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Issue 88 - Roddy Martine's View: Scottish Regiments

Scotland Magazine Issue 88
August 2016


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Roddy Martine's View: Scottish Regiments

Roddy Martine muses on the lessons to be learned from Scotland's regiments

I have always believed that one of Scotland’s greatest strengths lies in its people’s awareness of their turbulent national history. Nowhere is that legacy better illustrated than in the annals of the fighting men from the days of Pontius Pilate's bodyguard and the claim of The Royal Scots that the regiment dates from as early as 33AD.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not militarist by nature, but there can be no better understanding of the impact of Scots on the wider world than that found in the regimental museums of the Gordon Highlanders in Aberdeen; at Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle; at the Highlanders Museum, Fort George; at Balhouse Castle, Perth; the Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum, Glasgow, and the Cameronians Museum, Hamilton.

In this edition of Scotland Magazine my colleague Charles Douglas visits Stirling Castle, a tableau of infamy and triumph. Around the same time, however, I found myself ascending the cobbled artery into Edinburgh Castle to attend the unveiling of a glittering display in the Regimental Museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

The occasion was to commemorate Sir William Robertson, a First World War hero whose early employment was as a garden boy. When he enrolled in the army aged 17 in 1877, his mother, like all mothers horrified at the prospect of their sons being sent to war, wrote to him, ‘What cause have you to join such low life? There are plenty of things Steady Young Men can do when they can write and read as you can.’ Yet this was the son who went on to influence the winning course of the First World War; was created a baronet by King George V; argued with Prime Ministers and, latterly, became a Field Marshall, praised for being ‘the brains of the British Army.’ Sir William is a classic example of a young impoverished Scot who rose to the top through sheer determination and courage. In his case, it was through the army, and such opportunities are very different now, but the lesson is there for all to see.

The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys), The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment), The King's Own Scottish Borderers, The Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons), The Scots Guards, The Royal Highland Fusiliers (Princess Margaret's Own Glasgow and Ayrshire Regiment), The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), and The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise's). Between the late 16th and 19th Centuries when Britain ruled an Empire, it was these proud Scottish regiments, each with their own area of recruitment, which created the glue that held everything together. All are now merged into the one Royal Regiment of Scotland within the British Army, but it is their individual stories, such as that of Field Marshall Robertson, which linger on.

Up until recently, it could be observed that there was not one family in Scotland that did not have a Scottish regimental connection, be it through a grandfather, father or uncle. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Scots are a martial race and this is the reason tickets for the annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in August sell out six months in advance and the television coverage is watched by over 100 million worldwide.

I recommend a visit to see Field Marshall Robertson's display in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum at Edinburgh Castle. It proves to succeeding generations that given the right instincts and a will to succeed, nothing is impossible.

Visitor Information
Edinburgh Castle
Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG