THE stone monolith is carved deep with the regimental badge of the Royal Scots, the roll call of the names of places in which its soldiers have served for nearly 400 years cut into the granite alongside it.
The memorial to the soldiers who have fought and died under its banner proudly sits in Princes Street Gardens, a cannonball’s throw from the regiment’s historic headquarters of Edinburgh Castle. And from there it, at least, cannot be moved.
Unlike the more than 400 soldiers and other personnel of The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1SCOTS) (as the regiment is now called after amalgamation with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in 2006) who are in the process of packing their old kitbags at Dreghorn Barracks and forcing a smile as they head for new quarters in Belfast.
Ever since the 1st battalion of the Royal Scots was raised in 1633 at the request of King Charles I, Edinburgh has been home to the regiment whose military honours are lengthy. But as a result of the most recent shake-up of army forces by the Ministry of Defence, Edinburgh’s regiment – and 110 families – will be shipped out and based in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future.
“It is a big move,” admits 1Scots Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Munro, “but it’s one which has to be done, and which means an exciting new chapter for 1Scots.
“Until a few years ago, it really was quite usual for regiments to be moved every two to four years – in my 18 years of service I would struggle to list exactly where I have served but I’ve been all over – but we’ve got out of the habit.
“It would be fair to say that when the announcement was first made it got a mixed reception, because 1Scots have been in Edinburgh since 2006 and prior to that the Royal Scots, who formed half of 1Scots along with KOSB, were in Dreghorn since 2002. So there’s been 12 years of a presence in the regiment’s home town and recruiting area which is a long time and highly unusual.”
He adds: “There have been advantages and disadvantages to being garrisoned in your home area, but having had more than a year to get used to the idea of the move the vast majority are now genuinely enthusiastic about what we see as a positive opportunity.
“And I have made a point of sending a good number, around 250, of my soldiers over to Belfast and the Palace Barracks to familiarise themselves with the place and they’ve come back very enthusiastic about the prospect.
“Of course there are families who, for compelling domestic reasons, are going to find it difficult, be it because spouses have good jobs or educational issues for children, and the bottom line is that for some it will be a real wrench and we are aware of that. But we’re taking 110 families to Northern Ireland which is a pretty healthy number, all living at the barracks, and I think that will make for a wonderful esprit de corp and give them an opportunity to really get to know each other.
“It will engender a great cohesion as we all live and work together – and that is critical for people who might ultimately have to fight together.”
While the soldiers and their families have had 16 months to get used to the idea, moving a regiment is no easy matter. For a start there are 383 knives (from fruit to fish), 431 forks, 275 spoons (of differing sizes), and a number of ladles, fish slices, nutcrackers and one sausage tong to pack – and that’s just from the mess.
Then there are 700 weapons and 3000 pieces of army kit to shift plus 1500 regimental artefacts including some priceless works of art and two silver table centrepieces, around three-feet high, with a combined value of £250,000 – and let’s not forget the Samurai sword which was taken from a Japanese officer by a Royal Scot fighting in Burma in the Second World War. It’s little wonder that the parade ground at Dreghorn is stacked with enormous shipping containers waiting to be moved out by August 1.
“The process of moving is a lengthy one,” he says. “Some of my people are already in Northern Ireland and some of the kit has already gone. The parade square is packed with shipping containers and we’re in the process of emptying the barracks and tidying them up. I have some very experienced and hard-working, capable Quartermasters who are able to oversee all this and I’m confident it will all go smoothly.”
The one thing that is remaining behind is the 1Scots memorial within the barracks. “We thought about taking it with us but decided against,” says Lt Col Munro. “It’s a memorial to those involved in operations with 1Scots since 2006 and it will stay in the camp. It will continue to be somewhere that the bereaved families can visit.”
Also being left behind in Edinburgh are a number of recruitment staff, as the 1Scots will still aim to boost its infantry ranks with young men from the Lothians, Borders and Lanarkshire areas. The last thing Lt Col Munro wants is a drain of new recruits to 3Rifles, the English regiment moving from Redford Barracks into Dreghorn, or even to 2Scots based at Glencorse in Penicuik.
“I’m really confident that a young soldier doesn’t join to serve in his home town. The sort of individual who wants to join the infantry will be looking for challenges and for new horizons, not just stay in the place he was born and went to school.
“I also believe a young Scotsman wouldn’t rush to join an English battalion like 3Rifles when they would have far more in common with the soldiers in a Scots battalion.”
