South African Military History 


Newsletter No. No 40/Nuusbrief Nr 40: January/Januarie 2008

SAMHSEC's 13 December 2007 meeting opened with the Frontier Wars Regiments series presentation on the 91st Regiment by Malcolm Kinghorn. The Regiment was raised as the Argyllshire Highlanders in 1794 and served in South Africa, the Peninsula, Waterloo and India. Its South African service included the suppression of the Graaff-Reinet Rebellion in 1799 and the 7th and 8th Frontier Wars. In 1881 it amalgamated with the 93rd Regiment to form The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, which served in Zululand, the Boer War and the Far East.

Robin Barkes presented the curtain raiser on the early development of firearms. The entertaining lecture led to SAMHSEC being invited to attend a shoot of the Falcon Rock Historical Firearms Society, of which Robin is a founder member, in the new year. The visit is to be coordinated by Fred Nel, who is a member of both societies.

The main lecture was on the Battle of Bannockburn by Mike Duncan. The political instability in Scotland following the death of King Alexander in 1286 culminated in Robert the Bruce being crowned King of Scotland in 1306. King Edward of England refused to recognise the Bruce as such and he invaded Scotland in 1314 with an army of 15 000 men to depose him. On 22 June 1314 King Robert the Bruce prepared for battle, knowing that King Edward intended to relieve the siege of Stirling Castle by Midsummer's Day. He established a defensive position with 7 500 men on high ground astride the Falkirk- Stirling road, with thick forest on his right and the Carse, the low-lying plain between the escarpment and the River Forth, on his left. The King himself held the edge of the wood in New Park. Edward Bruce's division was on the ridge to his left and Randolf Moray's by St Ninian's Kirk to watch the highway through the Carse. Douglas and Keith's light horse stood in reserve in the Borestone area, with the "small folk", the irregular foot, behind Coxet Hill.

After midday on 23 June King Edward ordered his "Great Van" of knights, under the Earl of Gloucester, to dislodge the Scots. At the same time he dispatched 500-800 cavalry under Clifford and de Bowmont along the edge of the Carse to wreak havoc on the retreat he expected. In the first encounter in New Park, Sir Henry de Bohun, in full armour, assailed King Robert the Bruce and was killed by one stroke of the King's battle axe. The main attack failed and the "Great Van" retreated. The cavalry was repulsed by Randolf Moray. King Edward decided to cross the middle reaches of the Bannockburn and harbour for the night.

In the morning Edward's forces had on their right and rear the "Pools" on the cross-country route to the Castle. On their left flank and rear was the gorge of the Bannockburn. The Scottish foot advanced in echelon, with Edward Bruce's division leading on the right, Randolf Moray's in the centre and Douglas on the left. Again the "Great Van" attacked. Edward Bruce's division formed "hedgehog", with spears leveled at every point of assault, and withstood the shock. Randolf Moray came up on Edward Bruce's left and attacked those engaged against him. Soon the "Great Van" broke and its wounded and riderless horses, careering back upon the main body, threw it into confusion. Douglas joined in on Moray's left and the three Scottish divisions pushed steadily forward until they were engaging the whole English front. Now a large body of English archers was deployed beyond the Pools on the Scots' left flank and their fire began to take effect. On the Bruce's orders, Keith's light horse charged and drove the archers from the field. The crisis had come. The Bruce, having held his own strong division in reserve, resolved to send it in. The English line began to give ground. The Scottish spearmen drove their adversaries steadily back upon those behind, who could not get into action because of the narrow front.

Edward, sensing that the day was lost, was persuaded to retreat to Stirling Castle. When the Royal Standard was seen to leave the field, the English army began to waver. At this juncture, the "small folk" came rushing down the escarpment. At the sight of what appeared to be further Scottish reserves, the English army disintegrated and fled. A large party on the right followed King Edward towards the Castle and later surrendered. The centre of the English army broke north to the Forth and to destruction. Those on the left were forced back into the muddy gorge of the Bannockburn at high tide.

King Robert the Bruce proved himself as a leader of men and as a general at Bannockburn. By the Battle of Bannockburn, Scotland again became an independent country.

Members interested in attending an outing on 8 January 2008 to confirm reports of an Anglo-Boer War skirmish near Carlisle Bridge should contact Pat Irwin on 082 445 0973.

Members interested in joining a visit to Kwazulu-Natal battlefields in January 2008 should contact Stephen Bowker on 083 630 9608.

The SAMHSEC May 2008 tour will be Frontier Wars related, details to be confirmed.

Fellow member Richard Tomlinson is congratulated on the publication of his article "Three centuries of fortfications in South Africa 1652 to 1958" in Fort, the international journal of fortification and military architecture, Vol 34, published by the UK-based Fortress Study Group.

SAMHSEC's next meeting is on 10 January 2008 at 1930 in the PAG Drill Hall. The curtain raiser will be The Helen Duncan Story by Peter Duffel-Canham. The main lecture will be South African Paratroopers in World War 2 by Mac Alexander. The Frontier Wars Regiment series will be on the Cape Mounted Rifles by Pat Irwin.

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Malcolm Kinghorn.
SAMHSEC SCRIBE 082 331 6223

South African Military History Society /