The Royal Scots, the oldest Infantry Regiment of the Line in the British Army, was formed in 1633 when Sir John Hepburn under a Royal Warrant granted by King Charles I, raised a body of men in Scotland for service in France. By 1635 he commanded a force of over 8,000, including many who had fought as mercenaries in the “Green Brigade” for King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. It was by virtue of the Royal Warrant that the entire Regiment was considered as British; a regular force in a standing Army which could be recalled to Britain at will. In 1661, the Regiment was, in fact summoned to Britain to bridge the gap between the disbandment of the New Model Army and the creation of a Regular Army, organised along the same lines as the British units in foreign service. The Regiment was thus the original model for all others.
In 1680 the Regiment was sent to Tangier and won its first Battle Honour. On its return to England in 1684 the title “The Royal Regiment of Foot” was conferred by Charles II. During Monmouth’s rebellion in 1685, five companies formed part of the force concentrated against the rebels who they met at Sedgemoor. The following year, the Regiment was divided into two battalions and was not to have less until 1949.
Both Battalions saw service under Malborough during the War of the Spanish Succession, taking part in all 4 of his major victories, Blenheim, Ramillies Oudenarde and Malplaquet, and followed this with garrison duty in Ireland where they remained until 1742. From this date the two battalions were usually to be separated and posted far apart. The 1st Battalion moved in 1743 to Germany to take part in the Austrian War of Succession, and was involved in the Battle of Fontenoy. In the following year, the 2nd Battalion became involved in the fight against the Young Pretender which culminated in the Battle of Culloden, near Inverness, the last battle fought on British soil. In 1751 the army was numbered and thereafter the Regiment was officially designated the First or Royal Regiment of Foot.
The War of Austrian Succession had not settled the chief issue between Britain and France – colonial supremacy. Both in India and America the fighting continued and most of the Regiment’s active service in the 35 years which followed was to be in the New World. From Canada to the West Indies, during the Seven Years War, the 2nd Battalion found itself involved in many actions including the capture of Montreal in 1760 and Havana in 1762. Then, after a period of home service and in the Mediterranean, it was the turn of the 1st Battalion for service in the West Indies. Disease rather than the enemy accounted for most deaths; between 1793 and 1796 the British lost 40,000 men in the West Indies of which The Royals lost 5 officers and 400 men, well over half the battalion strength.
During the Napoleonic Wars the Regiment was increased to a strength of four battalions. The 1st Battalion spent the entire period of the war in the Americas and the 2nd Battalion took part in the capture of Egypt (1801), then moved to the West Indies (1803-05), before travelling to India, the first time that any part of the Regiment had been there. They were to stay until 1831. In contrast the 3rd and 4th Battalions remained in Europe, with the 4th Battalion on home service until 1812 supplying drafts for the other three battalions. The 3rd Battalion first saw action at Corunna in 1808 and then took part in the Peninsular War. There followed the Battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo which cost the battalion 363 casualties out of a strength of 624. Two years later it was disbanded; the 4th Battalion having suffered a similar fate the previous year.
The next ninety years produced a considerable number of moves for both the 1st and the 2nd Battalions with action in India and Burma in 1817-31 where the 2nd Battalion was stationed. The Crimean War was the next major campaign for the Regiment; it was the last time the 1st and 2nd Battalions fought along side each other – the 1st Battalion arriving in time for the Battle of Alma. The Regiment’s first VC was won by Private Prosser during the Siege of Sevastopol for two acts of heroism. In 1860 the 2nd Battalion took part in the second Opium War in China. In 1900 the 1st and 3rd Battalions joined British forces in South Africa for service in the Boer War. Most of the time was spent on mobile column work, patrolling and raiding expeditions.
World War I saw the number of battalions increased to 35 of which 15 served as active front line units. More than 100,000 men passed through these battalions, of whom 11,213 were killed and over 40,000 wounded. Seventy-one Battle Honours and 6 VCs were awarded to the Regiment as well as innumerable individual medals. The active service battalions were involved in all areas from the Western Front to the Dardanelles, Macedonia, Egypt and North Russia.
In 1918 HRH Princess Mary became Colonel-in-Chief, a position she was to hold until her death in March 1965. Demobilisation soon reduced the Regiment’s strength to peacetime numbers but in the years that followed there was little rest from active service as the two regular battalions moved between Georgia, Ireland (the Troubles), Burma, India, Aden, Egypt, China (Shanghai), the North West Frontier and Hong Kong. The 1st Battalion carried out a one year operational tour against Arab nationalists in Palestine throughout 1938 where they lost 15 killed and 42 wounded.
At the start of World War II, the 1st Battalion embarked for France as part of the BEF. Forced into the retreat which was to end at Dunkirk, they never made the road to freedom. After a desperate defence across the Bethune-Merville road, at Le Paradis, and after suffering appalling losses, many were taken prisoner and few escaped home. The 2nd Battalion, based in Hong Kong, saw action when the Japanese attacked in December 1941. Here too, The Royal Scots fought like tigers but the result was inevitable. The 1st Battalion was reconstituted after Dunkirk and took part in the Arakan campaign in Burma in 1943 and the Battle of Kohima in 1944. A new 2nd Battalion (originally the 12th) was formed in May 1942 and served in Italy and Palestine whilst the 7th/9th and 8th fought in Europe after D-Day. During WorId War II, the posthumous award of the George Cross to Capt Douglas Ford, for his actions whilst a POW in Hong Kong, was a unique distinction within the Regiment. Fortunately the numbers killed or died in WW2 at a total of 1241 were a fraction of those in WW1. Of these 243 were from 2RS who died or were killed (murdered) as POW’s of the Japanese or on the Lisbon Maru after the loss of Hong Kong. The remaining total of around 1000 is obviously far smaller than the 11,213 from all causes in WW1 with its horrific losses, particularly on the Western Front and at Gallipoli (including Gretna). There were, of course, 15 Service Battalions in WW1 against only 4 in WW2 (or 6 if the reconstituted 1 and 2 RS are included). Thankfully tactics were very different and medical services available to the wounded, in particular the speed of evacuation, considerably more sophisticated. The Regiment was awarded 39 Battle Honours for WW2.
After 1945 the Regiment continued to serve in many parts of the world, including Germany, Korea, Cyprus, Suez, Aden and Northern Ireland. In 1949 the two regular battalions amalgamated, the first time since 1686 that the Regiment had been without a Second battalion, In 1983 the Regiment celebrated its 350th Anniversary and Her Majesty announced the appointment of her daughter, HRH The Princess Royal, to be Colonel-in-Chief. In December 1990 the 1st Battalion deployed to Saudi Arabia as an Armoured Infantry battalion to take part in the Gulf War. Since which time it also served operationally in Bosnia and Iraq.
On 28 March 2006, while the 1st Battalion were deployed on operations based at Basra in Iraq, and after 373 years of unbroken service to the day since King Charles signed his Warrant to raise Hepburn’s Regiment, our direct forebears, the Regiment merged with the six surviving Regular and two Territorial Regiments of Scottish Infantry to form The Royal Regiment of Scotland. The 1st Battalion was renamed The Royal Scots Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. On 1 August 2006 that Battalion further merged with The King’s Own Scottish Borderers Battalion to form The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, abbreviated to 1 SCOTS.