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74th Highlanders
1873-1886


UNDER the localisation scheme of 1st April 1873, the 74th Regiment was linked, for administrative and enlistment purposes, with the 26th Cameronians, the two battalions, with reserves, forming the 59th Brigade, with the depot at Hamilton. The change was not, however, at first fully carried out, and the depot companies remained at Shorncliffe till the 21st September 1874, when they were sent to Paisley, where they were stationed till 1877, proceeding to Hamilton only in November of that year.

In 1875 there was no event of importance except the issue of the Martini-Henry rifle, which became the service weapon on the 17th of April. In 1876, General C. A. Shawe, who had been colonel of the regiment since 1856, died at Torquay, and was succeeded by Lieutenant-General the Right Honourable Sir P. E. Herbert, K.C.B., who, however, held command only from the 5th of April till the 7th of October, his death taking place on the latter date at Market Drayton. He was succeeded by Lieutenant-General W. D. P. Patton. The regiment, which had been ordered on foreign service, embarked, on the 2d of December the same year, on H.M.S. "Orontes" which was to convey it to the Straits Settlements. Trincomalee was reached on the 29th of December, and on the 9th of January 1877 headquarters and two companies of the battalion, under the command of Major and Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Jago, were landed at Penang. Three companies were conveyed by local steamers to different points along the coast; one company was disembarked at Malacca on the 15th, and on the 18th the remaining two landed at Singapore, where Colonel M’Leod, who accompanied them, took up the duties of "Commandant of Straits Settlements."

In consequence of the departure of the 80th regiment for the Cape of Good Hope, the headquarters of the 74th removed in March from Penang to Singapore, and, as the country was by this time perfectly quiet, the detached companies along the coast were withdrawn except two which remained at Penang, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Jago, and the one stationed at Malacca. In January 1878 the battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel Jago — Colonel M’Leod remaining at Singapore in command of the Straits Settlements—proceeded in H.M.S. "Tamar" to Hong Kong, disembarking there on the 29th of the month, and occupying the various barracks in the city. On the 3d of April Colonel M’Leod retired on half-pay,. and Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Jago was promoted to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the regiment. While at Hong Kong the health of all ranks became so seriously affected that the battalion was, in March 1879, ordered back to the Straits Settlements, Singapore being reached on the 16th of the month. One company was landed at Malacca on the 18th, and two companies, under Major R. E. Deare, were sent to Penang. On the 8th of December the 74th embarked on H.M.S. "Orontes" for home, and on the 21st January 1880 arrived at Greenock, whence the regiment was conveyed by train to Glasgow, and stationed at Maryhill Barracks. There it remained till the 26th of May 1881, when it proceeded by train to Granton, and thereafter by steamer to Portsmouth and by train to Aldershot, quarters being taken up in the centre infantry permanent barracks. While stationed here the battalion won a challenge cup, presented by Major-General Sir H. Havelock Allan, for volley firing at unknown distances.

On the 1st of July the connection of the 74th with the 26th Cameronians was again severed, and, under the new Territorial Scheme, the regiment became the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry, the 71st Regiment forming the 1st Battalion, and the 1st Royal Lanark Militia the 3rd. The 71st tartan was to be worn, with new combined 71st and 74th badges, thistle lace, and yellow facings. As the 71st arrived at home two months after the 74th, the latter regiment, now the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry, became the first of the linked battalions for foreign service, and the establishment was accordingly increased to 1046 of all ranks.

On the outbreak of hostilities in Egypt, the regiment was at once ordered to prepare to proceed to that country, and on the 8th of August it was conveyed to Portsmouth, where it embarked on the steam transport "France" for Alexandria, the effective strength being 30 officers and 776 non-commissioned officers and privates. On disembarking at Alexandria, on the 20th of August, the battalion proceeded at once to the camp at Ramleh, where it became part of the 3rd, or Highland, Brigade of the 2nd Division of the Egyptian Field Force, the division being commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir E. B. Hamley, G.C.B., and the brigade by Major-General Sir Archibald Alison, Bart., K.C.B. At Ramleh the battalion remained under canvas, guarding the extreme left of the British position, and taking its share in outpost duties and in occasional brushes with marauding Arabs, until the 30th of November, when it re-embarked, and sailed on the following morning for Ismailia, which was reached on the 2d of September. Although large fatigue parties were daily furnished for work on shore, the brigade remained on board ship till the 9th, when the different regiments landed in the afternoon and at once commenced to march westward to Kassassin, where the British forces were being concentrated for the advance against the Egyptian lines at Tel-el-Kebir. Lieutenant-Colonel Jago had been unfortunately compelled to go into hospital on the 7th, so the command of the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry devolved on Lieutenant-Colonel Straghan. The sea-kit bags were all left on board a storeship in the harbour, and the whole of the camp equipage, together with valises and greatcoats, was deposited at the railway station, each man carrying, besides his arms, only 70 rounds of ammunition and a blanket. Kassassin was reached on the 11th, after four severe marches and one long day in the sun, the hardship and suffering being so great that one officer and over 30 men had to be sent back to Ismailia by train from different stations along the route. The tents had been already sent on by rail, and by noon on the 11th the men were again under cover, and during the evening and night the stragglers had all come in. The night of the 12th was the time fixed for the final advance, and at sunset the tents were struck and piled at the railway embankment, where were also left the band instruments and the blankets. Extra ammunition had been issued, to bring up each man’s allowance to 100 rounds; and as soon as the battalion fell in after dark, the commanding officer addressed a few words to the men, impressing upon them the instructions which he had received from Major-General Alison, namely, that complete silence was to be observed during the night march; that no match was to be struck or pipe smoked after the first halt; and that the enemy’s entrenchments, which were expected to be reached just before daylight, were to be carried by the bayonet alone. The fighting strength of the regiment was 24 officers, and 628 noncommissioned officers and men including 20 bandsmen, who acted as stretcher-bearers— the decrease since leaving Alexandria being due to the loss of those disabled during the march to Kassassin, and to the baggage guards left at Ismailia. The position assigned to the battalion was on the left of the Highland Brigade, and therefore on the extreme left of the whole first line of the British forces.

