HC Deb 17 March 1884 vol 286 cc60-8

, in whose name the following Resolution stood upon the Paper:— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to retain distinctive uniforms for the Territorial Regiments; that the proposed discontinuance of the feather bonnet, which has been worn by the Highland Regiments for upwards of a century in many victorious campaigns, is especially to be deprecated; and that, in view of the unsatisfactory materials issued from the Clothing Department to Highland Regiments, the provision of all Highland articles of clothing be intrusted to the regimental or battalion authorities, as was formerly done by the Colonels in Chief, when. Regiments were clothed by them, said, he was most anxious to adopt what the noble Marquess thought was the best means of discussing his Motion; but he thought the House would know the difference between discussing a subject before going into Committee now, and discussing it in Committee, perhaps, between 2 and 3 o'clock in an August morning. There was additional reason for discussing the matter now. and that was that it had already been, no doubt involuntarily, on the part of the Heads of the Departments, the subject of several mis-statements. Those mis-statements had been allowed to go forth, and so far they had had no opportunity of contradicting them. English Members might, perhaps, not understand fully the feeling with' which the announcement had been received in Scotland that the head-dress which had been so long inseparably associated with a Highland regiment, and which had been worn on the battle-Held in every part of the civilized world, was about to be abolished. Such a step ought not to be taken unless it could be shown that it. was highly expedient, and he was prepared to show that it was not. Two years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was at that time Secretary of State for War, in answer to his Question whether the head-dress of the Highland regiments was to be changed, said that there had been for some time a discussion as to the suitability of the present heavy and costly bonnet, and, after many complaints, the Duke of Cambridge had appointed a Committee, consisting of officers of Scotch regiments, to inquire into the matter; that the Report had not yet reached him; but when it should he would give it his most earnest consideration. What was the result of that inquiry? The Committee separated and never made a he -port; and, what was more, the Instructions to that Committee—and he defied contradiction in that—were not to inquire into the utility of the present head-dress of Highland soldiers. The Instructions to the Committee contained the statement that the abolition of the bonnet had already been decided on, and that they were to select a proper substitute. The fact was that Sir Archibald Alison's Committee had been mixed up with another Committee over which Lord Morley presided, and the Report of which contained the recommendation that the head-dross should be abolished. But upon what ground was that Report founded? It was founded upon this—that in order to give symmetry to the artificial, and in man respects undesirable, scheme of the late Secretary of State for War, under which three additional regiments wore put in kilts, in order to meet the additional expense it was decided to take away the head-dress of the existing battalions. The late Secretary of State for "War had talked of the bonnet as heavy and costly. Now, about three hours ago he had an officer's bonnet in his hand, and what did it weigh? It weighed only 1½lbs. Twenty years ago it cost £8. and it had been in constant use ever since. In reply to a Question put by him the other day, the noble Marquess hazarded the statement that the present head-dress had no national origin. [The Marquess of HARTINGTON said, that he re he d upon the Report of the Committee.] He would have to go a little into ancient history to show how utterly without foundation the assertion was. The first instance he had been able to find of an artistic representation of the feather bonnet was in a picture by Jameson, who was known as the Scottish Vandyke, of one of the Earls of Moray, in the Reign of Charles I. The Earl was represented in kilt and broad blue bonnet with ostrich feathers. The broad blue bonnet was the national Scotch headdress. The present feather bonnet had come by evolution, as it were, out of the broad blue bonnet. When the latter was selected as the soldier's head-dress, it was made as tall and imposing as possible. The broad blue bonnet was pulled up and stiffened, and feathers wore put upon it. Anyone with any experience of Infantry knew that the last instructions given to soldiers before going into action were to fire low, and the effect of the feather bonnet was to make their adversaries fire high, as it added a foot to the height, and thus afforded the men a better chance of escaping. In 1739, on the formation of the 42nd Regiment, according to one of the greatest authorities on the subject, they received a blue bonnet with a border of red, white, and green in colours of different branches of the Stuart family, and a tuft of feathers. The feathers were no unmeaning appendage, but indicated gentility and the right to bear arms, the greater part of the 42nd being duinnie-wassals, or small gentry. Was it right or just to attack the Scotch regiments—for it was nothing less than an attack—and inflict a slight upon them, by asking them to surrender, from motives of economy—which were very much, exaggerated—a distinction inherited from so honourable a source? Had this been an Irish question, hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway would have made the position intolerable for the Government. Because they were Scottish, and wore accustomed to let things pass without much discussion, did they think they were going to allow their bonnets to be taken away? Not at all. The noble Lord had stated that the Highland head-dress was never worn abroad. For the last three or four years it had not been worn abroad; but in all our great battles it was one of the most familiar of head-dresses. It was worn by the 42nd in Flanders, and there they received the red hackle as an honourable distinction, which, up to the present time, they wear. Would the Government take away that honour from a regiment which was hearing the brunt of the present campaign in Egypt? The Highland bonnet was worn in America, at the siege of Gibraltar, at the storming of Seringapatam in 1799, in the Peninsula, at Waterloo, in the Crimea, and during the Indian Mutiny. There were 3,200 Highland soldiers at the re he f of Lucknow who all wore the Highland bonnet. Both officers and men of the 93rd Highlanders wore it from the date of lauding, all through the Mutiny, including the re he f of Lucknow in 1858, and the action of Bareilly, which was fought on one of the hottest of days, and yet the 93rd lost fewer men from sunstroke than any other regiment. And with regard to cold climates, a gallant friend of his testified that in the Crimea, on the 14th of November, when a storm wrecked the tents, he had seen a great number of bonnets swept away into the muddy trenches at Balaklava, and they were afterwards recovered, rinsed and dried, and completely restored to their normal condition. It was a well-known fact that many feathered bonnets worn in the Crimea and during the Indian Mutiny were the very same bonnets and plumes which had waved on the field of Waterloo. The sentiment connected with the Highland bonnet should not be disregarded. It was impossible with safety to dispense with the little peculiarities which distinguished one regiment from another. Mr. Kinglake had borne testimony, in his History of the Crimean War. to the reality of the sentiment attached to this fantastic head-dress, which "struck a vague terror as of things unearthly" into the hearts of the Russians. He held that the sole reason of this, movement on the part of the War Office was the unsatisfactory manner in which the clothing was made at Pimlico. They did not know how to make a Highland bonnet at Pimlico, and it was not to be expected they could. He would suggest to the noble Lord a return to the system which prevailed not very long ago in Highland regiments, by which an annual contingent grant was allowed to the commanding officers of battalions, in order to supply the stuff, which could not be got in London. A great saving would thereby be effected, even in the matter of feather bonnets. The present total cost of a feather bonnet was £3 6s. 3d. His proposal was that the Government should make a grant to the battalions they had put in kilts, and who were at present without any headdress at all. If an annual grant of 7s. per man were made to the commanding officers of battalions, he pledged his reputation for intelligence and foresight that the supply of feather bonnets could be kept up in a much more satisfactory degree, and with a saving of 10s. 3d. per bonnet. Not only wore the bonnets of unsatisfactory material, but so was the whole of the Highland clothing supplied from Pimlico. The Glengarry caps were absolutely ridiculous. It was the same as regards the tartans, about which at Pimlico they knew nothing. The tartan was not only bad, but it was inadequate. If colonels of regiments were to make the kilts out of the 6¼ yards of material allowed, the result would be a little wretched scrimp kilt that was positively indecent. The minimum quantity of cloth required to make a kilt as it should be was 7½ yards, and the difference between that and the yards supplied was furnished by the officers of the Highland regiments. The Department ought to be ashamed to allow Her Majesty's officers to help to clothe their own men. He threw all the blame on the Pimlico Clothing Establishment, and on certain officials, who would like to see the whole of the British Army clothed alike in brown paper and red tape. It was, indeed, very hard, when the Highland soldiers were laying down their lives in Egypt, that they should receive what the regiments would regard as an unhandsome and unmerited slight.


