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The Red Watch By J. A. Currie Characters: 12031

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


With this book as with many others the first chapter should be read last. The reason it is placed first is that the chronological order must be maintained. Besides, when stirring deeds by brave men are recalled, it matters not how briefly, they demand better treatment than being embalmed in an appendix.

This chapter deals with the first appearance of the Highland soldier in Canada. That appearance was both interesting and tragic. The stories and legends surrounding the campaigns of these brave men have furnished many themes for the poet and novelist. This chapter can only briefly refer to them.

If you search the great plains and rugged mountains of Canada from end to end, you will find many beautiful plants and flowers, but not a single spray of heather. Only in one spot in the whole vast Dominion will you find the plant that is so characteristically Scottish, growing naturally, and that is in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax. Tradition has it that on this spot, in 1757, the soldiers of the "Black Watch," the 42nd Highlanders, first set foot on Canadian soil. Here in this park, one of the most beautiful in America, the visitor is shown a plot of Scottish heather, flourishing vigorously in spite of souvenir hunters and vandals.

The Black Watch arrived at Halifax in the spring of 1757 to take part in the expedition against Louisburg, under General Abercrombie. Some say that the men of the Regiment, desirous of perpetuating the badge of so many of their clansmen, planted the heather seed where it now grows. Others, that the palliasses or mattresses of the soldiers were emptied here after the voyage, and the heather with which they had been filled in Scotland provided the seed from which this plot grew. It matters very little how it came. The heather still flourishes on the spot where the Black Watch first pitched its tent in Canada.

The expedition against Louisburg was abandoned, but the following year the regiment took part in the operations against the French under Montcalm at Lake George. Visitors there are shown the ruins of the ramparts of Ticonderoga. Around these ruins cling many legends and stories, but the name of Ticonderoga will live forever in the weird tale immortalized by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, Parkman and the poem of Robert Louis Stevenson. It is told how on the eve of the battle there appeared to Duncan Campbell, of Inverawe, Major of the Black Watch, the wraith of a relative, murdered by a man to whom Campbell had granted sanctuary. This wraith had years previously appeared to him and warned him that he would meet him at "Ticonderoga." The following day Major Campbell died at the head of the assaulting columns of the Black Watch, and that brave regiment lost 655 officers and men, nearly equalling the losses of the "Red Watch," the 48th Highlanders of Canada, at the Battle of St. Julian in Flanders, when their roll showed 691 casualties.

The charge of the Black Watch at Ticonderoga was one of the bravest exploits of British arms. The gallant Highlanders advanced against the log redoubts and abattis of the French under Montcalm, hacking at the branches with their broadswords, climbing the ramparts with the assistance of their comrades, only to be hurled back, torn and bleeding, with the grape shot from hidden guns and musket-fire from many loopholes. They assaulted again and again, and finally had to be withdrawn.

For their gallant conduct at Ticonderoga the "Black Watch" were made a "Royal" regiment by the King.

The Black Watch was quartered for many years afterwards in Canada and quite a few of the descendants of these old warriors helped to make history for the Canadians in this latest and "Greatest War."

The second appearance of the armed Highlander in Canada was characteristically dramatic. They came in the persons of Fraser's Highlanders, hard on the heels of the gallant Black Watch. This regiment, known as the old 78th, was celebrated in many ways. This is the corps raised by Lord Lovat, that Pitt was said to have had in mind when in the British House of Commons he delivered the famous panegyric on the Highland troops.

This regiment distinguished itself first at the taking of Louisburg. It was the first to climb the Heights of Abraham and its fame has come down through history with that of Wolfe's victory at Quebec. The fierce charge of this regiment at Quebec which broke through the French line as if it were paper, is accounted for by the story that the Highlanders were rendered frantic by the fall of Wolfe whom they idolized, as the young staff officer who, on the day after Culloden, dared the anger of his Commander by refusing to pistol a wounded Highlander. A Canadian poet, Mr. Duncan Anderson, in describing the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, refers to the Frasers thus:

"And the shrill pipe its coronach that wailed,

On dark Culloden moor, o'er trampled dead,

Now sounds the 'Onset' that each clansman knows,

Still leads the foremost rank where noblest blood is shed."

While Fraser's regiment were in garrison in Quebec, an incident occurred that was later on duplicated in Flanders. Owing to the inclement weather in Quebec, some of the officers in authority decided that the men should discard their kilts and don trousers. The officers and men of the regiment would not hear of it, and the historian of the regiment says that the kilt was retained winter and summer and that "in the course of six years the doctors learned that in the coldest of winters the men clad in the Highland garb were more healthy than those regiments that wore breeches and warm clothing."

In the trenches at Neuve Chapelle an agitation arose to give the kilted Canadian soldier in the trenches trousers. With the snow on the ground and half an inch of ice on the water pails in the morning, they would not hear of anything but the kilt. Their health was similarly good, colds being unknown.

