A Time of Tyrants: Scotland and the Second World War

Scottish Social History
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Tweets by LRBbookshop. A haven for bookworms and tea connoisseurs alike. Trevor Royle. Order for Instore Collection. From the publisher: Masterly account of the Crimean war of — a From the publisher: First complete general history of the English Civil War Difficulties arose amongst the confederates as to the officer who should assume the chief command.

Happily, however, these were at length overcome. The Earl of Athlone, as the senior, waving his claim, the command of the allied army was conferred on Marlborough, who, in the campaigns which were about to open, should win laurels of a mighty fame. It is, however, worthy of notice that in each year the might and energy of the combatants were concentrated into one great fight, rather than a succession of minor engagements.

The character of the country, no doubt, helped to this mode of warfare. Thus we record, in succession, the great battles of Blenheim, in ; Ramilies, in ; Oudenarde, 57 in ; Malplaquet, in In the strongholds of Huy and Limburg capitulated to the allies. But the succeeding year was destined to witness a far more magnificent achievement—the sudden and rapid transference of the British army from the plains of the Netherlands to the valley of the Danube; a movement which, affording timely succour, and graced by the triumphs of Schellenberg and Blenheim, restored the sinking fortunes of the Imperial arms, and proved the deliverance of Germany.

Associated with the First Royals, the Twenty-third Regiment, with detachments from other corps, the Guards sustained a terrible fight and suffered a severe loss in storming the heights of Schellenberg. Their valour on this occasion was most conspicuous. The furious and repeated assaults of their gallant foe entailed frequent repulses; still their firmness was unconquerable; again and again they returned to the attack, until their perseverance was at length crowned with complete success in the utter rout of the enemy.

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But this defeat on the part of the French and Bavarians was only the prelude to 58 a more terrible disaster. The allied army of Germans, Dutch, Prussians, and British, driving the enemy before them, at length halted in the neighbourhood of Blenheim, where the French and Bavarians, largely recruited and strongly posted, under Marshals Tallard and Marsin, had resolved to try the issue of battle. In the action which followed, the Guards had six officers killed and wounded.

In the peace of Utrecht once more restored them to their native land. Meanwhile the Spanish Peninsula was the scene of a conflict, although conducted on a less gigantic scale, embittered by the personal presence of the rival sovereigns—Philip of Bourbon and Charles of Austria. France having espoused the cause of Philip—which was really the cause of the people—had so vigorously pressed the allies, that notwithstanding the presence of a British force, they could hardly maintain a footing in the Peninsula for themselves, or for Charles as claimant to the throne.

In Gibraltar had been captured by a party of British sailors.

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A portion of the Guards garrisoned the fortress, and heroically withstood all 59 the efforts of the Spaniards to recover it. Soon, however, this transient success was dissipated by the return of the French and Spanish armies, who in turn besieged the British. After enduring many privations, and making a gallant defence, the besieged were relieved in the eleventh hour by the presence of a British squadron with reinforcements.

But this temporary aid only served, by elevating the hopes of the garrison, to induce a more serious disaster, in the utter rout of the allies at the battle of Almanaza which shortly followed, and virtually gave the kingdom to the House of Bourbon. Urged by Marlborough, the British Government were roused to prosecute the war with greater vigour in Spain than hitherto, as being a diversion of the utmost importance to the allied operations in the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. Accordingly, in two formidable armies were sent out, one to act in Portugal, under Lord Galway, and the other in Spain, under Generals Staremberg and Stanhope.

The latter of these included a battalion of the Scots Fusilier Guards. Advancing upon Madrid, everything seemed to promise success to their enterprise—the speedy downfall of the Bourbon dynasty, and the establishment of the House of Austria upon the throne. Their advance was distinguished by the victory of Saragossa, in which the British captured thirty standards and colours. The French 60 General retiring, waited his opportunity, when, with recruited ranks, and the popular opinion on his side, he returned and forced the British, under Staremberg and Stanhope, to make a precipitate retreat, in course of which General Stanhope, at the head of troops, including the Scots Fusilier Guards, was overtaken at Birhuega by a superior force of the enemy.