A general outline of the desert night march, and of the assault on Tel-el-Kebir, has been already given in the account of the Black Watch, and it only remains here to notice the particular part taken in this wonderful achievement by the Highland Light Infantry. When the enemy’s musketry fire opened at the distance of 150 yards, the front line, followed by the second, instantly charged, headed by its officers, mounted and unmounted, the men fixing bayonets as they ran. When half the distance had been traversed, a battery of four guns opened right in front, but though their contents passed harmlessly overhead, the rifle fire was more deadly, and before the ditch was reached, Major Colville, Lieutenants Kays, Somervell, and Midwood, and some 50 non-commissioned officers and men had fallen. On reaching the enemy’s works, the centre of the battalion found itself stopped by an impracticable ditch, about 9 feet deep by 10 feet wide, and with almost perpendicular scarps. Into this, unseen in the darkness, many of the front line fell, amongst them being Lieutenant Goold Adams, who, along with Corporals Buchan and Adams, succeeded in mounting the opposite face. These pulled others up, and thus collected a small party, which lay waiting for an opportunity to rush over the parapet. The main body of the centre, now reinforced by the second line, was meanwhile swaying backwards and forwards, seeking vainly in the darkness for some means of entry; but the flanks, more fortunate, had found the ditches opposite them shallower, and the parapets lower, and had forced their way in, under Majors Wallace and Leigh on the right, and Lieutenant Edwards on the left; and these parties, reinforced by that of Lieutenant Goold Adams, rapidly cleared the work, inflicting considerable loss on the defenders. About 150 men of the centre, still unable to find a way over the big ditch, and, owing to the darkness, to see what was going on elsewhere, now began to retire, halting at intervals, and facing about individually to fire at the parapet; but as the fire from the works slackened and ceased, a halt was made, and on the arrival of the reserves this portion of the regiment was led back, and entered without opposition the right (the British left) of the big work which had previously foiled it. The total loss of the battalion was 3 officers and 18 non-commissioned officers and men killed; and 5 officers and 54 non-commissioned officers and men wounded, of whom 3 afterwards died of their wounds. For services during the campaign, Lieutenant-Colonel Straghan was made a Companion of the Bath, Major Leigh was promoted to a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonelcy, and Captain Macdonald to a Brevet Majority.

Colour-Sergeant Robinson received the distinguished - service medal, and Lieutenant Edwards the Victoria Cross, "for the conspicuous bravery displayed by him during the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, on the 13th September 1882, in leading a party of the Highland Light Infantry to storm a redoubt Lieutenant Edwards (who was in advance of his party), with great gallantry, rushed alone into the battery, killed the artillery officer in charge, and was himself knocked down by a gunner with a rammer, and only rescued by the timely arrival of three men of his regiment." The following decorations were also bestowed by H.H. the Khedive :—Lieutenant-Colonel Straghan, the 3d class of the Medjidieh; Major Wallace and Major Leigh, the 4th class of the Osmanlie; and Captain and Adjutant Carey, the 4th class of the Medjidieh. Lieutenant Goold Adams, Sergeant-Major Litster, Sergeant Samuel Davis (severely wounded), Corporal James Smith, Corporal Buchan (severely wounded), Lance Corporal Donald Robertson, Privates A. Sutherland and William Gray, and Drummer Fitch were all mentioned for special gallantry by the commanding officer, who also commended Captain and Quarter-Master Swanson for his energy and endurance throughout the campaign, and Lieutenant Templer for most satisfactory performance of his duties as Transport Officer to the battalion. Of these only the non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in despatches.

