Ross & Cromarty War Memorials

A Brief History of the Lovat Scouts

English with Gaelic translation

 

Born of the genius of Simon Joseph, 16th Lord Lovat KT, GCVO, KCMG, CB, DSO, the Lovat Scouts quickly became one of the most admired and respected of Highland Regiments. Although the Regiment was formed at Beauly, just over the County border, Ross & Cromarty was involved from the start as a recruiting centre in Dingwall, then in a number of Squadrons, and there was a Ross Troop.

The Regiment was formed when Lord Lovat realised that much of the disasterous defeats in the early months of the South African War (1899 - 1902) was caused by lack of any real reconnaisance. This was referred to, at the time, as 'avoidable ???'. See Boer War Appendix for more detail.

Lord Lovat put his idea to the War Office on 12th December 1899. After only a fortnight he was authorised to raise one, then two companies, 'primarily for scouting purposes'. One company was to be mounted, and the other foot. Ten officers were chosen from the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders. This was Inverness-shire remember. Five of them had previous military service abroad, but all had to have been trained. Recruiting centres in Dingwall, Fort William, Inverness, Lairg, Oban, and Perth produced more that 1,500 applicants for the 236 vacancies; therefore five out of every six were not chosen. 80 of these were primarily stalkers, and the others had to have such qualities as marksmanship, stamina, riding ability, military service was an advantage. Other skilled men such as trained signallers, shoeing smiths, harness specialists were sought.

A roll-call of these original volunteers was to be typical of the Regiment for the next fifty years. There were 19 Macdonalds, 9 Frasers, 9 Macleans, 8 Grants, 6 Mackays, 6 Maclennans, 6 Rosses, 5 Mackintoshes, 5 Mackenzies, 4 Camerons, 4 Mathesons, 4 Robertsons, 4 Morrisons, and two or three from each of the Clans Chisholm, Davidson, Forbes, Gordon, Henderson, Macleod, Murray, MacPherson, Macrae, Stewart, Sutherland, and Urquhart; so about half the Regiment were clansmen. It is recorded that there were some from the South of Scotland, and even six foreigners from Suffolk, London, New Zealand, Bangalore, and Australia.

The uniform of the Regiment was a khaki tunic with leather buttons. The Mounted Company wore breeches, brown spats, and stalking shoes. The Foot Company wore khaki nickerbockers with stockings, spats, and stalking shoes. Both wore slouch hats, turned up at one side, with a patch of Red Fraser tartan which had been sown on by ladies and friends of the Lovat family. he ponies had to be 'over 5 years old and between fourteen and fifteen hands high'. Their rifle was the .303 LEE-METFORD. An essential and characteristic item of equipment was the 'glass', the stalking telescope that is.

The Scouts had mobilised at Beaufort, Beauly, by mid-January 1900. That winter was bitterly cold and snow lay for weeks. Training went on all the same until 9th March when the First Contingent departed from Beauly Station on their way to South Africa. However, the 1st Company had a set-back when some of the ponies contracted 'pink-eye' on their way from Glasgow to Southampton on the 'America'. Four horses died before they arrived, and the others ha to be quarantined. These horses were replaced by some newly-acquired Argentinian ones, and the Company then embarked on the 'Glengyle' on 25th March, arriving in Cape Town on 17th April.

The 2nd Company was originally designated as Foot but changed over to be a mounted unit when a better understanding of the job they were to do in South Africa became clear. They also left Beauly but went to Southampton by rail. Embarking on the 'Tintagel Castle' they arrived in Cape town on March 31st, some time before the delayed 1st Company. Mounted training completed, the 2nd Company was ready for battle before the 1st Company which had again been struck by 'pink-eye'.

