The Corner

Demise of The Black Watch

I posted last week about the decommissioning of a fine old Scottish regiment, the Black Watch Highlanders (a.k.a. the 42nd Regiment of Foot). This drew a surprisingly big email bag. Some samples:

[Reader] I was quite upset to hear about the Black Watch. … My parents are from the vicinity of [name of district] Germany. I have uncles who fought the Black Watch. They don’t speak English but they can sure pronounce ‘Black Watch’ accurately; and respectfully. The Ladies from Hell indeed. One of them is a Romanian German, former corporal of the Waffen SS. Still crazy and still hard as nails. This news will make him happy. The demise of the Black Watch is bad news indeed.

[Derb] Well, at least they lasted longer than the Waffen SS!

[Reader] Sad indeed. A telling story of the famed regiment is related on the album cover of “The British Are Coming!” — The Royal Marines and Black Watch musical salute to America’s Bicentennial. While the regiment distinguished itself on the field of battle, the Black Watch accepted no honors. According to the album cover notes written by Commander Kenneth R. Force, USMS, “Their regimental history states: We can boast no Battle Honors for our part in the American War of Independence because it is rightly decreed that Battle Honors should not be granted for a war with our kith and kin.” I am saddened.

[Derb] Ah, the cousin wars. All very regrettable. Given that many of Britain’s best regiments were Scottish (like the Black Watch); and that America’s best soldiers were the Scotch-Irish of the colonial back-country, there must have been many actual cousins fighting each other.

[Reader] Mr. Derbyshire—I sent the article about the demise of the Black Watch to a retired friend of mine. We both live in Upstate NY. I got this in return. It was circulated to a list of “Scottish descendants, sympathizers, and history buffs”:

I received the below email today and can’t believe it. … The Black Watch began as a police force in the highlands and became one of the world’s most celebrated military regiments. Some of the battles the Black Watch participated in over many years, centuries, are mentioned below. But also to be remembered is their role in the battle for Fort Ticonderoga against Montcalm and his French soldiers during the French & Indian War, 1757-1759. Thousands of British soldiers, led by the Black Watch, kept on advancing against the fort in waves, reminiscent of a battle in Europe. Hundreds of the Black Watch were cut down in that battle.

One of those Black Watch soldiers, an officer, was Major Duncan Campbell, lord of a castle in Scotland. He was seriously wounded in the arm in that battle and taken to British Fort Edward, around 20 miles south of Fort William Henry at Lake George, to have his arm amputated and died several days later. He is buried in Union Cemetery in the town of Fort Edward. Some of you may recall Fort Edward being the fort that British survivors of the French siege and capture of Fort William Henry by Montcalm were marching to when they were attacked and massacred by Indian allies of the French. This is remembered in the famous story “The Last of the Mohicans” by the author James Fenimore Cooper….

[Derb] I am glad to know the Black Watch is so well remembered over here. It is indeed sad to see these fine old regiments downgraded to battalions in new regiments with names out of some bureaucrat’s phrasebook, in this case the “Royal Regiment of Scotland.” Here is the original news story.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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