said, he thought it was an unfortunate thing to interfere with the Highland bonnet without some urgent necessity for that interference being shown. He believed it was practically a tailor's question. The tailors discovered that a certain dress was inconvenient to make, and so they did all they could to discourage its use. As a matter of fact, it had been found to be both convenient and not costly, and there could be no reason why the Highland regiments should be deprived of it. It was a bonnet which stood a great amount of wear and. tear, and not only that, but it was very popular in the Service. He thought it would be a very unfortunate thing to interfere with the sentiment which was in favour of the bonnet, because many men in the North of Scotland joined regiments in consequence of that sentiment. This feeling was fully recognized by the territorial system. There was a widespread feeling that the Committee of 1880 either had reported or would report in favour of the abolition of the feather bonnet; but the fact was that the Committee had not completed their labours; and he believed that if they had not been hampered by the instruction given to them not to go into the question of the feather bonnet at all, they would have unanimously reported in favour of its retention. In conclusion, he urged the Government to reconsider this question, and not let the tailors have it all their own way.


said, they were disposed to speak of this question of dress as if it were a mere trifle; but those who knew the Service wore well aware that what scorned trifles to outsiders were greatly prized in the regiments. There was, no doubt, a general feeling in favour of the retention of the feather bonnet; and he hoped, though the noble Lord might not be able to renounce the previous decision arrived at, he would, at least, be able to say that the question would be kept open for further consideration.