British fortunes in the Boer War, up until then, had suffered more defeats and disasters. The situation began to improve when Ladysmith and Kimberley were relieved, but Mafeking was still beseiged. But the Boers had been defeated, by Lord Roberts, at Paardberg, and their General Cronje, a giant of a man, and victor at Magersfontein, (see Seaforths for details) had been captured with 4,000 of his men. Lord Roberts had occupied Bloemfontein, Capital of the Orange Free State, when the Scouts arrived in the war zone. It was a harrowing three-day journey, by rail and in cattle-trucks, to Bloemfontein. The weather at night was severe, so much so that water bottles froze solid. Worse still, there was only one blanket per man during the whole journey. Dysentry struck and their Company Commander, captain Stewart, had to be invalided home. He was succeeded by Lieutenant Brodie of Brodie. Incidently, Bloemfontein was to be the location of one of two Memorials to the Seaforths, the other one being in Dingwall.

The Company moved north, riding and marching alternately, for a week, with supplies on mule waggons. Their first action was in contributing to the capture of Johannesburg and Pretoria. They were now doing the job they had been set up to do. One of the first battles the Scouts were involved in was Diamond Hill from whence their Division moved east to Heidelburg. At the same time, the Highland Brigade, commanded by that famous Highland soldier and Dingwall hero, Sir Hector Macdonald. This was good news because the 1st Company was with the Brigade and so the two companies were together again as a Regiment, and were to remain that way for the rest of the War.

The 1st Company had not been able to leave Cape Town until mid-May because of sickness among the men; fever and dysentry had struck them. Lord Lovat was unfit and Sergeant Morrison died of it. They moved to Bloemfontein as the 2nd Company had done before them, and then on to Kronstad and Pretoria. The Highland Brigade was in trouble at Heilbron so they went to join a force under General Paget. This did not work because General Paget had gone off to attempt a rescue elsewhere. After some skirmishes with the Boers, and a rearguard action by Lt Fraser-Tytler, the Scouts met a patrol of Seaforths. One can imagine the reaction on both sides when that happened. They had found the Highland Brigade - no mean feat in such a vast country - and were welcomed enthusiastically by their fellow-countrymen, who just happened to be commanded by General Sir Hector Macdonald. He then used them in the role they had been set up for - scouting.

The Brigades' position was surrounded by some 7000 Boers, yet the Scouts had got through. What an excellent example of stealth and moving silently, their 'raison d'etre'. Another similar example of Scout capability was when General Macdonald wanted a message delivered to General metheun, probably relating to their being seiged. A Scout, one J ohn MacPherson from Ardgay, not only got through, but brought back valuable information about the Boer's positions. For that he earned a Mentioned in Desoatches. Three days later, General Metheun broke through to Heilbron and relieved the Highland Brigade.

The 1st Company acted as escort to a convoy to Vredefort, where, after a brief encounter with some Boers, were quite delighted to find Lord Lovat there, who took over command of the Company again. It turned out that Lord Lovat had missed a train which saved him from an encounter with the Boer General de Wet when he captured some Highland Brigade re-inforcements.

Yet another example of the skill of the Scouts is related when one of their Observation Posts (OPs) detected waggons and a large body of men in a secluded valley over five miles away. It was de Wets hiding place. But, for some reason. possible because he did not understand/believe that Scouts could see five miles, General Metheun did not act. Had he done so, the War might have been shortened by a year, it was said. Apparently, de Wet was making for the Roodebergen mountains so the Highland Brigade went off in pursuit, the 1st Company went with them. It was at Frankfort that they were re-united with 2nd Company.

General Hunter, the Army Commander, had reached the foothills of the Roodebergen Mountains and desparately needed information as to the whereabouts of the Boers. Of the Lovat Scouts he wrote in his despatches -

'I paused at Bethlehem to regulate supplies and gain news. The mountain range to my front concealed forces whose numbers and whereabouts were a mystery. It possessed ins and outs, shepherd tracks, even occasional roads, none marked on maps. To get news, Lovat Scouts were used. The idea was General Macdonald's, instigated by Lord Lovat. In ones, twos and threes these men crept, climbed and spied, were absent for days at a time, but always came safely back with the truth discovered. Major the Hon Andrew Murray, who commanded them, Captain Lord Lovat who raised them, and each officer and man in the corps is a picked man and specialist. AS SCOUTS, SPIES, GUIDES, ON FOOT OR ON PONY, AS INDIVIDUAL MARKSMEN OR AS A COLLECTIVE BODY IN THE FIGHTING LINE, THEY ARE A SPLENDID BAND OF SCOTSMEN, WHICH IS THE HIGHEST COMPLIMENT I CAN PAY THEM'.

