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The 48th Highlanders of Toronto
Chapter 1 - Introductory: The Martial Spirit of the Gael


"The greatest misfortune that can happen to any people is to have no noble deeds and no heroic personalities to look back to; for as a wise present is the seed of a fruitful future, so a great past is the seed of a hopeful present." So wrote Professor Blackie, having in mind the courage and the martial fervour of the Scottish people. From the dim beginning of history the Celt reveals himself as a mighty man of war. Heroes lead him in the fight, and bards celebrate his victories in song, accompanied by the stringed harp and the tuneful lyre. In Europe he faced the Roman legions, and when the long galleys lay-to off Dover, the chalk-white cliffs were crowned by a resisting and resolute people in which the Celtic blood still predominated. Generations passed alter Caesar, and the eagles waved triumphantly over the rich southern plains, but the northern fastnesses were held against the Roman arms by the prowess of the Gael, to whose martial genius is due the fact that Caledonia, stern and wild has never yielded to the invader's Dover, nor to this day has been conquered. Very early in the annals of Rome a victory by the Celtic leader, Brennus, over the Romans is recorded. From classic story we also learn of a Roman defeat at Allia. B.C. 391, by the Celts of Gaul. From these early days until the present the Gael has shown a natural aptitude for war, and in modern times it is needless to say no braver soldiers lace the field than the kilted lads who dare a Dargai. an Atbara or a Modder River. It was the same spirit that made a Bannockburn possible, which stirred the Border Clans in their forays, and the Hebridean oarsmen in their birlinn raids—"dhain deoin co theireadhe " that responded to the call to arms when the British Government was controlled by the wise policy of the elder Pitt, whose words in reference to the Highland regiments are worth remembering. It was after Culloden. Britain was deeply involved in war, and h scheme to embody the Highlanders in regular Corps, suggested first by the sagacious and statesmanly Duncan Forbes to Walpole, was taken on Pitt. Speaking of the experiment, Pitt said: "I sought for merit wherever it could be found. It is my boast that I was the first minister who looked for it, and found it, in the mountains of the North. I called it forth, and drew into your service a hardy and intrepid race of men, men who, when left by your jealousy, became a prey to the artifices of your enemies, and had gone nigh to have overturned the state in the war before last. These men, in the last war, were brought to combat on your side, they served with fidelity, as they fought with valour, and conquered for you in every quarter of the world."

The history of the Scottish Highlanders during the last 150 years proves that national sentiment is of inestimable value in military enterprise. From the time when the Black Watch and other Highland regiments became a part of the British Army the importance of well-managed and easily controlled individuality, as against a blind uniformity, has been gradually recognised, and practical conviction has been followed by beneficial results. To-day national sentiment is accordingly encouraged. Scottish, Irish and English corps vie with each other in their zeal to uphold the prestige of their country on field of battle. This quality is forcibly stated by General David Stewart in his rare book, in which he thus describes the difference between the soldiers of three great countries:-

The German soldier considers himself as a part of the military machine and duty marked out in the orders of the day. He moves onward to his destination with a well-trained pace, and with as phlegmatic indifference to the result as a labourer who works for his daily hire. The courage of the French soldier is supported in the hour of trial by his high notions of the point of honour, but this display of spirit is not always steady, neither French nor German is confident in himself, if an enemy gain his flank or rear. A Highland soldier faces his enemy, whether in front, rear or flank, and if he has confidence in his commander, it may be predicted with certainty that he will be victorious or die on ground which he maintains."

Why? General Stewart's answer is:

"He goes into the field resolved not to disgrace his name."

The greatest British generals are among those who acknowledge the military value of a sentiment that inspires such determination and gives an impetus to native valour.

A monopoly of this quality is not, of course, claimed for Highland soldiers, but the Highland regiments, without exception, have shown themselves to possess this high character in a degree and it is all-important that the reason why should not be forgotten. The inborn military ardour of the Scottish Highlander is kept alive by cherishing his racial characteristics. First and foremost is the native love for his country. No people is more rooted in the soil than the Celt. With all his love for pioneering, for leading the way to new countries and settling down in them as his permanent home, it is nevertheless true of no one more than it is of the Celt that he dearly, loves the glen or mountain side where first he saw the light. For his country's sake he will willingly die. Then, there is the deep-seated love for clan and kinsmen, and the sacred regard for the family tics. It is difficult for a stranger to appreciate this phase of the Highlander's character it is the key to much of his life, which, without it, cannot be understood. Love for the traditions of the fathers, jealousy of their good name, pride in their historical achievements, and a desire to emulate them, all combine to give force to his native courage and to give him all impression of his duty. As to the ancient Roman, so to him also the creed can be applied which these hues contain:

"And how can a man die better
Than facing fearful odds.
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods.
And for the tender mother
Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
His baby at her breast"

The natural aptitude which the Highlander has for war is also stimulated by the regimental accompaniments of music and dress. The martial music of the bagpipes has stirred the Highland soldier's blood in many a hard-fought battle, and its influence has been so great that no Highland regiment would claim to be complete without its band of pipers. The Highland uniform is not only attractive in itself. It has the merit of being a rational as well as a national costume. It permits ease of movement and conduces to superior health. Highland soldiers love it as the costume of their country from the olden time, and its use is a constant monitor to wear it worthily. The "garb of old Gaul and the fire of old Rome" have been coupled together not without good cause, but that need not be entered upon here. While the "bonnet, kilt and feather," and the bagpipes remain there will he no lack of Scotsmen to maintain the strength of the Highland regiments.


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