EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
The 42nd Highland Regt of Foot ("Black Watch") is definitely a most distinguished and well known unit of the famed 'Highlanders' of the British military.
There is considerable debate about the origin of the name of this regiment, typically presuming it had to do with the dark tartan they are said to have worn. Actually it derives from a colloquial expression from the time the ancestral unit was formed, in the turbulent climate of the Scottish Highlands post '15' (the Scottish rebellion of 1715).
In 1725, George II authorized units of Highlanders from various clans loyal to the crown to patrol ("watch") areas of the Highlands for potential troubles and further organizing of insurgence.
These units were termed 'Am Freiceadan Dubh', (= the dark, or 'black' watch) much as in modern terms we refer to covert activity in the intelligence communities as 'black ops'.
The well known knife traditionally hidden in the sock of kilted clansmen is the skean dubh ( = hidden, dark, or 'black' knife, dubh meaning dark or black).
In 1740, more units were added and formed into an official military infantry regiment which became the famed 42nd .
This regiment, which fought with distinction and valor through many campaigns, including as Fernando noted at Bucaco in 1810 during the Peninsular campaigns, is also well known from one of the most famed paintings of the Napoleonic Wars.
Lady Butler painted her rendition of the immortal charge of the Royal Scots Greys cavalry at Waterloo, titled 'Scotland Forever'.
In this fabulous painting, she portrays the spirited charging of these horsemen in this charge in which Highlanders (the 42nd) were said to have tried to go into the breach with them by grabbing their stirrups. This was more of course an elaborate exaggeration, but in fact the cavalry did break through the ranks of the Highlanders in moving toward the French, but the Highlanders cheered them through, and in that spirit, Lady Butler simply portrayed them very much wanting to 'go with them'.
I recall in 1983, I went to a performance of the Black Watch bagpipe band . It was exciting and fabulous, and there are no words to describe the emotion as they dedicated their music and a standing crowd to the Marines who died in the barracks bombing in Lebanon the week before.
From the early days of these Highlander regiments, the bagpipes always accompanied them, and before battle, the pipes stirred the troops, much as what I witnessed that day in 1983.