The Boer General, de Wet, got away but another Boer General, Prinsloo, had not, and was still there with 5,000 men. A Scout patrol reported that the Boers were holding a pass named Retief'd Nek, with about 300 men. Three Battalions failed to dislodge them so Lord Lovat volunteered to do the job with 100 Scouts, but General Macdonald was afraid of loosing them. A compromise was agreed that three picked Scouts, Sgt Dewar from Beaufort, Cpl Dugald Macdonald from Roy Bridge,, and John Macdonald from Fort William. The plan was that the intelligence gathered would be acted on by Colonel Kelham of the HLI, through whose lines the three Scouts had to pass. When the Scouts arrived on the snow-clad summit, on a very cold and wet night, they found that the Boers had gone down to the valley below, thinking that no one would attack in such weather.

A hasty return, and an immediate response by an HLI company, got to the summit just as the Boers were returning. In the fire-fight which followed, the Boers suffered heavy losses and were driven back. This set-back caused them to evacuate the whole Retief Nek position. Another success in the Roodebergen Mountains was the eventual capture of General Prinsloo and 4,000 of his men - the rest got away.

The First Contingent was nearing the end of its agreed period of engagement of one year. Lord Lovat then set about raising a Second Contingent, and recruitment was a repetition of the First when 1,000 applied for the 250 places. The Second Contingent arrived on 12th July 1901 and took over from the war-worn First Contingent.

The First Contingent returned home to a great welcome and rejoicing. They were given the Freedom of the Burgh in Beauly, and there was much merry-making. They finally dispersed on the morning of 14th August 1901. During their time on active service in South Africa it was noted that only four Scouts had been killed, although others had died of sickness. Worse was to come for the Second Contingent.

 

B' e Sìm Eòsaph, an 16mh Morair MacShimidh KT, GCVO, KCMG, CB, DSO, a stèidhich Spithearan MhicShimidh, agus cha tug e fada gus an robh iad air cliù a chosnadh mar aon de na Rèisimeidean Gàidhealach a b'iomraitiche is a bu motha dha robh spèis aig daoine. Ged a chaidh an Rèisimeid a chur air chois sa Mhanachainn, dìreach tarsaing crìoch na Siorrachd, bha pàirt riamh aig Ros is Cromba ann an eachdraidh narèisimeid, an toiseach le ionad-trusaidh ann an Inbhir Pheofharain, agus an uair sin ann an grunn Sguadranan, agus bha Troop Rois ann.

Chaidh an Rèisimeid a chur air chois nuair a thug am Morair MacShimidh an aire dha mar a bha cion fheachdan-faire na adhbhar air mar a chailleadh grunn bhlàran gu dubh ann am mçosan tràtha Chogadh Afraga a Deas (1899 - 1902). Chaidh a ràdh mu dheidhinn aig an àm, gur e ‘call a ghabhadh a sheachnadh’ a bh’ ann. Faic an Eàrr-ràdh mu Chogadh nam Boer airson tuilleadh fiosrachaidh.

Chuir am Morair MacShimidh beachd a-steach gun an Oifis Chogaidh air 12 Dàbhlachd 1899. Fhuair e cead às dèidh dìreach cola-deug gus aon, agus an uair sin dà chompanaidh, a thogail, gu h-àraidh airson obair beachdaireachd’. Bhiodh aon chompanaidh air eich, agus am fear eile air chois. Chaidh deichnear oifigearan a roghnachadh bhon Chiad Bhatàilian Saor-thoileach de na Camshronaich. Cuimhnich gur e Siorrachd Inbhir Nis a bha seo. Bha còignear aca air seirbheis a dhèanamh thall thairis san arm, ach b’ fheudar dhan a h-uile duine aca trèanadh fhaighinn. Bha ionadan-trusaidh ann an Inbhir Pheofharain, sa Ghearasdan, Inbhir Nis, Luirg, san Òban agus ann am Peairt, agus chuir crr is 1,500 duine a-steach airson nan 236 àiteachan; mar sin cha d’ fhuair còignear às gach sianar àite. Bha 80 den fheadhainn a fhuair àite air a bhith nan stalcairean, agus dh'fheumadh sgilean a bhith aig an fheadhainn eile mar cuspaireachd, neart leantainneach, comas marcachd, agus bhiodh e na bhuannachd ma bha iad air seirbheis a dhèanamh san arm. Bhathar ag iarraidh daoine eile le sgilean cuideachd, mar luchd-siognail le trèanadh, goibhnean a dhèanadh cruidheadh, agus daoine le eòlas air uidheam-eich.