The British for two days heroically defended themselves, but were ultimately forced to surrender. General Staremberg, however, somewhat repaired the disaster by defeating the enemy in the battle of Villa Viciosa with great slaughter, and thus secured for his wearied yet gallant troops a safe retreat. Notwithstanding the rebellions in Scotland of and the regiment continued to be peacefully employed in the south. In the colonelcy was conferred on General St Clair.


The family feuds which at this time divided the House of Austria once more kindled the flames of continental war. In support of the Austrians, George II. Assuming himself the command of the allies, he prepared to combat, on this ancient battlefield, the confederacy of France, Prussia, and Bavaria. They were present at the battle of Dettingen in , where the French were signally defeated. In the following year Marshal Wade assumed the command of the allies. At the battle of Fontenoy, fought for the relief of Tournay, this brigade was charged with the attack upon the village of Veson.

Here the French, strongly entrenched, made a gallant defence, but were forced to yield to the fierce onset of such a chosen body of troops. The ill success of the Dutch auxiliaries in other parts of the field, and the last and desperate charge of Marshal Saxe at the head of the French Guards, with the Irish and Scottish brigades in the French service, led on by the young Chevalier, speedily changed the fortunes of the day, compelled the allies to retreat, and our brave Guards reluctantly to relinquish the important post their valour had won.

Meantime, Prince Charles Edward having landed in Scotland, set up the standard of rebellion, and summoned the tumultuous and fierce array of the clans to do battle for his pretensions to the throne. The war on the Continent having occasioned the withdrawal of a large body of the regular army, the rebels succeeded in driving before them the few troops which had been left at home.

Their progress southward into England promised the speedy downfall of the House of Brunswick, and the restoration of that of Stuart. The timely return of the major part of the army, including the Scots Fusilier Guards, from Holland, at this juncture, arrested the advance of the rebels upon London, and occasioned their precipitate retreat into Scotland.

The bloody defeat of Culloden, as it utterly ruined the rebel army, so it terminated the war, by the dispersion or submission of the clans and the flight of the prince.

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Peace having been restored at home, the Scots Fusilier Guards, with other regiments, returned to Holland in , where the French, in their absence, had made considerable progress. The only event of importance which occurred in the campaign was the battle of Val, in which the immense superiority of the French compelled the retreat of the British, under the Duke of Cumberland.

In peace was concluded at Aix-la-Chapelle. Disputes arising as to the boundary line of the British and French colonies, and neither party accepting a peaceful solution, war was declared in Whilst the reputation of the British arms was being gloriously sustained on the distant continent of America and in Lower Germany, the Guards were engaged in frequent descents upon the French coast.

At St Cas they specially distinguished themselves. The peace of secured to our colonists the quiet possession of the fruits 64 of their own industry against the cupidity of the French.

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Scarcely had this result been attained when difficulties arose with the colonists themselves, by their refusal to be taxed by the home government without an equivalent representation. Our armies were accordingly recalled in to the American continent, whilst the colonists, preparing for a vigorous defence, allied themselves with their late enemies, the French.

The Scots Fusilier Guards formed a part of the British expedition, and under Clinton, Howe, and Cornwallis, upheld their ancient reputation for discipline and valour in the fresh and difficult warfare to which, in the desolate wilds of the New World, they were called. This unfortunate war, fraught with disastrous results, and waged with great fury and bitter hate on both sides, was concluded in , and secured the independence of the colonists, who formed themselves into a Republic, under the designation of the United States. As they were but the Government of a day, so they cared little for the consequences beyond their own time.

To maintain their popularity, and if possible avert the fate which ever threatened them from the blind fury and unbridled passion of the mob, they gladly entered upon a universal crusade against the governments and liberties of neighbouring nations, hoping thereby to direct the merciless wrath of the people into this new channel, and so save themselves. Soon the ranks of the armies were recruited by a fierce and undisciplined multitude. But the very magnitude of these armaments proved their ruin, and but for the spasmodic efforts of the Revolutionary tyrants in the national defence, which achieved marvels, the Revolution must have been crushed at this early stage.

A small British force, including the Coldstream and Scots Fusilier Guards, was sent over to the Netherlands, under the Duke of York, who vainly endeavoured to stem the torrent of aggression in that direction. Equally fruitless were the attempts of the British Cabinet to patch up an alliance amongst the nations, so as effectually to unite them in defending the liberties of Europe. Although the victory of Lincelles graced our arms, still, alone, our troops could not hope for success against the immense armaments that continued to emerge from France.

