Regiments The Black Watch - Story of the "Red Heckle"
Since 1795 the soldiers of the 42nd have worn a red feather
or "heckle" in their bonnets, being in this respect distinguished from all the
other Highland regiments. The following is the story of the "glorious old red
heckle", as told by Lieutenant-Colonel Wheatley, who, we believe, had his information
directly from those who took part in the exploit on account of which the Black Watch is
entitled to wear the plume.
In December 1794, when the Forty-Second were quartered at Thuyl, as above mentioned, they
received orders for the night of the 31st to mark upon Bommell, distant some miles on the
opposite side of the river Waal, which they reached by four o'clock on the morning of 1st
January 1795. Here they were joined by a number of other regiments, and lay on their arms
until daybreak, when they attacked the French army, and drove them across the river on the
ice. The British held their position on the banks of the river until the evening of the
3d, when (the French having been reinforced) a partial retreat took place early on the
morning of the 4th. The British retired upon the village of Guildermalson, where the 42d,
with a number of other regiments, halted, and formed up to cover the retreat through the
village. The French cavalry, however, cut through the retreating picquets, and made their
way up to the regiments stationed at the village, where they were met and repulsed, and a
number of them taken prisoners. Two field-pieces were placed in front of the village to
protect the retreat of the picquets; but instead of resisting the charge of cavalry, they
(the picquets) retreated to the rear of the village, leaving their guns in possession of
the French, who commenced dragging them off. An A.D.C. (Major Rose) ordered Major
Dalrymple, commanding the 42d, to charge with his regiment, and retake the guns; which was
immediately done, with the loss of 1 man killed and 3 wounded. The guns were this rescued
and dragged in by the 42d, the horses having been disabled and the harness cut.
There was little or no notice taken of this affair at the time, as all was bustle; but
after their arrival in England, it was rumored that the 42d were to get some distinctive
badge for their conduct in retaking the guns on the 4th of January; but the nature of the
honor was kept a profound secret. On the 4th of June 1795, as the regiment, then quartered
at Royston, Cambridgeshire, was out on parade to fire three rounds in honor of his
Majesty's birthday, the men were surprised and delighted when a large box was brought on
to the field, and a red feather distributed to each soldier. This distinctive ornament has
ever since adorned the otherwise funereal headdress of the old Black Watch.
In 1822, from a mistaken direction in a book of dress for the guidance of the army, some
of the other Highland regiments concluded that they also had a right to wear "a red
vulture feather". The 42d, however, remonstrated, and their representations at
headquarters called forth the following memorandum:-
"For Officers commanding Highland Regiments.
"Horse Guards, 20th Aug, 1822.
"The red vulture feather prescribed by the recent regulations for Highland regiments
is intended to be used exclusively by the Forty-Second Regiment: other Highland corps will
be allowed to continue to wear the same description of feather that may have been hitherto
"H. Torrens, Adjutant-General".
The below email was received from Joseph Mad...
The article was taken from Canada's Red Hackle
Magazine, Written by Mr. Earl Chapman and rewritten by Spaņiard.
THE True Story of the Origins of 42nd Black Watch Red Heckle. We spell
it with a A.
ORIGINS OF THE RED HACKLE
Over the years the origin of the Red Hackle has caused
some confusion. For some time it was believed the famous Red Feathers were
awarded as a campaign Distinction, for the regiment’s service during the
British retreat through the Flemish village ofGlendermaisen
in January 1795.
It’s historically fact that
the first “Official” use of the Red Hackle occurred when the 42nd
Regiment at Royston Herttfordshire was issued
Red Vulture feathers on June 4th 1795.
The 42nd Regiment paraded to celebrate the birth, of King George III.
In fact, we know based on two letters discovered in 1967,
stating that the 42nd Regiment had worn Red feathers twenty
years earlier during the American War of
These letters are held in the
Regimental archives at BalhousieCastle.
The first letter was written by Lieutenant-Coronal Sir Robert Dick Commander
of the 42nd on September 8th
to General James Stirling who commanded the 42ndin 1804 and served with the Regiment during the American War
In his letter to
Stirling, LCOL Dick asks for advice as how the Regiment first
acquired the right to wear the Red Hackle,
stating that “I always understood that the Red Feather was given for taking
or defeating a regiment of Grenadiers. But I can not remember when it took
place. Stearling replied; "The origins of their wearing this feather
commenced early in the American War of 1776 when the Regiment was Brigaded
with the Grenadiers and a light infantry of the army under the command of
the late Marquis Cornwallis. At this period there were no regulation
feathers. The Grenadiers wore White Feathers, the first battalion light
infantry wore Green. The second battalion wore Red, and to make the whole
uniform, General Sir William Howe,
ordered the 42nd to get Red feathers".
Stirling went on to state “When the Regiment arrived in
in (1802) they were received by His late Majesty and Colonel Dickson who
then commended them and asked his
Majesty’s permission for the regiment to wear the Red Feather, in which his
Majesty graciously granted.
This tells us the 71st
Highland Regiment of Foot, the re-raised Fraser Highlanders, Were the first
to wear a red feather while servicing in North America
around 1776. In hindsight the original Fraser Highlanders 78th of
Foot, were raised in 1757 for Service during the
French and Indian Wars and were disbanded in 1763.
LCOL John Maitland, then commanding the Fraser’s and
General George Washington. As old acquaintances, although apposed enemies
they exchanged some intimidating letters. As one sent by LCOL Maitland to
General George Washington warning him that in future his men would be
distinguished by a Red feather in their bonnets, so that the General would
not mistake them, nor avoid doing justice to their exploits.
After the War the only
regiment not to be disbanded was the 42nd. However the trend of
wearing a Red Feather appeared to have stopped
sometime after the war. Then it was reintroduced at the parade in Royston on
the occasion of the King’s birth.
It wasn’t until August 20th 1822 that the exclusive right to
wear the Red Feather was finally safeguarded by the Horse Guards.
"For Officers commanding
General Order, The Red Vulture feather prescribed by the
recent regulations, for the Highland Regiments, is intended to be
used exclusively by the Forty-Second Regiment.
Highland corps will be allowed to continue to wear the
same description of feather that may have been hitherto in use.
"H. Torrens, Adjutant-General".
As further reinforcement of the origins of the Red Hackle,
a pamphlet publish in 1862 Entitled “ An Account of the
Scottish Regiments ”with the statistics of
each from 1808 to 1861, notes under the 42nd Regiment that,”We cannot recollect our authority. But have always understood
that the Red feather worn in their bonnets was given as a mark
of distinction for their gallantry in
pamphlet was compiled by MacKerlie, who is know to have access to the
old record books.
The Canadian unit, then known as the Royal Scots of
Canada, was officially permitted To wear the Red Hackle by
General Order dated May 25th 1895.
It’s my Right and privilege to wear a Red Hackle but also
my responsibility, Under the Canadian Black Watch general standing orders to
keep my Red Hackle Bloomed. In order to distinguish me from my Scottish
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