Black Watch veterans honour Red Hackle

Members of the Fife Branch of the Black Watch R.H.R. Association outside Roth Halls. (Pic George McLuskie).
Members of the Fife Branch of the Black Watch R.H.R. Association outside Roth Halls. (Pic George McLuskie).

Red Hackle Day - a century-old Black Watch tradition - has been marked by former soldiers from the famous Scottish regiment in Fife.

Members of the Fife branch of the Black Watch Regimental Association gathered at Rothes Halls in Glenrothes to celebrate the red hackle, the iconic feathered plume so identifiable with the regiment.

The annual celebration, which from 1919 has taken place on January 5, starts with Gunfire.

Gunfire is where officers and senior ranks go round their companies at reveille (the morning call on the bugle and a piper playing ‘Johnnie Cope’ to rouse the soldiers at the start of the day) offering tea or coffee laced with rum to the lower ranked soldiers still in bed.

Once consumed this act is followed by breakfast and later concluded with a day of unconventional and ‘rough and tumble’ sports where mess would play mess.

Veterans who have now left the regiment have resurrected the custom in Fife by meeting for breakfast and ‘Gunfire’ with the difference being it is not at reveille but at a more leisurely time of mid-morning.

However, it is still conducted with a similar verve and enthusiasm as that of the serving soldiers.

“A chance to mark the occasion was first suggested three years ago and we got 21 association members together then, so we thought we’d make it an annual get-together and this year 27 attended,” explained Sergeant Major Rob Scott, chairman of the Fife branch.

“As far as I know we are the only branch that carries on the tradition with retired former Black Watch soldiers, but I can see it catching on.

“There were a lot of laughs and stories told, after all there’s a strong bond among soldiers, they are like a second family.”

The award of the red hackle to Black Watch soldiers dates back to 1795 and is in honour of the regiment’s bravery in recovering two field guns lost to the French army at the battle of Geldermalsen in Holland.

On the King’s birthday on June 4, 1795, while the regiment was on parade at Royston in Hertfordshire, it was awarded the hackle.

In 1822 the Adjutant General issued an order confirming that only the Black Watch would have the privilege of wearing the red “vulture feather” in their bonnets.