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seaforths

Those Bloody Kilts: The Highland Soldier in the Great War

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seaforths

There used to be a thread something along the lines of: What Book Are You Reading Now? No idea where it is anymore. Anyway, I’m just starting this book I bought last week, by Thomas Greenshields and wondered if anyone else had read it yet. First impressions - it seems very polished, well put together and rich referencing. I will post more later but if anyone else has read and would like to share their thoughts, I would be interested to see what others think of it. 

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paulgranger

I've been wondering about the book, so I'll be interested in any comments. The 'what are your reading' thread has slipped down the listings, as the last posting was on 19 March, but it's still on this subforum.

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Ghazala

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seaforths

Many thanks Paul. I obviously didn’t go back far enough through the listings to find that old thread. I’m only on page 36 at the moment so early days yet as it starts out with a pre WW1 history of the kilts in the regiments, tartans, pipes & drums etc and I’m still in that area of it. In terms of quality, I don’t know if you’ve just seen it online or whether you’ve actually had your hands on a copy but it seems to be produced in good quality, glossy pages which obviously makes it quite a weighty book  . And thanks Ghazala for the soh check :lol: I don’t know anyone daft enough to refer to it as a skirrrt to my face.

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

This:

 

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seaforths

Thank you Dai Bach y Soldiwr. I’ve put a short cut to it on my screen from your link. It used to be such a well used thread that it rarely vanished from the first couple of pages or so.

 

Now further into the book and enjoying it so far. One of the things the author addresses in this early stage is the thoughts from Kitchener and others that territorial battalions were nowhere near the required standard to serve overseas and go into battles and would take some time to get there. The subject is tackled very well and with impartiality, based on available evidence from that time. He also seems to have taken a no nonsense approach with pre war historical reputation of martial highland regiments/battalions, their achievements and failures, setting out his stalls early on and willing to expose failures as well as successes of the kilted highlanders. It is only the kilted battalions of the empire that the book deals with. I’m afraid for anyone hoping for writing on non kilted Scots, such as Tyneside Scottish, they would be disappointed. Hopefully, without giving too much away, I can come back here with some short review updates.

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Steven Broomfield

I'm awaiting a copy to review for Stand To!, so don't give away the ending!

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paulgranger

We won.

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Steven Broomfield

Thanks.

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seaforths
5 hours ago, paulgranger said:

We won.

 

 

:o

 

Could’ve posted a spoiler alert!!

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seaforths

I did note in the introduction that time constraints prevented the author from checking Canadian and South African archives in person. He states the Transvaal Scottish were kilted, wearing the Atholl Murray tartan. I had a recollection of recently seeing a photograph of some of the Transvaal Scottish in a library book that I still have on loan. The photo in the book shows 17 men, 1 of whom is a trousered officer wearing a Glengarry. The other men (4 are local to here) are all trousered and wearing bush hats. It looks as though they must have dispensed with the kilts at some point quite early on as the library book seems to have been published around June 1915. 

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Steven Broomfield

I guess the Transvaal Scottish were a bit odd: they served in German South West Africa, but I'd sort of think kilts weren't perticularly sensible. Two companies of the 4th (Scottish) South African Infantry were from the TS, and that unit did wear the Atholl kilt. Others served in the East African campaig where, again, one assumes kilts might not have been the best idea!

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seaforths

Agree Steven. I won’t expand further on the South African units, as you will be able to read it for yourself soon enough. I have some Parliamentary Papers on the fighting in East & West Africa on my very tall, to read, pile. South African records are or were notoriously difficult to gain access to and I would hope that they have relaxed their stance now. The book image quality is quite poor. I suspect it was previously published in the Banffshire Advertiser and there might be a better copy in the newspaper archives.

 

 

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Steven Broomfield

I'm nearing the end; I'm afraid I won't post too much here as the review ought to go in Stand To! as they were kind enough to send me a copy. That said, I am finding it very interesting and informative, but with a few points which are slightly off-kilter (see what I did there?). Full review should appear in the ST! after next.

 

What's your view, Seaforths?

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seaforths
Posted (edited)

Steven, your sporrantaneous response amused me no end!

 

I’m not as far through as you and he has made some throw away remarks that seem to be solely based on his own personal opinion. One example would be that, he questions the wisdom of why regular battalions were sent away from the Western Front to other theatre believing they might have had more impact by remaining where they were. The battalions were part of the Indian Division and a little digging might have revealed the reasons behind the decision making.

 

Does he mention the revolt of Scottish soldiers in 1918 at all?

 

Edit: I’ve just picked up the book again while waiting for a phone call and it was just over the next page that he mentions it but not much. It didn’t just involve men, it included officers (if my memory is correct) and it took Haig’s intervention and that he acquiesced to their conditions to resolve the matter. They didn’t just refuse to entrain, as far as I recall, they barricaded themselves in.

