How far removed is the above picture from that of a Black Isle crofter's son?
Major General Sir Hector MacDonald KCB, DSO, ADC, LL.D (1853-1903) to give his full title, left his employment in the drapery trade in Dingwall, to join the Army as a 17-yearold. He rose from that junior rank in the Gordon Highlanders, to become one of the most admired and respected soldiers of the Victorian era, and even became an Aide-de-Camp to Queen Victoria. He was popular with his men, probably because he led from the front and was a gaelic-speaking fellow Gael; they knew him as 'Eachann nan Cath' (Hector of the Battles) which sounds like the start of a legend - does it not. However, not the same with his fellow officers, perhaps because of snobbery, it is said, and this may have led to his undoing.
As a soldier, nicknamed 'Fighting Mac', he was an admired strategist and his drills are still taught at the Sandhurst Military Academy. He saw service in Afghanistan (1870s), and in North and South Africa where he was involved in the Boer War. There is a tale, undoubtedly true, that 2000 Afghans attacked his patrol and their commander was killed. 'Fighting Mac' took command, being a Colour Sergeant, led a bayonet charge, and routed them. This was in the Second Afghan War when more distinguished conduct caused his Commanding Officer to offer him the choice of a Victoria Cross or a commission. Hector chose the commission and the rest is history.
His tragic and untimely death on 25th March 1903, prompted wide-ranging mourning. On the 27th, James Scott-Skinner, one of our great Scottish fiddle composers, wrote a remarkable lament 'Hector, the Hero' which is as popular today as ever. Here is a recording, possibly by Scott-Skinner himself -
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