Tha liosta de dh’ainmean nan ciad daoine a fhuair àite san Rèisimeid a’ sealltainn ainmean a nochdadh a-rithist is a-rithist san Rèisimeid thairis air an ath chaogad bliadhna. Bha 19 Dòmhnallaich ann, 9 Fhrisealach, 9 Leathanach, 8 Ghranndach, 6 de Chlann a' IcAoidh, 6 de Chlann a' IcFhinnein, 6 Rosach, 5 de Chlann Mhic an Tòisich, 5 de Chlann a' IcCoinnich, 4 Chamshronach, 4 de Chlann 'IcMhathain, 4 Robasdanach, 4 Mhoireasdanach agus dithis no triùir leis gach sloinneadh a leanas: Siosalach, MacDhàibhidh, Foirbeiseach, Gòrdon, MacEanraig, MacLeòid, Moireach, Mac a' Phearsain, MacRath, Stiùbhart, Sutharlanach agus Urchadain. Mar sin, bha sloinneadh Gàidhealach air mu leth den Rèisimeid. Chaidh a chlàradh gun robh daoine san Rèisimeid bho cheann a deas na h-Alba agus bha sianar ann nach buineadh do dh’Alba à Suffolk, Lunnainn, Sealan Nuadh, Bangalore, agus Astràilia.

B’ e èideadh na Rèisimeid, seacaid odhar le putain leathair. Bhiodh Companaidh nam Marcaichean a’ cur briogais orra, spataichean donna, agus brògan stalcaireachd. Bha saighdearan sa Chompanaidh Coise a’ cur leth- bhriogais odhar orra le stocainnean, spataichean, agus bràgan stalcaireachd. Bha an dà Chompanaidh agus adan ‘slouch’ orra le aon taobh suas, agus bha pìos de thartan dearg nam Frisealach air fhuaigheal orra le mnathan- uaisle bho theaghlach MhicShimidh no caraidean den teaghlach. Dh’fheumadh na h-eich a bhith ‘nas sine na 5 bliadhna a dh’aois agus eadar ceithir-deug is còig-deug leudan boise a dh’àirde’. B’ e an raidhfil a bh’ aca, an . 303 LEE-METFORD. B’ e aon uidheam riatanach a dh’fheumadh a bhith aca, ‘a’ ghlainne’, no a’ phrosbaig stalcaireachd.

Thòisich na Spithearan ag ullachadh airson seirbheis am meadhan an Fhaoillich 1900, aig Beaufort sa Mhanachainn. B’ e geamhradh glè fhuar a bh’ ann agus bha sneachd na laighe airson seachdainean. Lean an trèanadh, sneachd ann no às, gu 9 Màrt nuair a chaidh a’ chiad Chuibhreann gu Stèisean-rèile na Manachainn agus iad air an t-slighe gu Afraga a Deas. Ge-tà, bha trioblaid aig a’ Chiad Chompanaidh nuair a fhuair feadhainn de na h-eich aca an tòc nuair a bha iad a’ siubhal air an ‘America’ eadar Glaschu is Southampton. Bhàsaich ceithir eich mus do ràinig iad, agus b’ fheudar dhan fheadhainn eile a bhith air an cur ann an cuarantain. Fhuaras eich eile à Argentina airson a dhol nan àite, agus dh’fhàg an Companaidh air an ‘Glengyle’ air 25 Màrt, agus ràinig iad Cape Town air 17 Giblean.

------ More to follow ------

 

 

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