Edited by seaforths

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Steven Broomfield
1 hour ago, seaforths said:

 

 

I’m not as far through as you and he has made some throw away remarks that seem to be solely based on his own personal opinion. One example would be that, he questions the wisdom of why regular battalions were sent away from the Western Front to other theatre believing they might have had more impact by remaining where they were. The battalions were part of the Indian Division and a little digging might have revealed the reasons behind the decision making.

 

 

My thoughts, too. Indeed, there are several areas where supposition is trumped by facts (or maybe vice versa). For example, the Ross-shire Roll of Honour (available as a reprint from the QOH Museum) makes the percentage of London/Home Counties recruiting into the 4th Seaforths very clear and the situation can't have been very different for the other Highland battalions.

 

On the subject of battalions leaving the Western front, I suspect, too, that the 27th and 28th Divisions in Salonika are also part of the deal, and I believe they were transferred due to perceived poor performance at 2nd Ypres.

 

I'm slightly struggling: there is much good in it, but there are, as you say, a lot of assumptions. There are also quite a few situations where it is impossible to differentiate between the 'Highland' experience and that os a flat hat from Hampshire.

 

On balance I'm enjoying it, but it could have been better, possibly, if he'd kept the remit a bit narrower.

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seaforths

I totally agree Steven. There have been many times when I thought the subject matter was appropriate on a generic scale and not particularly confined to Scots. I was surprised by the coverage he gave to under age soldiers which was not an issue confined to the Scots. His sources are numerous and extensive but don’t seem to include the War Diaries. Many discussions have a definitive answer in the orders or something to offer in the orders that survive in the War Diaries at Divisional level. For example, there are often references to dress in the orders. And, as  he has strayed into the territory of the under age soldiers, there is an order in the 51st HD diaries in May 1915 that states that sending under age soldiers back to the base camp is to cease and they are to be retained at the Front.

 

He touches on the subject of dour folk early on in the book, quoting Peel or Macdonald from Campaign Reminiscences and the effect those characters have on those around them. We frequently come across them in the work place and at best they can have a sobering effect on those around them and at worst, a deleterious effect on morale. On the basis of dour folk he appears to challenge the reputation of the Scots being a martial race but the Scots have long been portrayed as a dour and miserly race and you only have to think Private Fraser (Dad’s Army) to realise that is how we are, or were seen by many. Attitudinal traits are pretty much impossible to prove and disprove, particularly when applied to an entire race of people.

 

The revolt/mutiny of 1918 would have been an appropriate place to explore policy and changes to it during the course of the war. He discusses the movement and transfers of Scots between battalions, regiments etc. when they return from being wounded. I am sure it has been discussed on the forum some years ago regarding the Territorials being given the right to return to their own battalion. I’m unsure whether this was applied across the whole of the Territorial Force or only the Scots but this right was lost after the introduction of conscription. However, if memory serves me right, following conscription, the Scots were appeased by having a right to be sent back to a battalion of their own regiment (which might be in a different division). As far as I’m aware this was not extended to the English, Irish or Welsh. I’m sure some of the policy experts on the forum would be able to quote book, chapter and verse if I have erred. 

 

He does seem to counter balance some of his arguments very well with views from both sides and from the higher and lower ranks point of view but yes, he’s spread himself too far and a narrower remit would have been better. The result in some areas has been a scratch of the surface where there could have been more meat on the bones. Overall, I am enjoying it because, where my knowledge base allows, I can read with and against the text but lamenting a little bit where he has missed real opportunities for a more robust discussion.

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Steven Broomfield

I can't disagree with any of that.

 

Harking back to the author's point about re-war recruitment, which he comments on with little supporting evidence, I looked up David French's book, Military Identities, last evening as I remembered that he covered this particular area very well. A table in there notes that 'local' (i.e. from within the regimental recruiting area) recruiting into Highland regiment in the period leading up to 1900 averaged just over 36% in the Black Watch, around 20% for the Gordons, Seaforths and Argylls and a stunning 9.6% for the Camerons.

 

Personally, I'd be intrigued to know why it was thought that, for example, the Seaforths could put three Territorial battalions into the field. The subject of recruitment would, in itself, make for a fascinating read.

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seaforths

The figures are interesting but not surprising when you consider that of the two regular pre-war battalions, one was overseas and one at home, their home postings varied geographically and enlistments would have undoubtedly come from those areas. If I commented on Seaforth Hrs and the whereabouts of the 1st Bn. at home pre-war. They were: south of England/Parkhurst/IoW, Windsor/Aldershot, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Ireland and Aldershot again for another two years. They spent 6 years in Ireland (1889-1895) and to quote Angus Fairrie during their time in Ireland ‘...the limited manpower resources of the sparsely populated north of Scotland made recruiting a persistent problem, and so from time to time the Seaforth Highlanders were opened to General enlistment. This accounted for the significant number of Englishmen and Irishmen who served in the regiment before World War 1...’ That the Seaforth Hrs applied for and received permission very early on following the outbreak of WW1, to recruit in Ireland, is a possible indication that it had historically been a fertile recruiting territory in the past.

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