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The Story of the Royal Scots
Chapter XVIII - Militia, Volunteer, Territorial and Service Battalions


The Edinburgh Militia—South Fencibles—Dukes of Buccleuch —South African Service, 1899-1902—The Special Reserve — The Volunteer Movement — Territorial Battalions, Fourth to Tenth—Service Battalions, Eleventh to Seventeenth.

It is not known when Edinburgh first embodied a regiment of militia, but there is a reference to an order of the Town Council of May 24, 1588, which provided that two hundred men belonging to the County Militia should join the King’s army on its march to Dumfries.1 There is no record of what manner of service this very early militia unit rendered to the King, or of its subsequent embodiment during the long and troublous times which Edinburgh saw from then until the parliamentary union. In 1778, Henry, third Duke of Buccleuch, raised a regiment of South Fencibles, with headquarters at Dalkeith, but the terms of their embodiment provided only five years' service, and at the end of that period they were disbanded. The excursions and alarums caused by the Napoleonic wars led the same duke to raise the Tenth North British Militia in 1798, but they were disbanded in 1802, when an Act was passed to establish a Militia Force in Scotland. The Duke of Buccleuch, as Lord-Lieutenant of the County of Edinburgh, took the command of the regiment, which was then called “The Fifty-first, or Edinburgh Regiment of Militia,” and many of the officers of the earlier force transferred themselves to the new unit, which remained in being from 1803 to 1815. They saw no fighting, but did useful duty in home defence, and thus relieved the regulars for foreign service. The old order books are enriched with some curious entries. For example, no N.C.O., drummer, or private man was allowed to wear upon parade either “false frills or dickies,” and all officers were straitly enjoined to appear properly powdered when in uniform. During its twelve years’ service, the regiment fulfilled the duty which was specifically laid upon the Militia (or, as it came to be called in 1907, the Special Reserve), viz. that of filling up the gaps in regular battalions, for it sent eight hundred and thirty-three men into the fighting line. From 1815 to 1852 there were only occasional annual trainings, and all over the country the Militia forces lay practically dormant. On the outbreak of the Crimean War, Walter, fifth Duke of Buccleuch, being then in command, the regiment was brought up to strength, and in September of 1855 it provided a guard of honour for Queen Victoria when she visited Edinburgh. Her Majesty was so pleased with the regiment that she changed its title to “The Queen’s Regiment of Light Infantry Militia,” and the yellow facings, which had earned the regiment the nickname of “ the Duke's Canaries," were changed to the royal blue. In May 1856 came the disembodiment of the regiment, but there was some activity during the Russo-Turkish War, when the Militia Reserve was called out. It was not until 1881 that it became definitely associated with The Royal Scots, when the title was changed to that of the “ Third Battalion, The Royal Scots," and it thus became the senior militia unit in the service. On the outbreak of the South African War it was embodied and went to Belfast to take the place of the first battalion ordered to the front. On February 18, 1900, the Third was invited to volunteer for foreign service, and did so with the utmost keenness. It embarked on March 2, 1900, and did not get back to England until May 27, 1902. Although it was intended that the battalion should serve only on lines of communication, it went through some very hard service, particularly during the rounding-up operations under Major-General Charles Knox, in which it was engaged for many months. General Knox had nothing but praise for the battalion, which, indeed, lived up so vigorously to the old Lothian tradition of brilliant marching, that it earned the nickname of the “by greyhounds." Three officers, one sergeant, and twenty-nine men lost their lives during the war. In 1908, after the old Militia organization was abolished, the battalion was reconstituted under its present title of "Third Battalion, The Royal Scots (Special Reserve)," and in the Great War has magnificently carried out the functions for which the army organization intended it. Thus it has come about that by gradual steps the ancient Militia unit of 1588 and earlier has become more and more closely attached to the First Regiment of the Line until the present time, when so many of its officers and men have been fighting and laying down their fives with their comrades of the first and second battalions.

