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Mar. 30th, 2006 | 10:11 pm

Remembered now only in history.


400 years of glory and valour are consigned to history
The Scotsman Wednesday March 29, 03:00 AM

IN BASRA, the sun beat down on the soldiers gathered in the dust of Shaibah camp. In Edinburgh, a light drizzle fell on the men and women lined up on parade at the top of the castle. In Glasgow, Baghdad, Omagh, Belfast, Cyprus and Canterbury, similar ceremonies were taking place. As midday struck in Scotland, the country's old regiments slipped into history.

Gone were the Royal Scots - almost 400 years old - the Black Watch, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Royal Highland Fusiliers, the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Highlanders. In their place, to a flurry of pipes and drums, was the new Royal Regiment of Scotland.

It was certainly not the first merger imposed on Scotland's soldiery, but it has proved to be one of the most controversial. Yesterday, however, the army was putting a brave face on it.

As the moment drew near, a large crowd had gathered around the edges of Edinburgh Castle's Crown Square. Kenny Mackenzie, the Royal Scots' Regimental Sergeant Major, marched smartly into the square and snapped to attention.

"By the right, quick march," the order came, and from around the corner came the new regimental band, belting out the tunes of the Athol Highlander and Glendaruel Highlander. Behind them, a carefully chosen cross-section of the new regiment marched into the Crown Square, wheeled right and came to a halt.

They had been practising hard, apparently, but perhaps in keeping with the furore surrounding the merger, not all were in step. Their boots hit the cobbles like a burst of machine gun fire, rather than the single sharp report that the sergeant major was hoping for. He made them suffer by shuffling them backwards and forwards for a couple of minutes, barking out instructions until he was happy.

Still, as Major-General Euan Loudon, the new regiment's most senior officer was to say, change may be painful.

"Parade will remove head dress", RSM Mackenzie yelled, and they whipped off the old caps. Two more soldiers appeared, bearing between them a tray draped in the new regimental tartan and worked their way among the ranks, collecting the last vestiges of the old regiments. They marched out smartly, covering the abandoned hats discreetly with the tartan.

Those remaining in the square waited. The drizzle continued. The crowd, mainly tourists interspersed with press and some military types, craned their necks to see what was going on. Nothing happened. "Where's the general?" one soldier whispered. More drizzle fell. The onlookers began to talk among themselves.

In Basra, the soldiers of the Royal Scots were baking in the heat. The regiment, the oldest in the British Army, is not due back until May; they had the curious experience of being consigned to history while still being called on to serve in action.

As if there was not enough historical baggage hanging around, the Ministry of Defence had chosen the 373rd anniversary of the formation of the regiment to disband it. About 200 soldiers who were not required for patrolling stood and watched as the standard of the Royal Scots was lowered for the last time, while a lone piper played a lament.

Their commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Bruce, addressed them. They were, he said, part of history, the history of the Royal Scots, the Royal Regiment of Scotland and the history of Scotland itself. "From this moment forward," he told them, "the very best way to cherish and respect the memory of the Royal Scots will be to carry this honour forward with pride into the regiment." Then they slipped on Glengarry caps bearing the new regimental badge and got back to dodging roadside bombs.

Back in Edinburgh, the general finally appeared, striding into the square, sleeves rolled up. The others had apparently been a little too quick off the mark.

"Parade, general salute," barked RSM Mackenzie and the band broke into a stirring burst of regimental music. And stopped again, just as quickly.

The general strode up and down the lines, dishing out new caps, each bearing the hackle appropriate to what were once individual regiments, but are now mere battalions: black for the 1st Battalion (Royal Scots Borderers - the old Royal Scots and King's Own Scottish Borderers); white for 2nd Battalion (Royal Highland Fusiliers); the famous red for the 3rd Battalion (Black Watch); blue for the 4th Battalion (Highlanders); and green for the 5th Battalion (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders).

The caps also bore the new insignia of the Royal Regiment, a lion rampant on a cross of St Andrew, or the crucified cat, as some wags have taken to calling it. It looked quite smart. The general stood in front of them and made his big pitch. It was, he said, a new chapter in the story of the Scottish soldier. "Change may be painful, but it has come to visit us in our day and generation," he said, but it followed on from a glorious past.

They had to fight to win the best roles they could and not forget their past - the golden thread of tradition which the opponents of merger declare cut and which the army insists is intact.

United by their past, confident in their future, excelling in their jobs and relying for success on their courage, good humour and selflessness. That was the ticket, he said. RSM Mackenzie demanded another general salute and the band piped up and piped down.

And with that they were off, disappearing to the sounds of the new regimental march, Scotland the Brave. Appropriately, this time they were in step.

• The Black Watch's name came from the dark tartan its soldiers wore and from its role to "watch" the Highlands after its formation in 1725, when six companies were formed to stop fighting among the clans. The regimental motto was Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (No-one Attacks Me With Impunity).

• The King's Own Scottish Borderers were the local infantry battalion for the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, and Lanarkshire. They were founded 1689 to defend Edinburgh from Jacobites and fought in every major conflict of the last 300 years including, with distinction, the Gulf in 2003.

• The Royal Scots was the oldest Infantry Regiment of the Line in the army. It was formed in 1633 under a warrant granted by Charles I, raising a body of men for service in France. The regiment saw conflict in many theatres, both world wars and the Gulf war, and action in Northern Ireland.

• The Royal Highland Fusiliers were formed in 1959 by the controversial amalgamation of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry. The regiment was awarded more than 200 battle honours, a number unsurpassed by any other unit in the British Army.

• The Highlanders, a combat infantry regiment of about 550 men, was formed in 1994 with the amalgamation of the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons) and The Gordon Highlanders. It was the only one with a Gaelic motto - Cuidich 'n Righ (Aid the King).

• The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, nicknamed the "Thin Red Line" for their actions at Balaclava, were formed in 1881 by the amalgamation of the Princess Louise's Argyllshire Regiment and the Sutherland Highlanders. They had the army's largest cap badge and the Glengarry as headgear.

By: GETHIN CHAMBERLAIN -- 29-Mar-06

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