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Army: The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)

by WW2_Database

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Contributed on: 
20 January 2006

Information provided by: Regimental Headquarters
Part of: The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)
First Published: 25 June 2004


The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) A brief background history The origin of this regiment was the raising in 1725 of six independent companies of highlanders from clans which had remained loyal to King George I during the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, with the task of keeping peace and order in the highlands. Because of their job of ‘watching’ and the dark colour of the tartan they wore, they became known as The Black Watch. In September 1739 these companies were amalgamated into the 43rd Regiment of Foot, and as such their first action was against the French at the First Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. They became the 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot in 1751. In 1758 King George II granted this the additional title of ‘Royal’ and authorised the raising of a second battalion, which was amalgamated with the first battalion in 1762. Another 2nd battalion was raised in 1779 and became the 73rd Highland Regiment of Foot. This in turn raised a second battalion in 1806, which distinguished itself against Napoleon’s troops at Quatre Bras in 1815, but it was disbanded in 1817. Many battle honours were awarded to the regiment during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries in the Americas, the West Indies, the Peninsular War, India, the Crimea and South Africa. On 1 July 1881 the 42nd and 73rd were amalgamated into the 1st and 2nd Battalions of The Royal Highlanders (The Black Watch). A 3rd (Militia, later Special Reserve) Battalion was wound down in 1919. In 1908 the Volunteers of Dundee, Forfar, Perthshire and Fife, which had been raised in 1859, became the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Territorial Battalions. During the First World War seven more battalions (8th to 14th) were raised. The 6th Battalion was awarded France’s highest military honour, the Croix de Guerre, for its gallantry in July 1918 in clearing the Germans from the village of Chambrecy against great odds at the end of seven days of continuous fighting under the eyes of the French. The regiment lost 7993 killed during this war. From 1881 the regiment was popularly known as The Black Watch. In 1922 it became officially known as The Black Watch (The Royal Highlanders), changed in 1937 to The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment). King George V became Colonel-in-Chief in 1912, succeeded on his death by his daughter-in-law Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). Eleven of her family, the Bowes-Lyons, had served in the regiment, her brother and a cousin being killed during the First World War. After her death in 2002 her place was taken by her grandson Charles Prince of Wales. Even now, however, in memory of its origins, those who serve in or have served in the regiment, more often than not refer to it as the 42nd or ‘the forty twa’. The wearing of the distinctive red feather (Red Hackle) on the left side of the headdress is said to have begun during the American War of Independence. In August 1822 the Adjutant-General issued an order that it was ‘intended to be worn exclusively by the Forty-Second Regiment’ During World War Two six battalions of the regiment (1st, 2nd, 4th to 7th) were engaged at various times in military action against the enemy, losing just over 1740 officers and men killed. Three other battalions (8th to 10th) remained in the UK on home defence and training duties.

Facts and figures

Unit name: The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)
Force: Army
Designation: Regiment (Army)
Type: Infantry
Entered service: 1739
1st Battalion
2nd Battalion
4th Battalion
5th Battalion
6th Battalion
7th Battalion
8th, 9th and 10th Battalions
Motto: Nemo me impune lacessit

Further resources

Museums and Associations

Name: The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)
Address: Balhousie Castle, Hay Street, PERTH, Perthshire
Postcode: PH1 5HR
Telephone number: 0131 310 8530
Email address:
Comments: General enquiries to Regimental HQ at the above address. Welfare enquiries to the Regimental Association at the above address by post or telephone. Historical enquiries by email to
Museum opening hours: May to September, Mon-Sat 10am to 4.30pm. October to April, Mon-Fri 10am to 3.30pm.

Regimental magazine "The Red Hackle" is published each May and November, annual subscription £8. To subscribe see the website above.

Regimental Reunion is held annually in the afternoon of the last Saturday in June at Balhousie Castle, Perth.

Branches of The Black Watch Association are in: Angus, Birmingham, Blairgowrie, Chorley, Dundee, Fife, Lancs and Yorks, London, Perth, Newcastle, Stoke-on-Trent. For contact details see website.

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