There is an old photograph currently being displayed in a Crieff shop window. It is of a young man in WWI uniform of the Black Watch. It is a studio photograph and he is standing with one hand on his hip while the other, rests on the back of a high sided dining room chair, clutching a lit cigarette between the first two fingers. His boots and leg dress are caked with the mud of the front line trench he had just left. His TOS is cocked over his right ear, as regulations demanded, and as he stares confidently into the camera, he just epitomises the regimental motto, "Nemo Me Impune Lacessit" or "Wha Daur Meddle Wi Me?" The narrative accompanying the photograph reads as follows, "William Duff of 111 King Street Crieff, was killed on the Somme by a sniper. William was 18."
Willie's name is on the Crieff War Memorial, across the street from my house in Crieff, one of 46 other Black Watch Privates killed in WWI, along with 3 Officers, 3 Sergeants, 3 Corporals, 8 Lance Corporals and 2 Pipers, a total of 65 men from a single regiment. But that is only part of the story as the other panels on the memorial hold the names of another 26 in other Highland Regiments and 141 from various corps and regiments as well as 2 nursing sisters. There were also 17 Crieff men who were killed serving in the armed forces of Canada, Australia and New Zealand and 1 in the army of the US. The total number of Crieff casualties in WWI was therefore 252. The casualty figures for WWII were considerably lower, as was the case for every other community in Scotland, and the Black Watch, although having the largest single casualty rate of any regiment suffered "only" 10 casualties. The RAF, mainly aircrew, had 16 and another 24 were spread over other regiments and corps, with another 2 nurses also paying the ultimate price, making a total of 52.
Every city, town and village in Scotland has war memorials which tell the same story but what is striking in the Tayside region, particularly Perthshire, are the numbers who served in the Black Watch. This is hardly surprising as the regiment was raised in Aberfeldy and the regimental depot was in Perth for over 100 years. Of the 50,000 men who served in the Black watch in WWI, over 10,000 were killed and 28,000 were wounded. Only the Royal Scots, with almost 12,000 killed had a higher casualty rate. Perth City had over a 1,000 killed and an unknown number returned badly wounded, to die as a consequence of their wounds within a few years after the end of the war. In 1936 Perth had a total population of 36,000 but in 1922, that figure had fallen to 33,000 and the braes and glens of Perthshire were certainly much quieter in the years after 1918. The regiment was founded in 1739 as a series of independent companies with the express purpose of keeping the peace in the Scottish Highalnds and between its first foreign engagement at Fontenoy in 1746, to its last as a regiment in its own right in Iraq, it amassed a total of 150 battle honours, won in every theatre of war in which Britain was involved all over the world.
Perthshire paid a high price for its commitment to the "local regiment" but so has Scotland, for its commitment to the Union of 1707. When Nelson demanded that "England expects..." at Trafalgar, he simply overlooked the fact that 25% of the sailors to whom the exultation was addressed were Scottish. English Ministers are fond of appealing to history, as they try to defend the Union, no doubt in the hope that Scots in general, are as ignorant of Scottish history as they are. Unfortunately, in far too many instances, too many of our people live up to that expectation. When Cameron did his quick romp through Scottish history during one visit in 2012, he said, "From Waterloo to the Second World War our servicemen and women have fought and won together." The loyalty shown by the Black Watch did not prevent the state murder of Farquhar Shaw and the McPherson brothers, as well as the deportation to the colonies of 200 of their comrades, none of whom ever saw Scotland again, for trying to force the British government to honour a prior agreement that the regiment would not be sent to fight abroad.
On the first day of the Battle of Loos on 25th September 1915, of 69 battalions that went over the top, 35 were in Scottish regiments and 24 of those battalions, in two Scottish divisions, suffered 44% of the total deaths. There were another 11 Scottish battalions in the three other divisions which took part. Scottish casualties in WWI were horrendous, so horrendous that immediately after the war the government did much to prevent the true figures coming to light. The total killed as a percentage of total mobilised was 26.4% whereas the figure for the rest of Britain and Ireland was 11.8%. The Scottish figure for total killed as a percentage of population was 3.1% whereas the figure for the rest of Britain and Ireland was 1.6%. Only Serbia (37.1% and 5.7%) and Turkey (26.8% and 3.7%) respectively, are thought to have suffered higher casualty rates than Scotland. Wolfe's dictum, "They are little mischief if they fall..." would seem to have been followed to the letter. as over 148,000 Scots are known to have been killed in action.
That same pattern emerged during WWII although the casualty figures were much lower. Nevertheless, over 58,000 Scots died and the deliberate sacrifice of the 51st Highland Division by Churchill in 1940, in a vain effort to keep the French in the war, is another perfect example of the way in which the British establishment has repaid Scottish commitment to the Union. Placed under the control of the French, in an effort to persuade them that Britain was not about to run out on them, despite the evacuation of the BEF at Dunkirk, the 51st were left at the mercy of an ally that hoisted the white flag at the first opportunity at St Valery en Caux. The 51st was chosen to be the sacrificial lamb because of the reputation it had created as one of the top fighting units of WWI and the high regard in which it was held by the French. The fighting retreat from the Somme to Normandy cost the division over 1,000 killed, 4,000 wounded and between 8,000 and 10,000 captured, although many escaped during the long march into captivity.
The sacrifice of the 51st touched almost every home in the area of Scotland from which it drew its men and there was much bitterness at its sacrifice. One officer wrote while in prison camp, "One is forced to conclude therefore, that it (the division) was deliberately sacrificed as a political pawn. " The Duke of Argyll, who was a Captain in the Argylls at St Valery, said some years later, "It has always been abundantly clear to me that no Division has ever been more uselessly sacrificed..." I have known many of the men who served in the Division at that time, indeed my father's closest friend who piped my parents from the church at their wedding in 1938, was one who served five years in captivity, and I can vouch for the deep bitterness among many of them, at being asked to sacrifice their lives for an ally - the French - they found to be totally unreliable.
Many in Scotland have felt it was no accident that Trident was housed on the Clyde and that the first nuclear reactor at Dounreay, as far away from the main centres of population in England as it was possible to get. That Trident sits so close to Scotland's biggest centre of population mattered little to the British Establishment and we can be forgiven for thinking that Wolfe's dictum of "They are little mischief if they fall..." again played its part. Of course opponents of Scottish independence will react in horror at such a suggestion but, in the words of another famous English woman who knew the Establishment well, "They would wouldn't they?" Nevertheless, they have been quick to acknowledge that any attempt to house it anywhere in England will be met with popular opposition. True to form and in line with the customary tactics of the UK Government and Better Together, Admiral Sir George Zambellas has warned that removal of Trident "would hit at the very heart" of the UK navy. Hammond, Secretary of Defence, comes north to warn us of the loss of jobs. Quite why the rUK navy cannot have Trident housed some where in England has yet to be made clear and Hammond's threats ring rather hollow given the underspend in defence spending there has been and the loss of 10,000 defence jobs that have already happened.
Quite frankly I am not overly concerned about the future of the rUK's navy and, if they want to retain their seat on the Security Council, they will soon find an alternative home for a weapons system they will never use and which they cannot afford. When Hammond and other Secretaries of Defence are prepared to GUARANTEE no jobs will be lost if Scots vote No, they might be listened to but until then, their words and threats are as worthless now as they have always been in the past. The SNP and Yes Campaign will do well to take note that many of us feel strongly that Scots have sacrificed more than enough already for this damnable Union. We are in no mood to sacrifice any more.