Amongst the many ruthless and reckless, yet bold and able 66 men which the Revolution produced, none claims such a space in history, none so suited his times, none was so equal to the crisis, as Napoleon Bonaparte. His brilliant achievements in Italy under the Consulate had already taken the public mind by storm, when in he invaded Egypt, crossed the sterile desert, overthrew the feeble cohorts of the Sultan, and threatened to add Syria to the empire of the French.

At Acre his legions were for the first time arrested by the firmness of British valour. Thirsting for some new field of conquest to feed his ambition, Napoleon had returned to France, leaving General Menou to make good the defence. The defeats of Mandora and Alexandria effectually broke the already sinking spirit of the French, and resulted in their abandonment of Egypt.

The cloud which for a moment dimmed the lustre of his arms, as this province was wrested from his sway, was soon dispelled in the glories that elsewhere crowned his efforts, especially in Spain, which, by the foulest perfidy, he had virtually made a portion of his vast empire. Frequent expeditions had been contemplated—some had sailed, two at least had landed on the shores of the Peninsula—still nothing decisive had been accomplished towards aiding the Spanish and Portuguese in the expulsion of the French.

It is unnecessary at present to follow them throughout the glories of the war, as we shall have occasion to do so in after chapters; enough for our purpose to mention the battles of Talavera and Barrosa , in which they specially distinguished themselves. It needed all the ability of Marshal Soult to hold together the shattered remnant of his broken and disspirited army. With masterly tact and skill he preserved a seeming order in his retreat, so as to save the army from the ignominy of a flight.

Meanwhile, France having exhausted her resources, her people became tired of the yoke of the Emperor, who, whilst fortune smiled upon his arms, had been to them a very god, but now that the spell of victory was broken, was revealed in truer colours as the ambitious yet mighty despot.

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Martial glory, as the ruling passion of the nation, had bewitched the people, and received in ready sacrifice the best blood of the land. Long, too long, had the power of Napoleon, like a dark shadow, rested upon one-half of the known world, whilst the empty vanity of unhappy France was charmed by delusive visions of victory.

The times were sadly changed. With a melancholy joy Europe had witnessed the utter ruin of the splendid and countless host which the fiat of the mighty chief had pressed into his service. Buried beneath the snows 68 of a Russian winter—hurled in confusion back upon his own land—. This appalling catastrophe, combined with British successes in the Peninsula, had revived the spirit of the nations, allied them in a holy crusade, and marshalled the might of Europe in array to crush the tyrant.

One by one, they wrested from his sway the kingdoms he had engulfed, and which groaned beneath a cruel bondage.

Step by step, their hosts converged, as the tide of war rolled, towards France. All but alone, with his brave and devoted Guard driven to bay, he made a desperate but unavailing stand on the plains of France. In vain he addressed the patriotism of the people; already the fountain had been dried up by his incessant wars and the unremitting demands he had made upon the blood and treasure of the land. Surrendering, at length, the hopeless contest, abdicating the throne, he passed into honourable exile in Elba. Ambition, still the tempter, assailing, soon prevailed.

Eluding the vigilance of the British fleet, he succeeded in escaping into France, accompanied by a few of his old Guard, who had shared his exile.

The mind of the people, which for more than twenty years had lived amid a wild delirium of excitement, still lingering upon the threshold of the mighty past, had not yet learned to submit to the more benignant rule of peace. The army, unwisely disbanded, or despoiled of those symbols of glory which their valour had so nobly won—trophies 69 which, to a soldier, must ever be dear as life itself—were being consumed by the ennui of idleness, longed for new employment. Hence the return of Napoleon paralysed resistance as recalling the military glory of the Empire; awakening new hopes, promising revenge for the past, employment for the present, and glory for the future, it stirred within the bosom of the soldier and the lower classes of the people a reverence and adoration, almost amounting to idolatry.

Rapidly advancing from stage to stage, as on a triumphal march, Napoleon found himself once more at Paris—hailed Emperor—it is true, doubted by the better classes of the people, but worshipped by the army. His desperate efforts soon enabled him to take the field, at the head of a powerful and well-appointed army, with which he proposed to meet in detail, and so destroy, his numerous and returning enemies.