Saturday, 19 March 2011

1/4th Bn Cameron Highlanders broken up - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1916

The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders always had a problem with its recruiting area. Their area was large in size but small in population. The county of Inverness couldn't really support a regiment on its own and traditionally they made up their numbers from places like Glasgow and Ireland.

In 1881 when all British infantry regiments formed two battalion regiments the Camerons only had one battalion. They were nearly turned into the 3rd Bn Scots Guards but Queen Victoria made her displeasure known about her own Highland regiment disappearing and the matter was quickly dropped.

In 1897 it was decided to raise another battalion and the Camerons were given the unusual privilege to recruit throughout Scotland and not just in their Inverness-shire recruiting area. I'm sure there were eyebrows raised by other Scottish regiments when that bombshell hit their Depots.

In 1908 when the Territorial Force was created most Scottish regiments formed several Territorial battalions. The Cameron's neighbours the Seaforths had three, the HLI had five and The Royal Scots had seven. The Camerons formed one: the 4th Battalion.

On the outbreak of war 1914 the Camerons recruitment luck changed. An enthusiastic officer took up the challenge of recruiting men from all over Scotland for the new Kitchener Service battalions being raised. Cameron of Lochiel's hard work delivered thousands of volunteers from Glasgow and Edinburgh into the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions.

Even the Territorial battalion increased in size. In September 1914 a 2/4th Battalion was formed and in April 1915 a 3/4th Bn was raised to provide new recruits for the first two battalions. There had never been so many Cameron Highlanders in uniform.

At the outbreak of the First World War the 1/4th Bn was brigaded along with the three territorial battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders in the Seaforth and Cameron Brigade of the Highland Division.

In late 1914 1/4th Seaforths and 1/4th Camerons were up to strength of over 1000 men and were ready to go to France, but the Camerons had an outbreak of measles which delayed their departure until early 1915. (Measles was a killer to the Highland boys of the Camerons and 28 died).

The Camerons were first attached to 24th Brigade in 8th Division and saw action at The Battle of Neuve Chapelle within three weeks of arriving in France. They took 300 prisoners for the loss of 140 casualties.

Another change of division followed soon after. 1/4th Camerons joined 21st Brigade in 7th Division in April 1915. In May 1915 it was in action at Festubert where it took 250 casualties. It was in action again in June, and at Loos in September 1915 where it suffered another 200 casualties.

It had been hard fighting for the 7th Division throughout the year and in late 1915 there was a reorganisation with new battalions arriving from the UK taking their place. The Camerons (now with fewer than 500 men) stayed with the Division but moved to another Brigade. It was a short stay, and in January 1916 it returned back to its old home, the Highland Division.

154th Brigade in the Highland Division had been rebuilt with Scottish units but it was another short-lived stay in a formation for the 1/4th Camerons because three of the four units which had joined the brigade in January 1916 were replaced with other Scottish units only six weeks later.

On 28th February 1916 the three under-strength battalions were pulled out of the Division and sent back to the rear. Two Black Watch battalions were sent on to 39th Division and amalgamated to form one battalion, but it was announced the 1/4th Camerons would not go to another division and instead would be broken up and its men sent to other units.

Instead of men from 2/4th and 3/4th battalions Cameron Highlanders being sent from Scotland to rebuild it, it would disappear. Why this happened is still not entirely clear. No other Scottish Territorial battalion suffered this fate.

At this time voluntary recruitment had all but dried up and conscription had been introduced. Perhaps it was felt that the Camerons couldn't sustain so many battalions? But why did their only territorial battalion go instead of one of the three Kitchener Camerons battalions in France. Maybe Lochiel's influence meant his battalions were saved at the expense of the Territorials?

Whatever the reason; on this day ninety five years ago the only front line territorial unit of the Cameron Highlanders was broken up.

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