On the afternoon of the day of the battle the battalion fell in, and, along with the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, and the Cameron Highlanders, set out for Zagazig, which was reached, after three marches, on the night of the 14th. On the following day the battalion proceeded along with Sir Garnet Wolseley and his staff, and a detachment of the 1st Brigade Scots Guards, to Benlia. At that place information was received of the surrender of Arabi Pasha, and the Headquarters’ Staff immediately pushed on to Cairo by train with an escort of 80 officers and men of the Highland Light Infantry under command of Major Leigh. The rest of the battalion reached Cairo on the following day, and took up quarters in the Citadel. During the remainder of its stay in Egypt, the Highland Light Infantry was stationed first at Camp Ghezireh, and afterwards at the Kasr-el-Nil barracks. On the 30th of September it took part in the great review and march past before H.H. the Khedive, and there distinguished itself by perfect marching—something where every one did so well. On the 5th of February 1883 the regiment embarked at Alexandria on board of H.M.S. "Serapis," reaching Plymouth and taking up quarters there on the 18th of the month. On the 3d of March the medals for the Egyptian campaign were presented at a divisional parade at Devonport by Major-General Pakenham, and the bronze stars given by H.H. the Khedive were issued during the month of April.

The stay at home was uneventful, the principal incidents being the retirement of Lieut.Colonel Jago on completion of his five years’ service in command; the presentation to the officers by former officers of the regiment of a handsome piece of plate in memory of Telel-Kebir; and the deposition of the old colours, carried from 1818 to 1855, along with those of other Scottish regiments in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, on the 14th of November. Although it is anticipating somewhat, it may here be added that the colours presented at Jackatalla, Madras, in 1855, and carried by the regiment until shortly before the embarkation for Egypt, were, on the 20th of December 1884, placed, together with the original "Assaye" colour, over a handsome monument erected in Glasgow Cathedral in memory of those who perished in the Egyptian campaign, and the balance of the fund subscribed for this purpose has been devoted to the erection, in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, of a memorial of the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men who were killed or mortally wounded in the various actions in which the regiment has been engaged in India, the Peninsula, France, South Africa, and Egypt, and of those who perished when the "Birkenhead" was wrecked in 1852.

Monument in Glasgow Cathedral
Monument in Glasgow Cathedral

The monument in Glasgow Cathedral, of which we give an illustration, has been placed on the south wall of the nave. It is Egyptian in design, and is constructed of very hard and clear Sicilian marble, with a centre panel of statuary marble, surrounded by appropriate emblems. The names of those it commemorates are engraved on the sides, while the centre shows, in good relief and with spirit, a representation of the regiment attacking the rampart at Tel-el-Kebir. The whole is surmounted by the Sphinx, with banners, a soldier’s helmet, and claymores. The public ceremony of unveiling it and placing the old colours above was performed by General Bruce, who was long connected with the regiment, and who, in handing over the colours to the care and safe-keeping of the Cathedral authorities, stated that he was probably the only person there who had also been at the presentation ceremony in India in 1855. The battle-stained relics were brought from Hamilton by an escort under the command of Major Wallace, and consisting of two officers, six non-commissioned officers, and fifty men, all of whom had been present at Tel-el-Kebir. The monument at Edinburgh, placed on the north wall of the nave of St Giles, consists of a bronze plate with a finely carved marble border. Engraved on the plate are the names of the officers and the number of the men who died during the campaigns already mentioned.

When the present colours were presented to the battalion in 1882, a new "Assaye" colour, worked in China, was taken into use, but of the three only the Queen’s colour was taken to Egypt, the others being sent to the depot. In 1883 the regiment also acquired a valuable Challenge Shield, to be competed for by the different shooting clubs, and a silver medal to be competed for annually by the pipers—a clasp with the winner’s name and the date to be added each year. The Challenge Shield is three feet high, and two feet across the widest part, with small movable shields in the centre and round the border. The foundation is of bronze, and the borders, small shields, thistles, rifles, colours, and other ornaments, are of pure bright silver. The names of the winning team for each period are to be engraved on one of the movable shields, which is, for one year, to occupy the place of honour in the centre, and thereafter to be removed to one of the compartments along the border.

On the 1st of October 1884, the battalion under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Straghan, C.B., who had succeeded Colonel Jago, again proceeded on foreign service, and, embarking at Plymouth on H.M.S. "Serapis," reached Bombay on the 29th of October, and arrived at its destination at Umballah by wings on the 7th and 8th of November. On the 12th of March 1885 the regiment moved to Rawal Pindi to take part in the ceremonies held in honour of the conference between Lord Dufferin and the Ameer of Afghanistan, and so well did the Highland Light Infantry acquit itself in the reviews then held, that it was highly complimented by the General of the 2nd Infantry Division, to which it was attached, by H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, and by H.E. the Commander-in-Chief in India, on its appearance and on its uniformly steady marching and manoeuvring. So much were the latter points noticed, that on the occasion of the annual inspection at Dagshai on the 18th of May, Major-General Wright, C.B., commanding the district, declined to see the battalion march past or manoeuvre, as, after the splendid appearance made at Rawal Pindi, he deemed it altogether superfluous; and after the manoueuvres and the march past at the camp of exercise at Delhi in December 1885 and January 1886, Colonel Straghan was again specially congratulated by the Commander-in-Chief in India, and by the Adjutant in India on the admirable appearance and marching of the battalion. After the breaking up of the Delhi camp, quarters were again taken up at Dagshai till the 3d of November, when the regiment, with the exception of two companies left in garrison, marched to Umballah.


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