Friday, 8 June 2012

Steel and Tartan - The 4th Cameron Highlanders in the Great War: A Review

There have been many histories written about Scottish battalions in the First World War. Many of these were published in the 1920s and 30s, and remain fascinating time capsules, written by men who had served in the trenches themselves.

Lately there have been newer additions to the list of battalion histories, most notably Jack Alexander’s McCrae’s Battalion about the 16th Battalion Royal Scots and Come On Highlanders!, Alec Weir’s history of the Glasgow Highlanders.

Steel and Tartan, Patrick Watt’s history of the 4th Bn Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders in the Great War, is a worthy addition to the list of titles covering Scottish units.

The 4th Camerons time on the Western Front was brief; spanning just over a year from February 1915 until they were disbanded in March 1916 but their time was not uneventful. They fought hard and suffered heavy casualties at the battles of Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert, Givenchy, and of course the Battle of Loos in September 1915. Watt covers all these engagements in remarkable detail.

This is an extremely well-researched book and while it may appear to be slimmer than some battalion histories, it packs in an enormous amount of detail. Each battle is covered well and because the Camerons place in the order of battle is well explained you can understand the context of the actions they fought in.

The book does not restrict itself to the 4th Camerons time on the Western Front; the period leading up to their deployment, as well as a resume of their time after disbandment rounds off a detailed and extensive history. Regular readers of this Blog may remember that we covered the disbandment of the 4th Cameron Highlanders in 1916 in one of our ‘On this day…’ articles.

A large number of appendices are the icing on the cake – they make up a complete list of the officers and men who served, and there are also detailed Rolls of Honour for all the men who gave their lives while serving with the battalion. Another appendix gives detailed biographies of each officer, detailing their time with the battalion and subsequent history, in many cases completing the picture of their lives until their deaths.

This book deserves to sit on bookshelves alongside the best of the regimental histories of the First World War. It paints a complete picture of the life of a fighting unit in the trenches and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Steel and Tartan is published by The History Press, and can be purchased from their website.

You can also purchase it together with Scotland on the Frontline: A Photographic History of Scottish Forces 1939-45 for the price of £25 and free postage simply by using the code HPScot12 at the History Press website. But hurry, as this code is only valid until the 1st of July.