Thursday, 30 December 2010

Who's Who in Scottish Military History - Colin Campbell, Baron Clyde of Clydesdale

Some of you may recognise this name as one of the worthies commemorated in George Square in Glasgow. Although most people passing his statue today will never have heard of Lord Clyde or the campaigns he fought in, to the Victorians he was one of their greatest heroes.

He’s more commonly known as General Sir Colin Campbell and most famously known as the man who formed the ‘Thin Red Line’ at Balaklava.

Like many other Victorian generals he actually started his military career in Wellington ’s army in Spain. Because Ensigns were taken on in their early teens the men who expanded the Empire in the 1840s and 1850s learnt their trade fighting the French.

Campbell (who was actually born Colin McIver in Glasgow, but took the surname of his uncle who paid for him to join the army) joined the 9th Foot and rose through the officer ranks. In those days many Scots served in English regiments and Campbell was no exception. Throughout the early decades of the nineteenth century he served in various regiments, staff roles and small campaigns until 1854 when cometh the hour cometh the man.

He was appointed to command the Highland Brigade in the Crimea and under that he had the 93rd Highlanders. He had no previous connection to this most highland of the highland regiments but from Balaklava until his death a few years later the two were inexorably linked.

The Battle of Balaklava is well known. The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Charge of the Heavy Brigade and the Thin Red Line have all gone down in British military history so I'm not going to go into detail here. What is worth mentioning is that Campbell knew he could rely on the 93rd and the 93rd knew they could rely on Campbell.

That should have been the satisfying twilight to Campbell 's career but just before he retired he had one more campaign and that was one of the hardest he'd faced. In 1857 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of India to suppress the Mutiny.

Many Scottish regiments served in the Indian Mutiny between 1857-1858 (The 21st, 26th, 42nd, 71st, 72nd, 75th, 78th, 79th, 91st, 92nd and 93rd regiments all served there) and to Campbell 's satisfaction the 93rd were assigned to his command. The 93rd's delight at having their old boss back in charge may have been short-lived though because he came to see them as his storm troops who could always be relied on to save the day. For example they surmounted almost impossible odds to capture the Secunder Baugh at Lucknow in November 1857 but suffered heavy casualties.

By 1858 Campbell was a tired old man. He returned to the UK he was honoured with a peerage, the thanks of Parliament and a colonelcy. The title he took was Baron Clyde, of Clydesdale and his colonelcy was for his beloved 93rd Sutherland Highlanders.

He retired to Chatham but not before being made a Field Marshal. It was short-lived. His campaigning caught up with him and he passed away in August 1863. For many years he had lived the life of an English officer when England was synonymous with Britain but in his later years, and no doubt with the involvement of the 93rd playing a large part, he embraced his Scottishness and Scotland embraced him. For example, after the battle of Alma he replaced his General’s cocked hat with a Highlander’s feather bonnet. The story of the carpenter’s son from Glasgow who rose through the ranks to become a Field Marshal and save the Empire twice, first at Balaklava and then in India, seemed to strike a chord with the people back home and he was feted throughout the land.

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