Black Watch Colours are consigned to history

Regimental flag is paraded for the last time after army reorganisation leads to infantry merger
  • @Paul_Bignell

Embroidered in delicate, golden stitching, the names are instantly recognisable as some of the most famous military engagements: Guadeloupe, Waterloo, Sevastopol, Lucknow and Basra, Iraq. For almost three centuries, soldiers from the Black Watch have carried their historic standard aloft in many of the world's major conflicts.

No more. Yesterday, they mustered for one final time behind the historic flag, in a ceremony first performed by the infantry on the banks of the River Tay, near Dundee, 273 years ago. The illustrious Colours, which they never lost in 164 battles, were consigned to history.

Scotland's most famous infantry, distinctive for its famous red Hackle – a feather plume attached to the headdress – marched through the streets of Perth before a crowd of more than 1,000 onlookers who had come to pay their respects.

In an emotional ceremony, testament to their nearly 300-year history, the battalion laid up their Colours – an act which symbolised the culmination of a process in which the Black Watch and the 51st Highland Volunteers merged into a larger regiment in 2006.

Last year, the Queen presented the new Royal Regiment of Scotland Colours to the Black Watch and 51st Highland, marking their change of status to the 3rd and 7th Battalions of the Scotland-wide regiment. The creation of the new regiment means the end of the historic, dark tartan.

Swingeing defence cuts will involve the coalition government reducing army numbers by some 20,000 to 82,000 – the lowest level since the Boer War at the turn of the 20th century.

The Black Watch Association's secretary, Major Ronnie Proctor, said yesterday: "The new Colours we now have really have nothing to do with the Black Watch regiment. They're part of the new Royal Regiment of Scotland. The Black Watch Colours are very significant to us – to guys like myself who served 40 years in the regiment. It's really the heart and soul of the regiment that commemorate all the actions and deeds that have happened since 1739 up to the present day. It's a very emotive day.

"It is desperately sad that they are to be lost now through army restructuring, as once they are laid up they can never be carried again." A new, official history of the Black Watch – The Highland Furies – was launched yesterday to mark the occasion.

Labour will hold an opposition day debate this week on changes to British regiments. According to the party, several battalions from key regiments face the axe: 3rd Merciers, 3 Yorks, two battalions from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the Queen's Royal Lancers and two battalions from the Royal Regiment of Wales.

The shadow defence minister, Jim Murphy, said: "The Government is cutting history, pride and prestige from our military. The delay in this announcement has increased uncertainty among the service community, and ministers should reveal their plans to end damaging speculation.

"All of those who trusted David Cameron in opposition when he promised a larger Army will feel badly let down."

Centuries of battle

1667 Raised by Charles II as part of the Highland Watch.

1739 Brought into the British regimental system through admiration for their fighting prowess.

1815 Fought at the Battle of Waterloo.

1914 Fought at Ypres and other key battles throughout the First World War.

1940-44 The Black Watch fought in nearly every major British action, including the defence of Arras in France to the advance on Tripoli and Burma.

1952 The regiment wins honours after the Battle of the Hook during the Korean War.

1997 Is the last British military unit to leave Hong Kong and played a prominent role in the handover ceremony.

2003 Fought in Iraq during Operation Telic, the initial attack on Basra.

2004 It is announced Black Watch will join five other Scottish regiments.

2009 Soldiers from the Black Watch are part of a battalion who carry out a successful air assault in Afghanistan.

2012 Final laying up of the Black Watch Colours.