Along with Fraser's regiment there came also the Montgomery High

landers, the 77th, raised by Hon. Arch. Montgomery, son of the Earl of Eglington. This regiment took its full share of the operations against the French at Fort DuQuesne and elsewhere.

Romantic interest clings around the memories of the Montgomery Highlanders. This regiment was known as the "Lost Regiment." The legend says that one of its gallant leaders, Major Charteris, fell in love with a young woman of his native parish of Perth before he went to the War. She promised to wait till he returned when he would have carved a name for himself with his good broadsword, which was his only fortune. Whilst his regiment was in America his letters failed to reach her, and finally the troop ship on which Charteris sailed for home was driven ashore and his regiment took eight months to make the voyage. All hands were given up as lost, and Major Charteris' sweetheart consented to marry another officer, a "slacker" who had not gone to the war. While the wedding bells were ringing, the regiment marched into Perth, but half an hour too late. Charteris returned to America and died the death of a soldier. His name is still perpetuated in that of a town in Illinois, Ft. Charteris.

The first Highland Regiment to be enlisted in Canada was the Royal Highland Emigrants, still known in the army list as the 84th. No regiment ever embodied in the British service deserves kindlier remembrance in Canada than this gallant corps. The name and number has been perpetuated in the British Army List. Its exploits will never be forgotten and should be cherished by all Canadians. This regiment was enlisted in 1775 when the Revolutionary War broke out, from the Highlanders of Fraser's, Montgomery's and the Black Watch regiments that had settled in America.

When the Revolutionary War broke out Lieut.-Col. Allan McLean, of Torlousk, and Capt. John Small of Strathardle, in Athole, proceeded to embody the members of the Highland regiments that had settled in America. These old Highlanders rallied to the colors of the new battalions, two in number, and they served with great distinction throughout the revolutionary period. McLean raised one battalion in the States among the loyal Highlanders of Virginia and the Carolinas. He was assisted by Capt. McLeod, a former officer in Fraser's regiment. Through many perils and devious routes the men who enlisted found their way to the battalion rendezvous, and when they had all gathered they marched to Quebec, and virtually took charge of the stirring defence of that famous fortress against the American army under Montgomery and Arnold. Throughout the siege, the order and gallantry of the Highlanders animated the garrison and it was before the muskets of the Royal Highland Emigrants that Montgomery fell at the barrier beneath the citadel.

No greater service was ever given to the British Crown than that given at Quebec by the Royal Highland Emigrants, during the second siege. Their undaunted conduct stirred to emulation the brave French-Canadians who mustered to assist the British, and by their joint efforts the American invasion and siege came to an end.

The second battalion served in Nova Scotia during the war. Five of the companies accompanied Lord Cornwallis in his operations in New York and the Southern coast States. Later the two battalions were formed into the 84th Regiment, Sir Henry Clinton being appointed Colonel-in-Chief.

History repeats itself and the descendants of the gallant Royal Highland Emigrants, more than a hundred years later, in the ranks of the "Red Watch," or 48th Highlanders of Canada, fought side by side in the same brigade in Flanders with the gallant Royal Montreal Regiment, composed largely of French-Canadians.

When the Royal Emigrants were disbanded in Canada after the war, the men returned to their farms. Colonel McLean's battalion settled chiefly in Ontario. Many of their descendants still live on their original homesteads and have filled honourable positions in the public and private life of their country. The members of Small's battalion settled in Nova Scotia, and their descendants were in evidence when a Highland corps was organized by Lieut.-Col. Struan Robertson of Pictou, to take part in the "Greatest War."

During the War of 1812, a regiment was raised amongst the Highlanders of the County of Glengarry, Ontario, known as the Glengarry Fencibles. Descendants of these soldiers were amongst the first to offer their services for Flanders in 1914. One gallant officer of the 48th, Captain Archibald McGregor, who gave his life at the Battle of St. Julien, was a descendant of these men of Glengarry.

The Glengarry Fencibles fought amongst the foremost at the Battle of Lundy's Lane alongside the 100th Prince of Wales Regiment, which at that period was uniformed in kilts.

Many distinguished highland regiments served in Canada during the nineteenth century. Amongst those that are still held in kindly remembrance are the following: The Highland Light Infantry, the 73rd, 74th, 78th, 79th and 93rd. Many of the officers and men of these regiments bought out in Canada or else settled in the country at the end of their period of service.

Thus it will be seen that the kilted soldiers have played a prominent part in the pioneer life and settlement of Canada, where men of Scottish blood have always found a congenial home. The highest offices in the gift of the people have gone to the men of Scottish origin like Sir John Macdonald, Alexander Mackenzie, George Brown and Sir Oliver Mowat, whose genius for organization and government made possible Confederation. In the financial and industrial life of the country the names of Lord Strathcona, Sir James Drummond and many other Scots will always be cherished.

It matters not whether the Scottish lad comes from the "dim shieling" or the ancestral castle, when he reaches the shores of Canada he finds the Field Marshal's baton in his pocket, and he can be a leader in whatever sphere of life he chooses.

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