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The Black Watch: Fighting in the Front Line 1899-2006

Victoria Scholfield
The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) have had a very busy time in the period 1899-2006, albeit probably no more busy than any other British Infantry Line Regiment. What the author has done though is to bring to the fore the many conflicts that the Regiment has been in and fully documented them. This is a full-on Regimental History and is stuffed full of events that the Regiment has been involved in. This is Volume Two in the Regiment’s history and, as it was merged into the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006, it is the last Volume.

The book follows the time honoured formats of regimental History taking information from those that were there through diaries and letter and latterly interviews interspersed with bits from the Regimental War Diaries or peacetime journals. The latter bits are naturally more intimate as they are done through interviews and are closer to the actual event. This takes absolutely nothing away from the remainder of the book as each in its own way illustrates the busy life of the Regiment.

The war time events are very much the voice of the soldier taking part and not the ‘official’ Regimental voice that the between wars bits take on. The letters from WW1 are often very poignant yet buoyant and full of hope even though the conditions were atrocious. The author has caught the feeling of the Battalions very well and allowed them to articulate their stories very well. The Regiment took part in virtually all the major actions of WW1, on the Western Front and other areas including the 13th Battalion which was formed from members of the Scottish Horse who were converted to infantry after Gallipoli where they had fought. They and the 10th Battalion fought on the Salonika Front.

‘Tween wars is quite sparse as once an exercise or scheme has been described that is about it, but it does detail the movements of the Battalions up to the time that all were amalgamated into one Battalion and then the story follows them. In this time the Regiment was deployed to India, Khartoum and Palestine, all very tense areas.

WW2 is the largest section stretching from St Valery through to the Desert and North West Europe – certainly a very busy time for several of the Black Watch battalions. It does not miss out on the other tasks undertaken as the 2nd Battalion as Chindits in Burma or 4th Battalion as the Gibraltar Garrison, where one of their sentries had the dubious honour of arresting and detaining Eisenhower, who happened to be in civilian clothes at the time! Ike laughed it off but at least the sentry was doing his job. As in the First World War the Watch distinguished itself and added more to the great reputation it had.

We now have the Cold War period, which for the British Infantryman was anything but at times. The Black Watch were in Korea for the Third Battle of the Hook, Kenya for the Mau-Mau Uprising, Cyprus during the EOKA insurgency, N Ireland for OP Banner (many tours), Kosovo for Op Agricola then Iraq and Afghanistan for Op Telic and Herrick and these were only the major ones– all in all quite a busy period covering the end of WW2 to the merging into the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006. In between all the various operations and deployments, the Regiment were able to undertake such engagements as the hand back of Hong Kong and New Territories to the Chinese, a task carried out superbly with all the pomp and circumstance required.

The author Victoria Schofield, is a renowned historian and author, not the least of which was The Highland Furies: The Black Watch 1739-1899 (Volume one of this History). Schofield could have brought a dry but accurate depiction of the Black Watch in the 20th Century but she has not. The book goes well beyond the dry to the soldier themselves, telling the story of the Regiment and the tasks it has had to do and recounting the action of some of those who were lost. I enjoyed reading about this Regiment, it is a well known one which has used public relations well over the years, but all of that has been solidly backed up by the actions of the men taking part. It is a worthy addition to the bookshelf of anyone with an interest in the Scottish soldier, especially a Highland soldier.

The story of the Regiment covers 600 pages of this 800+ page book. The remainder comprises of an extensive series of Appendices covering chronology, personalities, comprehensives Notes, a ‘select’ Bibliography covering 10 pages and a detailed and useful Index; all in all quite a piece of work.

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For the soldier who served in The Highland Regiment this book should be a must have and would be well above the 5 stars we can give, but to the ordinary reader with an interest in a fine British Regiment then this should sit at 4 Mr Mushroomheads
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