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The History of the Black Watch

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The History of the Black Watch
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Author(s): Archibald Forbes
Date Published: 2010/04
Page Count: 236
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-169-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-170-6

The first 150 years of one of the British Army’s most renowned regiments

Archibald Forbes was a notable author, journalist and special correspondent during the British colonial wars of the Victorian era, so he was well positioned by personal experience to pen this history of a famous Scottish Highland regiment. ‘The Black Watch,’ ‘The Forty-Twa,’ the ‘42nd Regiment of Foot,’ ‘The Royal Highlanders’—First to come, Last to go. The titles of this legendary regiment are many and its fame well and hard earned on many a bloodily contested ground from its birth to the present day. Forbes wrote his own history from the perspective of his own time—a decade before the close of the nineteenth century. We join the regiment in these pages during the Seven Years War in Europe and in its theatre of the New World—popularly known as the French and Indian War—where the regiment would pay dearly before Ticonderoga. The Black Watch had not done with Indians as it fought to secure the backwoods frontier, notably at Bloody Run and Bushy Run. The American War of Independence was followed by the war against Napoleonic France which would see the regiment in service in Egypt, in battles across the Peninsula, at Corunna with Moore and, as the epoch came to an end with the Emperor’s fall, with great loss at Quatre Bras and Waterloo with Wellington. More hard soldiering came in the Crimea and this valiant force was the hand of retribution in the Indian Mutiny. The book closes with encounters with the Ashanti and the expedition to relieve Gordon in Khartoum. Forbes is the author of two other books published by Leonaur on Britain’s Wars in Afghanistan. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket for collectors.

On dingy paper and faded ink there now lies before the writer the quaint and honest narrative by a long since dead and gone soldier of the “Forty-Twa,” of the affair which won for his regiment the “red heckle,” or, as he styles it, the “red feather.” The chronicler has not dated his story, but he has appended his name, “Rowland Cameron, pensioner, 42nd Regiment” And the following is his narrative, told in his own words:—<br>
A movement of the army having taken place on the last days of December, 1794, the 42nd Regiment, quartered at Thiel [Thuyl], received orders to march late on the night of 31st December, towards Bomell [Bommel], distant about twenty miles on the opposite [south] side of the river Waal, and arrived about four o’clock, 1st January, 1795, near the bank of the river, having taken a circuitous route, as also a number more regiments, and rested till daybreak, when an attack was made, and drove the French across the river on the ice, and held a position on the bank of the river till the evening of the 3rd, when a partial retreat took place, leaving strong picquets. The picquets were overpowered by the French and obliged to retreat [northward] towards the village of Guildermansen [Gildermalsen], where the 42nd and other corps were stationed The cavalry of the French pushed their way on the retreating picquets to the very ranks, some of which fell into our hands, a Trumpeter of which remained with the regiment for some time after our arrival in England, and which was given over to the York Rangers for a trumpeter at the formation of that corps.<br>
The 11th Light Dragoons [now Hussars] were stationed in front of the village to cover the retreat of the picquets with their two field-pieces, and instead of resisting the charge of the French cavalry, they immediately retreated at a furious rate to the rear of the village, leaving the guns in possession of the French cavalry, who commenced dragging them off. An aide-de-camp [Major Rose] came and ordered the commanding officer [Major Dalrymple] of the 42nd Regiment to advance and retake the guns of the 11th Dragoons, which was immediately complied with, with the loss of one man killed and three wounded.<br>
The guns were dragged in by the corps as the harness had been cut and the horses disabled; there was no notice taken of this affair at the time, as all was bustle and confusion. A further retreat took place on the 5th to Bueherun [Buren], where the Prince of Orange had a palace, which the 27th, 28th, and 42nd Regiments occupied for the 6th and 7th, and on the 8th January, 1795, commenced a retreat across the Rhine, and continued it until early in April, when the British army embarked at Bremalie [Bremen or Bremerhafen] in Hanover, for England, and landed at Harwich. Much had been said and conjectured about the conduct of the 11th Dragoons on the 4th January, 1795; and although it was rumoured that some distinctive mark was to be awarded to the 42nd Regiment, it never was thought that the transfer of the Red Feather from the 11th Dragoons to the corps was to be the distinctive mark conferred. The 11th Dragoons were substituted with a White Feather and yellow top. On the 4th June, 1795, when quartered at Royston, near Cambridge, after fireing three rounds in honour of H.M. George 3rd’s birthday, a box containing the feathers arrived on the common, which were distributed to the officers and men; the commanding officer giving a speech on the subject of which the honour of wearing the Red Feather was conferred on the 42nd Regiment for their gallant conduct on the 4th January, 1795.<br>
The officers and men placed the Feathers in their bonnets and marched into Royston, and on the evening of the 4th June were paid the arrears due for eighteen months, with a caution to keep close to their own billets and be regular.<br>
Pensioner Cameron adds:<br>
I have seen some time ago in a newspaper that the Red Feather was awarded for their exploits in Egyp. How could that be? The Red Feather floated over the heads of the 42nd men in the West Indies and taking Minorca long before the exploits that took place in Egypt It will not be long,” he remarks with feeling, “till there will be but few who can give any account of how, where or when the transfer took place, but I daresay there are individuals still at Royston who remembers sharing in the washing of the Red Feather, 4th June, 1795.<br>
Another description of the winning of the “red feather” by the gallantry of the 42nd has been preserved, the recorder being a man in the ranks, participating in the honour achieved by the regiment Private Andrew Dowie is more succinct than his comrade, Rowland Cameron, but he describes the incident more vividly.<br>
“On January 1st, 1795,” so writes Andrew while a pensioned veteran, “our army consisting of the 42nd, 78th, 80th, and 19th,” probably a brigade, “drove the French again across the Waal; the 42nd retired to Guildermaslen, about three miles to the rear. The French crossed a second time, and attacked the 78th in our [42nd] front; the 11th Light Dragoons covering the 78th with two pieces of cannon. The French being very superior in numbers pressed the 78th so hard that they were obliged to give way; the cavalry also giving way, leaving their guns, which the enemy turned upon us. In the affair General Sir Robert Lowrie [Lawrie] received a severe rub on the right cheek, and was along with Sir David Dundas when he [Sir David] called out ‘Forty-Second! for God’s sake and for the honour of your country retake those guns!’ Two companies were sent out which were repulsed; other two companies were then sent out and succeeded in recapturing them with great loss [to the French]. Lieutenant James Jonathan Fraser commanded our company in the absence of Captain Anstruther; on the guns being brought in, General Sir David Dundas called out, ‘Forty-Second, the 11th Dragoons shall never wear the red plume on their helmets any more, and I hope the 42nd will carry it so long as they are the Black Watch!’ I heard Sir David pronounce those words; when we arrived in Essex we got the red heckle.”