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The Black Watch

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Empire | 1815-1915

Crimean War

After almost 40 years of peace since Waterloo the 42nd formed part of the Highland Brigade during the war with Russia in the Crimea. Its most notable action was in the very first engagement at the Battle of the Alma in September 1854. Positioned on the right of the Brigade, it was with the order "Forward the 42nd" that the Commander, Sir Colin Campbell sent the Regiment up the heights to encounter the enemy who were driven back to their base in Sebastopol. There the Regiment shared in all the dangers and tribulations of work in the trenches before the town for nearly 18 months.

Forward the 42nd painting

Picture: "Forward the 42nd" Portion of the print of the Battle of the Alma showing the Colour Party.

Indian Mutiny

Lieutenant FarquharsonVC

Almost immediately after the Crimean War the Regiment was despatched to India to help quell the Mutiny. There it was first in action at Cawnpore and then, early in 1858, at the relief of Lucknow. It was there that Lieutenant Farquharson won the first of the Regiment's fourteen Victoria Crosses. After the eventual capture of Lucknow, the Regiment was employed in the flying columns sent out to subdue areas remaining in rebel hands. This involved much fierce fighting and marching large distances.

For more information, please see the FIBIS wiki pages on the Indian Mutiny and The Black Watch in India.

Picture: Lieutenant Farquharson winning his VC at Lucknow 1858 by Desanges

Egypt and the Sudan

This period first saw the 73rd in South Africa taking part in the Frontier Wars. A large number of reinforcements for the Regiment on the troopship "Birkenhead" lost their lives when it sank in 1852. The discipline of the troops aboard, allowing the women and children to escape, has become a legend. In 1874 the 42nd played the leading role in the Ashanti Campaign in West Africa during the successful advance to Coomassie through dense jungle. It was in 1881 that the 42nd and 73rd were reunited as the 1st and 2nd Battalions of The Black Watch respectively. The 1st Battalion was then to be the next in action in Africa taking part in the Highland Brigade's dawn assault on the Egyptian position at Tel-el-Kebir in 1882. Two years later it was in the thick of the fight with the Mahdi's fanatical tribesmen at El Teb and Tamai - and the following year 1885 saw it taking part in the Nile Expedition and fighting at Kirbekan and Abu Klea.

The Boer War

Only a month after the declaration of war by the Boers in late 1899, the 2nd Battalion arrived in South Africa. There it was to be part of the Highland Brigade in the column sent to the relief of Kimberley. Unfortunately the Brigade was soon committed to a disastrous dawn attack on Boer positions at Magersfontein.

No surrender

No proper reconnaissance had been carried out and the night advance was delayed by a storm, by thorn bushes and barbed wire. The 2nd Battalion, in the lead, was caught in the open in daylight and subjected to rapid and accurate fire from the Boer entrenchments. Despite gallant efforts to reach these trenches the Battalion was pinned down all day, losing over 300 killed or wounded. Image above: Magersfontein "No Surrender" Oil painting by Frank Feller.

Two months after Magersfontein the 2nd Battalion was in action again at Koodoosberg, a battle which cleared the route to Kimberley.

2nd BattalionBlack Watch

Amongst those of the Regiment killed in action was Lieutenant Freddy Tait, the Amateur Golf Champion. Shortly afterwards the Boers were encircled at Paardeberg. There the Highland Brigade was required to put in an attack across the open veldt. It did so in extended order and without the losses incurred at Magersfontein.

The Boers trapped at Paardeberg surrendered and the Orange Free State Capital, Bloemfontein was captured. Image above: A section of 2nd Battalion under Sergeant Johnstone equipped for action in South Africa 1900"


There were to be two more years before the Boers accepted defeat, years in which the British forces experienced the frustrations of a guerrilla war. No longer were there Boer armies, only smaller groups which would engage the troops at long range then try and disengage before contact could be made. Eventually this was defeated by restricting movement with block houses and wire fences. This strategy required a huge number of troops in small detachments.

The 1st Battalion joined the 2nd on active service in December 1901 and they had an historic meeting at Harrismith.