Saturday, 4 December 2010

Who's Who in Scottish Military History - General George Wade

No-one said those I choose to be included in my Who's Who series should actually be Scots. However Irishman George Wade's appointment to the post of Chief of His Majesty's forces, castles, forts and barracks in North Britain in December 1724, a post he would hold until 1740, forever changed the Highlands of Scotland.

By 1724 Major General Wade had been in the army for 34 year. After being commissioned aged 17 he had gone on to serve in many battles in Flanders and Spain and had been involved in suppressing the 1715 Jacobite Uprising.

Like most senior officers of the time he even became an MP and served as a Member of Parliament from 1715 to 1747; and helped set up the Foundling Hospital in London in 1739.

At first Wade was sent up to Scotland in 1724 on an inspection tour to report back on what could be done to pacify the Highlands after the third Jacobite rising in 1719. The report he sent back impressed the government so much that he was immediately made senior army officer in Scotland.

For the next twelve years Wade set about building roads between Inverness, Perth and Stirling so troops could quickly move from the Lowlands north. He rebuilt and connected by roads Ruthven Barracks, Fort William and Fort Augustus and he ensured the areas in between were policed.

In all 250 miles of road and 40 bridges built. For the first time the highlands of Scotland were connected by a road network.

In 1725 he also raised a gendarmerie style unit. Six independent companies of highland soldiers who would police or ‘watch’ the Highlands. By 1739 another four companies had been raised and the ten companies were combined to form the 43rd Highland Regiment, later better known as the Black Watch.

By 1740 his experience was needed abroad after the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession and in 1743 he was a Field Marshall in command of a combined British-Austrian army in Flanders and served under George II at Dettingen, the last time a British monarch ‘led’ his troops into battle.

In 1744 he returned home to take command of Allied troops in the UK (these included Dutch and German troops) in case the French invaded.

What he didn’t expect was another Jacobite Rebellion and he was caught unprepared. With his Independent Companies now a regular regiment and fighting in Europe there were few troops patrolling the Highlands. All his work with his roads, troops and diplomacy failed to stop the rising taking place and the string of defeats and swift advance of the Jacobites into England meant he was dismissed and replaced by the Duke of Cumberland.

Wade’s long and distinguished career had ended in ignominy but when he died in 1748 his latter disgrace didn’t overshadow his previous accomplishments and he was buried in Westminster Abbey. He also left behind a legacy of roads and bridges in Northern Scotland which helped its development in the eighteenth century.

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