said, he would be the last to say anything against the feeling of Scotchmen in favour of the feather bonnet; but it was all humbug to say that the Scotch regiments were composed entirely of Scotchmen. He believed there were over 20 regiments in the Army with Scotch designations; but the fact was that many socalled Highland regiments were in no sense Highlanders. In the British Army there appeared, by a Return he had obtained, some 44,000 Irishmen and 14,000 Scotchmen; and, if the whole thing were gone into, it would be found that there were about five regiments which were essentially Scotch. He might instance the 42nd, who wore now recruiting in Nottingham, and the 75thGordon Highlanders. It was time to get rid of this humbug about the battles of England being all won by Scotchmen. No doubt the Highlanders would and did fight as well as any men; but what was the use of hon. Members bringing forward: these questions, and endeavouring to make the British public be have that every regiment that distinguished itself was Scotch, when they knew that such was not the case. The fact was that there were few Highlanders in the Highland regiments, except the 42nd, the 78th, the 79th, the 92nd, and the 93rd. When the Irish Members asked for a regiment of Irish Guards they were laughed at; but here they were solemnly talking about feather bonnets and head decorations. Let them have their Highland dress, by all means, for Highlanders, than whom no braver or more gallant soldiers need be wished for: but not for the English and Irish 75th Gordon Highlanders, or other regiments with Scottish names, but few Scottish soldiers.


said, although he had the deepest and most unfeigned respect for the sentiments of Scotchmen, it was possible that the opinions of Sir Archibald Alison and Colonel Macpherson, who commanded the Black Watch, might be quite as accurate an expression of the feelings and opinions of Scotsmen as even that of the hon. Baronet (Sir Herbert Maxwell). The hon. Baronet opposite quoted from Kinglake descriptions of the Crimean War and the charge of the Highlanders; but they all admitted the gallantry of the Highland regiments, and the country was proud of them; but it was not the bonnet which enabled those regiments to behave with so much heroism. As to the Motion, it resolved itself into three parts. It alleged that it was desirable to maintain the distinctive uniforms of the territorial regiments. No attempt was made to interfere with the distinctive uniforms. Scotch regiments and all other regiments had distinctive badges. The second point was that the discontinuance of the feather bonnet, worn for upwards of a century in many victorious campaigns, was to he deprecated, he disputed this statement of fact. As far as he could gather, the present feather bonnet dated from As the House would remember, the question of territorial regiments was considered by a Committee, of which Sir Archibald Alison and Colonel Maepherson were Members. That Committee reported in favour of adding four distinctly Scotch; regiments to the Army; but they also recommended that the Highland bonnet should be discontinued ns an article of uniform, on the grounds that it was costly, that it was not worn by soldiers on active service, that it had no national origin, and that it would be well to replace it by the low bonnet, whir-h had a distinctly national character. If it was not true that the feather bonnet was costly, then the agitation which had recently sprung up against its discontinuance would have been justifiable; but he thought it was a pity that there should be so much feeling are used on this matter, when there were so many other things upon which money might be more advantageously spent than on the Highland bonnet. As to its cost, a Return presented to the House showed that, with the exception of the Guards' bearskin, it was the most costly headdress in the Army. As to its usefulness, it should be noted that of recent years it had been the invariable rule with Scotch regiments ordered abroad to leave their feather bonnets at home. With regard to the question of money, he thought the House would have had reason to complain if the Government had asked this year for a further amount of money in order to issue these Highland bonnets; but, at the same time, the Secretary of State for War, Slaving; regard to the public opinion which had been expressed upon this question, would consent to defer the final settlement of this question for another year, although it must be understood that no money would be taken this year for the issue of the feather bonnet. With respect to the suggestion that the regiments should be supplied with clothing regimentally, he might mention that at one time the Household Cavalry were allowed a contingent fund for this purpose, and the result was that they incurred heavy liabilities, which the country had eventually to pay. The contingent fund was consequently withdrawn, and it would be unwise to go back to that system. The hon. Member had made charges against the Manufacturing Department at Pimlico which were entirely unfounded. For instance, he complained of the feather bonnets provided from Pimlico, and alleged that they could be obtained of better material and of less cost if supplied regimentally. Now, the feather bonnets had never been provided by the Clothing Department, no feathers had ever been purchased by it, so that if the material was bad the fault lay with commanding officers, and not with the Clothing Department. Exactly the same reply held good with regard to the forage caps and the tartan. The amount of the material issued was in accordance with sealed patterns approved by the Adjutant General; and the material itself in both cases was supplied, not by the Clothing Department, but by well-known Scotch firms—the forage caps by Laughland and Sons, of Kilmarnock, and Wyllie and Sons, of Stewarton; the tartan by Wilson, of Bannockburn. He was compelled to say that it would be well, if the hon. Member would take care to make himself acquainted with the real facts of the case before making such serious charges against the Army Clothing Department at Pimlico. In conclusion, he would remind hon. Members that if there was any fault to find with the quality or amount of the material, the regiments had the power in their own hands of rejecting it.


said, he hoped that next year the War Office would be able to accede to the strong wish which had been expressed in many quarters that the feather bonnet might be restored to the Highland regiments. As far as the question of cost was concerned, he was informed that the bonnets could be supplied at a cost of 7s. 5½d. each, and that they lasted eight years, the cost being in reality less than that of any other head-dress in the Army, with the exception of the brass helmets worn by the Household Cavalry. In his opinion the feather hat was not as expensive as other military head-dresses. He was grateful to the Government for having promised to reconsider their decision upon this matter.