Red Hackles on the Rock

in Armed Forces

The story of the Black Watch in Gibraltar

As a result of the Cardwell Reforms of 1872, regiments in the British Army were paired off by means of a “Localization” programme that entailed units changing a Brigade Depot. This innovation would better pool human and material resources.

The 42nd Black watch and the 79th Cameron Highlanders were already closely associated, being Royal Regiments, and so were eminent candidates for amalgamation, but the sticking point, which prevented this particular pairing turned out to be the tartans. The Adjutant General inquired whether the Camerons would be willing to change theirs for the Black Watch’s. The 79th were on a tour of duty in Gibraltar when they received the request and immediately telegraphed a resounding “NO” for an answer. So the 79th retained their independence as did the Black Watch. The then Secretary of State for war declared in Parliament that the Scottish regiments required an exception made regarding amalgamation.

The 79th next departed the rock playing the march they composed “The 79th    Farewell to Gibraltar” on their pipes, not before having got “gloriously drunk” days back, the result of a long stay in a backwater like Gibraltar.

Some officers made an effort to alleviate the boredom of garrison duty. In the 1830’s for instance, Colonel Wheatley, of the Black Watch, began a library for the “other ranks” as the Garrison Library was the preserve of the officers. The men subscribed 6d a month to use the library which totalled some three thousand books. By the time the regiment went to the Crimea the books had to be disposed of. That put an end to the 42nd’s attempt to relieve the boredom which was more the pity.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Black Watch sailed from the Rock for Lisbon to form part of Sir John Moore’s expedition, which was to attempt the relief of Madrid, recently captured by Napoleon. The defeat of several Spanish armies sent to augment Moore’s forces meant that the British had to beat a quick retreat to La Coruña where they held out against the French under General Soult’s superior numbers. It was here that the black Watch distinguished itself. Pushed back by the French onslaught, the line was giving way through lack of ammunition until Moore cried out “Hold on the 42nd, your ammunition is on its way.” The Scots held that flank, their stubborn stand helped turn the battle. 

Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants

From Henry’s Songbook


It’s over the mountains and over the main

Through Gibraltar tae France and tae Spain

Wi’ a feather in your bonnet and a kilt aboon your knee

book So ‘list my bonnie laddie and come awa wi’ me

The 4th Battalion fought yet another rearguard action early in WWII. The formed part of the Highland Division which held out at Dunkirk and was one of the last units to leave for Southampton before being cut to pieces by Kliest’s Panzers near Cherbourg.

After a short spell in the UK, the regiment again sailed for Gibraltar arriving in July 1940 on the Athlone Castle right in the middle of an air raid by the Italian Air Force which was targeting HMS Hood berthed at the South Mole. D Company was billeted in one of the disused water reservoir inside the Water Works deep inside the Rock. 

One of the regiment’s tasks in Gibraltar was to help the Royal Engineers and Royal Canadian Engineers, who were digging additional tunnels all through the Rock, by removing the spoil. This spoil was transported from all over the Rock in lorries and used as fill for the runway which was being extended. The Scottish infantrymen were inexperienced in this kind of work and some headstones in the cemetery attest this fact.

The Regiment’s other assignment was to guard the installations being needed for “Operation Torch.” This plan entailed landing Allied forces on three different locations along the North African coast. This thrust would become the second front the Russians were crying out for, to relieve the pressure on them by forcing the Axis to bring troops away from the Eastern front. One company of the 4th battalion however did not work in the tunnels, they formed part of the Fortress Independent Company nicknamed the Mason- MacMillan‘s Killers, Mason MacMillan being the Governor at the time. They were trained in counter insurgency tactics. On one occasion, the Sentry of the Watch took their responsibility much too seriously and arrested none other than General “Ike” Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander  who was on the Rock finalizing the plans for the invasion of North Africa. The general was dressed in civilian clothes to preserve anonymity when outside his quarters. He aroused the suspicion of a Black Watch guard who challenged him. The General did not have a military pass on him so he was instantly marched to the guard room protesting vehemently. There followed an almighty row which only ended when the Regimental Adjutant was called to vouch for the “distinguished” detainee. 

The most lasting left on the Rock is a Cairn on Devil’s Tower Road honouring the Black Watch. Hopefully, when the mountain of rubble currently accumulated behind the site is removed, the monument will be preserved and may be moved to a more prominent position.  

The 1st Battalion was deployed to Gibraltar between 1967 and 1968 to reinforce the garrison as the result of Spain’s aggressive attitude to Gibraltar.  

The history of the Cairn

Extract from the “Red Hackle” October 1955

When the 4th  Battalion, the Black Watch left Gibraltar in 1943, after two and a half years Garrison Duty, their commanding officer, Lt. Colonel B A Innes, arranged for a small plaque to be cut in the various pillboxes and tunnels, stating that they had been constructed by the Battalion. These all remain in position today. Some larger and more prominent form of memorial commemorating the Battalion’s labour was first suggested last year by the late Lt. Colonel Purvis-Russell-Montgomery, OBE, who was visiting Gibraltar at the time, to the then Governor General Sir Gordon Macmillan, KCB, KCVO, CBE, DSO,MC. The Governor, and later the City Council, agreed and the Colonel of the Regiment was approached on the subject. Since both Brigadier R.C. MacPherson , who as Lt Colonel,\was Commanding Officer of the 4th Battalion for the greater part of their tour on the Rock, Lt. Colonel B A Innes, and as many ex-officers of the Battalion who were able to be traced, have also been approached, and in the majority of cases have been strongly in favour of the idea. The memorial is in the form of a traditional Scottish Cairn. It stands between seven and eight feet high. It is situated on the north-east corner of the Rock, opposite MacFarlain Gallery, one of the many tunnels constructed by the Battalion, and is the heart of the Battalion’s old defensive area. The overall design was produced in conjunction with Messers Thoms and Wilkie, and the Cairn itself was constructed by the Royal Engineers in Gibraltar. The two plaques, made out of White Carrara Marble and inscribed in gold lettering, have been made by Spanish craftsmen of the firm of E. Latin, in Gibraltar. They were designed by Lt. G.S. Robb, at present serving with the 4/5th Battalion, and who is Art Master at Carnoustie and Monifieth Schools. The figure of the Jock on the upper plaque is that of Sgt. Manzie of the 4/5th Battalion, now employed by the Territorial Army Association, as a civilian with the 4/5th in Dundee, and who was a drummer with the Pipes and Drums with the 4th Battalion in Gibraltar

Note. The Cairn is looked after in Gibraltar by David Eveson with help from Roy. A wreath is placed on this memorial by them each Remembrance Day.


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