The CO’s plan is to retain as many links with Edinburgh as possible, including keeping in touch with cadet and veterans associations affiliated to the 1Scots as well as making sure the “civilian population is aware of what we’re doing and that we are still Edinburgh’s regiment.
“And we will be back at Armistice Day.”
While the 1Scots will be out by August 1, it will be another ten days before the barracks are officially handed over in a small presentation.
“There’s a requirement for a signature so I will sign and the CO of the other battalion involved will also sign. There will probably be a little bit of drill and a piper, but it won’t be a grand event.”
The big farewell has already been held. In June the regiment hosted a formal evening to say goodbye to those who have worked with them over the last few years. Then there have been two farewell parades – one in Hawick, the other in Prestonpans.
“We have had a great relationship with the people of Edinburgh and the Borders,” says Lt Col Munro. “Some of us served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, working with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but since the Good Friday Agreement that’s no longer the case and it’s the police who take the lead in security.
“The role we will have there is no different to the one we have had in Edinburgh – training and standing by, ready to deploy anywhere in the world.
“It is a tremendous shame to leave, but it’s a new challenge. I have loved living in Edinburgh, and I’ll miss the architecture and the Pentlands. The regiment has always been made to feel very welcome and I doubt that will change no matter where we’re garrisoned.”
Pragmatic Pairmans prepare for taste of garrison life
CORPORAL Fraser Pairman has completed two tours of Afghanistan, training exercises in Kenya and is just back from Bosnia, but the move to Belfast with 1Scots will be the biggest upheaval yet.
He and his wife, Rebecca, from Kelso, have lived in army housing in Edinbugh for the last 18 months and they admit they were less than thrilled when the announcement that 1Scots would be re-garrisoned in Northern Ireland was made.
The 26-year-old says: “I’ve been stationed in Dreghorn for the last five-and-a-half years since I joined 1Scots, and I was delighted that it was Edinburgh because the family are all an hour away in Kelso. But to be honest it’s probably time for a move. It’s something to look forward to.”
Corporal Pairman has been on a two-day “recce” of the Palace Barracks. “It’s much larger than Dreghorn and has a lot of good facilities,” he says. “A lot of the guys are into sport, and it has a boxing ring and football pitches, so it’ll be good for that, especially as living in barracks you can’t go out every night.”
He adds: “I know for some of the guys with young children it is difficult moving away from family, but that’s part of being in the army. Some have requested transfers to 2Scots at Penicuik because they don’t want a life of moving around, but others, more senior, are used to it having moved from Canterbury and then Catterick . . . it’s part of the job.”
For Rebecca, the move has meant leaving her job in customer services with a website development firm, and it will introduce her to real army spouse life by living with other families in the same position.
“It will be very different to live in camp and not be able to come and go as you please,” she admits. “And for family, who are already booking flights to come and visit, they can’t just rock up to the house as they do now, there’ll be all sorts of procedures to go through to get into the barracks.
“Originally when I first found out about the move I was quite upset as we’re very close to family and I had a good job, but now I’m just looking forward to it. If we had children it might be different because you do need family support.”
She adds: “We’re well prepared for going. It should all go smoothly as the army gives us the boxes for packing up and then ships them over. And we’ve been well briefed about living in Belfast. It’s quite exciting really.”
Usual tools of the trade
34 ISO containers
1 fish slicer
2 ice shovels
1 sausage tong
LONG MARCH BEGAN IN 1633
THE Royal Scots, the oldest infantry regiment in the British Army, was formed in 1633 when Sir John Hepburn, under a royal warrant issued by King Charles I, raised a body of men for service in France.
Within two years the regiment, headquartered in Edinburgh Castle, was 8000 strong and by 1661 became the model on which all regiments of the regular army were based.
By 1680, it earned its first battle honour while fighting in Tangier, and became the Royal Regiment of Foot under Charles II. In 1685, it was split into two battalions, and never had fewer – though it went up to four battalions during the Napoleonic War and 35 during the First World War – until 1949.
It has taken part in many major battles and wars including Culloden, the Seven Years War, Crimea, the Boer War and both World Wars. It has more recently served in the Gulf War, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan – always returning to its home city of Edinburgh when frontline duties ended.
In 1949, the two battalions amalgamated and in 1983 the regiment celebrated its 350th anniversary with Princess Anne becoming its colonel-in-chief.
Then, eight years ago, the Royal Scots merged with other infantry regiments to form the 1st Battalion of The Royal Regiment of Scotland – before a further merger with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers a few months later formed The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, or 1Scots.