Wednesday, 1 December 2010

1.4 "The ladies from Hell"!

This post covers the following sections of the course: the kilted regiments; the role of Scottish military personnel in terms of commitment, casualties.

"Ladies from Hell" was a nickname given by the Germans to the kilted regiments of the British Army: the Gordon Highlanders (Aberdeen and the North East), the Black Watch (Perthshire and Fife), The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Argyll, Stirling and central Scotland); The Seaforth Highlanders (Inverness and Morayshire).

The kilted regiments included the territorial battalions. These were part time soldiers who were called up for service in August 1914. They had to volunteer for service overseas but very few refused. The Territorials made a significant contribution to the fighting from the start right through to the Armistice.

The kilted regiments also included regiments raised in England such as the London Scottish and the Liverpool Scottish. Some Canadian Regiments also wore the kilt for the same reason: they were recruited from Scottish emigrants and wanted to identify themselves as Scots.

The Germans used the nickname "ladies from Hell" as an insult but the Scots took it as a compliment: it marked them out as a force to be reckoned with - aggressive soldiers who inspired fear in the enemy. Some historians have even compared this attitude to the Glasgow airport worker who attacked terrorist bombers in 2008.


However, having a reputation as a "hard man" can have its down side. Read this article from the The Sunday Times.

Historian Professor Tom Devine also says ...


“From the 18th century onwards, the Scottish regiments were the military cutting edge of the British empire and were always used in a spearhead role, and that meant huge casualties,”

Is Professor Devine correct? He makes two claims ...

1. Scottish regiments (all of them, not just the kilted regiments) were used in a "spearhead role". Another term for this is "shock troops".

2. The consequences of this was that Scottish casualties were huge. It is implied that Scottish casualties must have been higher than casualties of other British and Empire troops.

What does the evidence say?

Scottish regiments certainly made very important contributions to major battles on the western front. You can find out about Loos and the Somme on other pages of this blog. Another very important attack was the battle of Arras in 1917. This saw a concentration of 44 Scottish battalions and seven Scottish named Canadian battalions,
attacking on the first day, making it the largest concentration of Scots to have fought together. One third of the 159,000 British casualties were Scottish.

Scotland's population was around 1/10th of the population of Britain.

Figures for WW1 casualties can be unreliable and there is some argument among historians about the totals. However, here are some figures quoted by historian Niall Ferguson in his book, "The Pity of War" ...


Percentage killed of all mobilised

Grand total - 13.4%
Britain and Ireland - 11.8%
British Empire - 8.8%
Scotland - 26.4%
France - 16.8%
Turkey - 26.8%
Serbia - 37.1%
Germany - 15.4%

Percentage killed of males 15-49

Grand total - 4.0%
Britain and Ireland - 6.3%
British Empire - 0.2%
Scotland - 10.9%
France - 13.3%
Turkey - 14.8%
Serbia - 22.7%
Germany - 12.5%

Percentage killed of population

Grand total - 1.0%
Britain and Ireland - 1.6%
British Empire - 0.1%
Scotland - 3.1%
France - 3.4%
Turkey - 3.7%
Serbia - 5.7%
Germany - 3.0%

What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

How important was the contribution of Scottish Regiments to British effort on the Western Front?. Make you own notes using the information on this page of the blog.

1.3 The Somme

The Battle of the Somme

Key points

Plan was similar to that of Loos:

Joint planning with French
Attack on a German "salient". (A bulge into the allied lines.)
Use of artillery. This time a massive 7 day bombardment was planned.

The plan fell apart for similar reasons:

Although the artillery bombardment was impressive, it failed to knock out the German defences which were deeply dug into the chalk uplands over which the battle was fought.
Again, the British attack came up against very heavily defended German strongholds. It was impossible for the soldiers to break through.

The consequence was that July 1st, the first day of the attack, saw 58 000 British casualties. Most of these fell in the first hour or so.

Watch this clip from a BBC documentary.


The casualties as a % of the British Army total did not include as many Scots as at Loos the year before. However, the number of Scottish troops who took part was considerable: 3 Scottish Divisions took part - 9th, 15th and 51st Highland and 51 infantry battalions took part in the battle at some time. Some Scottish battalions such as the 16 th Royal Scots who took part in the first day's attack, suffered badly. This battalion of the Royal Scots had been raised in Edinburgh and included the whole of the Heart of Midlothian first team and many other footballers and sportsmen as well as teachers, university lecturers etc. Almost three quarters of the battalion were killed or wounded on July 1st.

The Hearts memorial at Contalmaison on the Somme.

After the slaughter on the first day, the battle settled down into a battle of attrition: an attempt to grind the German defences down with a series of attacks. The battle finally ground to a halt in October 1916.

The Somme was significant because it marked the beginning of the middle phase of the war: the point at which the British army began to take over from the French as the main attacking force against the Germans. It also made the British public realise the true costs of war in terms of casualties. The Scots of course, had learned that lesson the year before at Loos.

The conduct of the battle of the Somme is also used by some historians who criticise the leadership of Douglas Haig. You will look at that debate in another post on this blog.

British "walking wounded" making their way to a field dressing station during the batlle. Notice the German prisoner (wearing a cap) walking with them.

What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

Draw up a table in two columns. Use the heading "The Scots Contribution at Loos and the Somme". Complete the table using the info from this page and the previous page of this blog.