The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal >br>Vol 6 No 3 - June 1984

Scotland the Brave (1899-1902)

by Dr A.M.Davey

A flow of new historical writing on the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) shows how the great contest of more than eighty years ago continues to exercise a fascination. It is a suitable moment to reflect on the merits of older works that have not been given the notice they deserve. The purpose of this article is to re-introduce a remarkable reference work, published in Perth in 1908, A Military History of Perthshire 1899-1902, edited by the Marchioness of Tullibardine.(1) In South Africa, at any rate, this is a rare work, for only some of the larger libraries possess copies(2). It is possible that the book's title obscured its essential character and Africana affiliation, but the dates should have provided a clue.(3)

Perthshire was the home of that famous regiment, the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), two regular battalions of which saw service in the Anglo-Boer War. It was also one of the main sources of recruitment for two volunteer regiments, the Scottish Horse, raised in South Africa during the war. Apart from much detailed information about the men of these regiments the volume provides particulars of many other combatants with Perthshire connections - those who served with other imperial and colonial formations.

Preliminary work on the Perthshire military record was begun during the war and was taken over and completed by the Marchioness of Tullibardine after her return from South Africa in 1902.(4) Parish ministers and other county residents were consulted and wherever possible information was 'verified and supplemented from regimental records'. Painstaking research eventually yielded a volume containing brief service records of 170 officers and 1 370 other ranks, with photographs of more than 1 000 of them. As a portrait gallery alone the volume has a unique value. Also published were lists of officers of the Black Watch and Scottish Horse, with mention of promotions, casualties, etc and of men of those units who won medals and were mentioned in despatches. In the roll of officers of the Black Watch some familiar names stand out: Major General Andrew Wauchope who led the Highland Brigade at Magersfontein and his young kinsman, Lieutenant Arthur Wauchope who was to become High Commissioner in Palestine (l931-1937), Major General Sir John Maxwell who was Military-Governor of Pretoria; Lieutenant Colonel H. Scott-Turner who was killed at Kimberley and Second Lieutenant A.P. Wavell, a future Field-Marshal and Viceroy of India.

The Second Battalion of the Black Watch was badly mauled at Magersfontein on 11 December 1899 where it suffered more than 300 casualties. In the following year the battalion was in action at Paardeberg with casualties again severe - nearly 100. It was also at the investment of Prinsloo's force in the Brandwater Basin in July 1900. By the end of the war the wearers of the red hackle and dark tartan of this battalion had lost 130 in battle, another 71 through disease, whilst more than 350 had been wounded. The First Battalion of the Black Watch was a late arrival in the war theatre having been despatched from India in December 1901. The Scottish Horse were in hard-fought actions during the later part of the war, at Bakenlaagte, Moedwil and Rooiwal.

Besides biographical details and portraits, the book also contains several short informative articles. The most authoritative is probably the account of the raising and organization of the Scottish Horse (pp. 30-37). The Caledonian Society of Johannesburg suggested that a corps be raised of Scots, or those of Scots descent, in South Africa. Kitchener approved and gave the command to Captain John Murray (later Lieutenant-Colonel), the Marquess of Tullibardine, Royal Horse Guards, husband of the editor of the volume.(5) The new unit was gazetted on 15 December 1900, with its depot in Johannesburg, and recruiting went ahead in Cape Town, Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Natal was an important source of enlistment and a regiment of four squadrons, 50 special scouts and 50 cyclists came into being. Recruiting was extended to Scotland and Australia with the result that a second regiment was formed. Some 3 500 men served in the Scottish Horse, the Scottish contribution from 'Home' amounting to 1 250 Before Lord Tullibardine left Johannesburg in 1902 he helped to organize two local successor regiments of volunteers; the mounted unit was styled 'The Scottish Horse' and the other, infantry, 'The Transvaal Scottish'. Whilst the mounted regiment was soon disbanded, the Transvaal Scottish soldiered on into the pages of a new South Africa's own military history. The regiment owes its Atholl tartan to the Duke of Atholl father of Lord Tullibardine, who recruited more than 800 of the 'Home' Scotsmen who served in the Scottish Horse.

In other contributions to the book a company officer of the Black Watch gives personal impressions of Magersfontein(6) and a squadron officer records the main actions in which the Scottish Horse participated. There are also a few larger biographical outlines notably those of Lieutenant Colonel W. Dick-Cunyingham, V.C. and Colonel Ogilvy, Earl of Airlie, who were killed at Diamond Hill (Donkerhoek) and Ladysmith respectively.

The publication of the Perthshire military record was supported by public subscription; the list of subscribers (pp 288-292) has the flavour of a 'Who's Who' of the Scottish aristocracy and landed gentry. Other sources of income included the proceeds of a football match between the Dundee and Celtic clubs. Lady Tullibardine's first purpose was to give 'an appre ciation of the services rendered by Perthshire men who served in South Africa during the late war ...' Although criticism could be levelled at the 'rainbow cake' structure of the book, it was characterised by restraint and moderation. By and large, the virtues of the Boers were not concealed. At Bakenlaagte, for instance, Corporal J.L. Meates of the Scottish Horse was in a dire situation, under fire from friend and foe. 'Meates was accosted by a field cornet, who nodded kindly, saying, "Get behind us here", and the Boer line passed over him and left him alive. As the shell-fire from the camp, however, intensified, Meates was at a loss where to seek shelter, and was standing up in despair, when a middle-aged Boer touched him on the shoulder, and speaking perfect English said, "Lie down here, my lad, and then you won't be hit", and led him to cover behind an ant-heap.'


  1. Mrs Jean Tromp of Bredasdorp kindly put her copy at my disposal. It belonged to her father, Henry (Harry) Lyon Playfair, who was one of the Perthshire men who fought in the Anglo-Boer War, as did two of his brothers. After the war H.L. Playfair was one of the settlers on the Westminister estate in what was the then Orange River Colony. See also The Playfair Book or Notes on the Scottish Family of Playfair (Comp. Rev. A.G. Playfair), 1932, pp. 72-73.
  2. A South African Bibliography to the Year 1925, revised. London Vol.4, 1979, p.1405. The work is not included in South African History and Historians A Bibliography (ed. C.F.J. Muller and others), Pretoria, 1979. A comparison volume, A Military History of Perthshire 1660-1902, was also edited by Lady Tullibardine.
  3. In fact, the dates covered by the work should have read 1893-1903 as some details of men who fought in the Sudan War and on the frontiers of India were added. Nevertheless the central focus was the war in South Africa.
  4. Lady Tullibardine (born Katharine Ramsay) was 29 when she started work on the Perthshire record. Obviously a gifted and vigorous woman, the later Duchess of Atholl won a seat as a Conservative in the House of Commons in 1923 and from 1924-1929 was parliamentary under-secretary for the Ministry of Education. Her espousal of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) earned her the nickname of 'The Red Duchess' and ended her political career.
  5. The Marquess of Tullibardine served in Kitchener's Sudan campaign and during the first phase of the Anglo-Boer War fought on the Natal front. He again commanded the Scottish Horse during the First World War. He became the 8th Duke of Atholl in 1917.
  6. I am indebted to Miss Fiona Barbour for the identification of this contributor - Captain Charles Edward Stewart of 'B' Company.

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