety in South Africa in November 1900. He was severely injured having volunteered to deliver a message across treturous terrain the next day, but survived only to be killed while trying to stop a runaway horse in Edinburgh in 1907.

Much of this flamboyant history is recalled in the regimental museum at 518 Sauchiehall Street, headquarters to the RHF since 1960.

The building in fact dates from 1825 and also boasts an extension from the early 1900s designed by world-renowned architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The refurbished museum was officially opened in February 1999.

RHF regimental secretary Major William Shaw explained: “We have a lot of displays laid out in terms of history and also geography, as in the various countries the regiment has served in.

“If someone comes and has a good look around they will have a clear idea of when we started, where we have been and what we are all about.” Having served in the first Gulf War of 1991, the regiment returned to Iraq in January this year.

Currently based in Cyprus, it was also awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace for its role during the aftermath of the Lockerbie air disaster of December 1988, which saw a terrorist bomb bring down Pan Am Flight 103 on the small Scottish border town.

The museum and the regimental link is just one aspect of the fascinating city of Glasgow. Acity that has rediscovered its identity in recent years and successfully made the transition from heavy industry to city of culture.

This is the image of Glasgow that is now being projected globally, a vibrant metropolis with numerous attractions and architectural delights.

As one of Europe’s culture capitals, there is a feast of art, music, visual performance and sport as well as many other attractions.

Spanning six floors, The Lighthouse on Mitchell Lane is a perfect opportunity to experience architecture and design through a changing programme of exhibitions, displays and events.

It contains the award winning Mackintosh Centre, Mackintosh Tower, with stunning city views, Vitra Conference Suite, design shop and stylish rooftop café/bar.

A great way to learn more about Mackintosh, who made such a contribution to the face of Glasgow, can be through a Mackintosh Trail ticket, which takes in the key sights associated with the architecture of the city.

This includes the Hunterian Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow, which has displays from the Mackintosh Collection, as well as works of J.M.

Whistler and one of the most important print collections in Scotland Another marvelous gallery is the Burrell Collection at Pollok Country Park. Here visitors can browse selections from the 9000 works collected by Sir William Burrell and his wife, Constance, made up of a vast array of works of all periods from across the world.

One of the most magnificent buildings of medieval Scotland is the cathedral, a rare example of a complete pre-Reformation Scottish cathedral.

An attraction of a different nature and one reflecting Glasgow’s industrial past is the Museum of Transport.

Founded in 1964, it attracts more than 500,000 visitors a year and is one of the most popular of its kind in Britain.

Through a diverse collection of vehicles and models, the museum in Bunhouse Road tells the story of transport by land and sea, with a unique Glasgow flavour.

Look for the oldest surviving pedal cycle, underground trams, Scottish-built cars and everything from horse-drawn vehicles to fire engines, motorcycles and caravans.

The Clyde Room depicts the contribution of the River Clyde, its shipbuilders and engineers to maritime history while a collection of locomotives celebrates Glasgow’s railway heritage.

As the regeneration of Glasgow Harbour develops, this will be absorbed as part of Glasgow’s £50 million Riverside museum, located where the Clyde meets Glasgow’s other main river the Kelvin, and be open in 2009.

Beyond the city is Ayrshire, another great recruiting ground for the Royal Highland Fusiliers with 80 miles of unspoiled coastal scenery, southwest of Glasgow.

Its history is diverse and runs deep from early Bronze Age standing stones, Viking raids and some of the best preserved medieval castles in the UK, as well as being the birthplace of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns.

Burns-related sites included the Bachelors’ Club in Tarbolton, the Burns House Museum in Mauchline and the Burns National Heritage Park in Alloway just south of Ayr, where there is a collection of sites associated with the bard including his birthplace, Burns Cottage.

There are numerous golf courses, in addition to the famous Open Championship venues at Troon and Turnberry. And if equine sport is more appealing, go out for a day at the races at Ayr.

This is a region long-associated with Scotland’s warrior classes. The freedom fighter William Wallace had his roots in Ayrshire, Robert the Bruce, one of Scotland’s great kings, was born at Turnberry, and the first Scottish Parliament held after Bruce’s victory over the English at Bannockburn in 1314 was held at Ayr.

Nowadays, it is the recruiting ground for a new generation of Scottish soldiers, those enlisting with the Royal Highland Fusiliers.

Ayrshire and Arran Tourism:


Royal Highland Fusliers:

Ministry of Defence:

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