by Martin Roche
Alex Claridge’s story of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders leaving Canterbury for the last time brought back some old and very personal memories.
I remember that day well and shifted things in my diary to make sure I would be home in Canterbury on the day. It was a parade I was not going to miss.
I come from that part of the west of Scotland where the Argylls recruited. They were the local regiment and in the 1970s I was part of a campaign to stop a plan by the then Labour government to disband the regiment and merge it with others.
To get advice and guidance on the campaign, I visited the Colonel of the regiment, General Sir Gordon MacMillan of Macmillan, at his imposing country house, Finlaystone, near Langbank, about 20 miles down river from Glasgow.
He was every inch the Scottish gentleman soldier: proud, clever, charming, tough. We saved the Argylls that time round. It took the Tories to finally kill them off.
In the 1970s, local government reform in Scotland saw the end of many of the old buroughs (the correct spelling in Scotland).
My own town, like many others, decided as a last act to grant the freedom of the burough to the local regiment. In our case, it was the Argylls.
It won the right to enter the town “with drums beating and colours flying”. That they did and to mark the great event an illuminated address was created by a leading Scottish calligrapher.
Today the huge work hangs framed along with many others in the regimental HQ at Stirling Castle. The calligrapher was my aunt, the late Avril Gibb, later Lady Avril Stewart.
So on that day in Canterbury, when Cruachan (the Shetland pony that is the regimental mascot) joined the pipes and drums and the soldiers marched in summer kit, the sun flashing on officer’s swords, kilts swinging in rhythmic precision, carrying memories of battles past, tunes of glory, honours proudly on display, and finally Black Bear, the stirrring pipe tune by which all Scottish regiments return to barracks.
A tear ran down my cheek as the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders turned out of The Buttermarket and into history. A farewell to arms. A farewell to to a martial past. Honour done. Story closed.
Martin Roche is a business consultant and government adviser who lives just outside Canterbury. He writes regularly for African Leadership Magazine.