Customs and Traditions
The character of the Black Watch has been forged over the years by the many thousands of men who have served in its ranks in times of peace and war. This character has evolved and customs have been handed down from generation to generation. Often these long standing customs have become traditions.
Some examples of this are;
The Black Watch has had an ancient tradition of loyalty to the Church. It's first Chaplain, Dr Adam Ferguson, accompanied it in every battle and led it in worship, daily, both in peace and war. However it was not until 1952 that this was formalised.
The Black Watch Chaplain at the Battle of Fontenoy, 1745
The 1952 General Assembly of The Church of Scotland authorised the formation of Kirk Sessions in Scottish units of Her Majesty's Forces. However, because of the First Battalion's active service in Korea and Kenya, it was not until 17 January 1954 that the first "Elders" in the Kirk Session were ordained in St Andrew's Church, Nairobi. The Reverend Tom Nicol was the first Moderator. From that year, successive Moderators and Elders have carried on their work in every place where the First Battalion has served.
Successive Chaplains (to the Battalion), who were at the same time Moderators of the Session, have commented on the value of the Session in supporting and encouraging them in their work. This active nucleus of a church in the Battalion is enhanced by the special Black Watch flavour of the church building, whether it is a church, a converted barrack room, a hut or a tent. Rather like the Ark of the Covenant, everywhere the Battalion has moved, a unique and distinctive Kirk of the Black Watch has been established.
Each year in January the origins are commemorated on Kirk Session Sunday, conveniently close on the calendar to the Sergeants' Mess Burns Night. In addition there have been more formal celebrations at the 25th and 50th anniversaries, both in St John's Kirk in Perth. The Kirk Session is part of the Presbytery of Perth. While the Session has never been within the bounds of the Presbytery, it is entitled to send a representative Elder to the Presbytery.
This tradition has continued with the formation of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Many Regiments have their own prayer, called a Collect. The Collect of The Black Watch is said during services involving the Black Watch Regimental family.
The Regimental Collect
O God, whose strength setteth fast the mountains,
Lord of the hills to whom we lift our eyes:
grant us grace that we, of The Black Watch,
once chosen to watch the mountains of an earthly
kingdom, may stand fast in the faith and be strong,
until we come to the heavenly Kingdom of Him,
who has bidden us watch and pray.
Thy Son, our Saviour and Lord.
Red Hackle Day
The origin of the wearing of the Red Hackle is uncertain. There is evidence that it was worn by the 42nd in North America in the 1770s, however a 19th Century tradition ascribes the award of the Red Hackle to an action at the battle of Geldermalsen in 1795 when the 11th Light Dragoons retreated, leaving two field guns for the French. The Black Watch promptly mounted an attack and recovered the guns.
It was for this action that the Red Hackle was allegedly awarded and on the King’s birthday on 4 June 1795, there was a parade at Royston in Hertfordshire, when a Red Hackle was given to every man on parade. It was not until 1822 that the Adjutant General issued an order, confirming that only The Black Watch would have the privilege of wearing the red “vulture feather” in their bonnets.
In 1919 the Central Committee of The Black Watch Association formalised the date on which the Regiment should celebrate “Red Hackle Day”.
The tradition remains and when ever the opportunity arises The Black Watch celebrate Red Hackle Day on 5 January or the nearest day to it.
Crimean Long Reveille
Reveille is the morning call on the bugle and a piper playing “Johnnie Cope” to rouse the soldiers at the start of the day.
In The Black Watch on the 15th of every month the Pipes and Drums would assemble to play Crimean Long Reveille. The sequence of tunes played has been preserved as The Soldier’s Return, Grannie Duncan, Sae Will Ye Yet, Grannie Duncan, Miss Girdle, Erchless Castle and Johnnie Cope. All officers junior to the Adjutant were expected to be on parade.
As the name would suggest, the tradition surrounding this parade originated during the Crimean War (1854), when the Highland Brigade, consisting of the 42nd, 79th and 93rd, were serving together at Kamara, near Balaclava. One explanation as to why these tunes were played in this strange order is that an enemy attack was spotted and the pipers played the tunes to rouse their comrades. Another version has it that Long Reveille is a punishment for the Pipes and Drums after a drunken piper had woken the entire battalion in the small hours.
Whatever its origin, the tradition is maintained whenever time allows.