The Black Watch

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  • The Black Watch Museum, at Balhousie Castle in Perthshire
    The Black Watch Museum, at Balhousie Castle in Perthshire

An elite battalion of the British Army, Scotland’s Black Watch boasts a regimental heritage which stretches back almost three centuries. From its beginnings during the tumultuous period of the Jacobite risings to military campaigns in distant lands and the trenches of the First World War, the name of the Black Watch is synonymous with honour, gallantry and unwavering dedication to King and Country.

Active:

1 July 1789 - 28 March 2006

Type:

Line Infantry

Regimental Depot:

Queen's Barracks, Perth

Nicknames:

The regiment was sometimes known as ‘The Forty Twa’ after its parent regiment, the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot, while other regiments referred to its members as the ‘The Black Jocks’. Die Damen aus der Hölle, ‘The Ladies from Hell’, was the name given to them by the German troops during the First World War, reputedly on account of their kilts and fearlessness on the battlefield. 

Motto:

Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (No one provokes me with impunity)

Marches:

All the Bonnets are o’er the Border (quick march), The Garb of Old Gaul (slow march), Hielan Laddie (pipes and drums quick march), My Home (pipes and drums slow march) and Highland Cradle Song (pipes and drums slow march)

Tartan:

The Black Watch which was officially known as the Government Tartan. The same tartan or near-identical variations of it were worn by the six original Highland companies which comprised the 43rd Royal Highland Regiment, later to become the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot.

Origins:

The Black Watch can trace its roots back to 1725 when General George Wade was authorised by George II to from six ‘watch’ regiments to patrol the Highlands following the Jacobite Rising of 1715. They were recruited from clans loyal to the crown: Campbell, Fraser, Munro and Grant to guard against inter-fighting between the clans, raiding and maintain law and order.

Originally titled The Regiment of the Line, the force became known in Gaelic as Am Freiceadan Dubh, ‘The Black Watch’. It is said that this unofficial title was nothing more than a reference to to the dark tartan plaid of the regiment’s uniform. However, there are other theories that it may have arisen from the hostility felt towards the regiment by the Highlanders who regarded it as the ‘black-hearted’ enforcer of a tyrannical government. It may also have been derived from one the regiment’s missions at the time to safeguard against protection rackets, a practice more commonly known as ‘black mail’.

In 1881 following the introduction of Childers Reforms, by which time the regiment had been retitled the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot, it became amalgamated with the 73rd (Perthshire) Regiment of Foot. Together they formed the two battalions of the newly created Black Watch (Royal Highlanders).

Prior to the outbreak of the First World War the regiment served in many overseas campaigns in India, Egypt, Sir Lanka and South Africa during the Second Boer War.

First World War:

The 25 battalions of the regiment fought over the course of the First World War, mainly in Flanders and France, except the 2nd and 10th battalions which served in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Palestine and the Balkans. It was awarded 25 battle honours, 4 Victoria Crosses and lost 8,000 men.

Did you know?

  • When wearing the kilt, it is traditional for the troops of the Black Watch to ‘go regimental’ or ‘military practice’ and like 'true Scotsmen' wear nothing underneath.
  • The National Theatre of Scotland’s award-winning production The Black Watch debuted in 2006. Written by Gregory Burke, it offers a visceral, witty and at times harrowing depiction of the physical and psychological trials faced by today’s Black Watch deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan; it also explores the rapidly evolving nature of modern warfare and the moral conundrums it presents to soldiers.
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