I come now to the history of the Volunteers. In 1859, the prospect of trouble with France led to a great volunteer movement, and in Edinburgh several companies of a rifle brigade were formed, which became in 1865 the "Queen’s Edinburgh Rifles.” It was not until 1888 that the regiment, the honorary colonelcy of which attaches to the office of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, became the “Queen’s Rifle Volunteer Brigade, The Royal Scots.” It is now the Fourth Battalion (Territorial). A second battalion of the Queen’s Rifles was also formed in 1859 and incorporated into the Volunteer Brigade in 1888. Happily Sir John H. A. Macdonald, K.C.B. (Lord Kingsburgh), the Hon. Colonel of the Fifth Royal Scots, as this battalion is now called, is still living to rejoice in the service of what has always been the largest Volunteer corps in the kingdom. During its existence about thirty-three thousand men have passed through the ranks. It has lately been accorded locally the nickname of “The Fighting Fifth.” Any one who reads of its service at the Dardanelles will feel that this borrowing of the old name of the Northumberland Fusiliers has been amply justified.

In May 1867 a Volunteer Battalion was formed by the late John Hope, then a captain in the second battalion of the Queen’s Brigade, and was known as the “ Third Edinburgh Volunteers.” In 1882 it became an independent unit; in 1888 it was designated the “Fourth Volunteer Battalion, The Royal Scots,” and in 1908 became the “Sixth Battalion, The Royal Scots,” of the Territorial Force. In its Volunteer days it sent to South Africa sixty-four men, including Drummer Robertson, whose gallant conduct has been described in an earlier chapter.

In August 1859 some gentlemen of Leith formed two volunteer companies which developed into a new corps styled the “First Midlothian Royal Volunteer Corps.” This was affiliated to The Royal Scots as the 5th Volunteer Battalion in 1888. It sent two hundred and ninety men to South Africa, and under the Territorial regime became the “ Seventh Battalion, The Royal Scots.”

The Eighth Battalion (Territorial) includes four companies from the county of Haddington, two from Midlothian, and two from Peeblesshire. It was formed by the union of the Fifth and Seventh Volunteer Battalions of The Royals, and is entirely a county battalion, with many miners in its ranks.

The “Ninth Battalion (Highlanders) The Royal Scots ” was formed in 1900 to meet a wide desire that the capital of Scotland, to which so many young men gravitate from the counties north of Forth and Clyde, should have a Highland unit just as London and Liverpool boast kilted regiments in the London and Liverpool Scottish. It was raised as a battalion of the Queen's Rifle Volunteer Brigade, but with distinctions of its own, notably the kilt, which has earned for it the nickname of “The Dandy Ninth.” In July 1901 it donned the Hunting Stewart tartan before that was granted to the line battalions of the regiment. It sent forty-five men to South Africa, and one of its officers, Lieut. J. C. C. Broun, took the last flag of truce into the Boer lines.

The Tenth (Cyclist) Battalion owes its inception to the Volunteer wave of 1859, which fired the Linlithgow people. In 1862 it took shape as the “First Administrative Battalion, Linlithgowshire Rifle Volunteers,” and was remodelled in 1880 as the “First Linlithgow Rifle Volunteers.” In 1888 it was reorganized to fit the new system, and became the Eighth Volunteer Battalion, The Royal Scots. Many of its officers and men served in South Africa. A cyclist company was added in 1900, and this gave the key to its present service as a complete cyclist battalion of eight companies allotted for duty with the Lowland Territorial Division.

Of the preliminary work in organizing the seven service battalions it is difficult to write with any degree of accuracy, as their officers are too busy with the grim business of preparing for war to find much time for making notes of their formation. The names of the officers are given, with those of the Regular, Special Reserve and Territorial Battalions, in an appendix reproduced from the latest issue of the Army List. Suffice it to add here that Lord Rosebery has proved a most stirring and successful recruiting officer. He has been Hon. Colonel of the 7th Battalion since 1910, and the 17th Service Battalion bears officially the name of Rosebery. But all classes in Edinburgh and the surrounding counties have combined to make the answer of the Lothians to the call of the Empire one of which everyone may well be proud. The time has come when the achievements of the Lowland Regiments of the line, with The Royal Scots at their head, must be revealed to the public eye in the true greatness which their modesty has too long suffered to be forgotten.


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