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History and Uniform of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada, 1862-Present
by Jack L. Summers and Rene Chartrand

Field Officer of the 5th Battalion Royal Scots of Canada 1890
(artist: R.J. Marrion - copyright :Canadian War Museum)

The following is an extract from the book Military Uniforms in Canada, 1665-1970 by Jack L. Summers and Rene Chartrand (Ottawa: Canadian War Museum, 1981) and is reproduced here by the kind permission of the Canadian War Museum. Reprinting or duplication of the text or illustration without permission from the Canadian War Museum is prohibited.


The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada is the senior Scottish regiment of the Canadian Militia. Though it has seen more than 100 years of unbroken service, the regiment has not always been a completely Highland unit. On 31 January 1862 the 5th Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles of Canada was formed from six existing rifle companies in Montreal. In November, the unit was renamed the 5th Battalion, The Royal Light Infantry of Montreal, re-establishing a unit that originated with the volunteer corps of 1837.

By General Order of 9 October 1863, the Highland Rifle Company of Montreal, one of the first volunteer companies authorized under the Militia Act of 1855, was transferred from the First (Prince of Wales's) Regiment of Volunteer Rifles of Canadian Militia to The Royal Light Infantry. This was to have a profound influence on the regiment. To retain its Highland identity, the company wore a diced band on its forage caps, and from this modest distinction it evolved into a full Highland regiment.

The regiment first saw active service during the Fenian raids of 1866 and 1870. On both occasions, the entire unit was mobilized and rushed to the region of St-Jean, not far from the American frontier.

In 1871, a strange incident almost ended the young regiment's existence. General Orders of 2 June 1871 tersely announced that the 5th Battalion, The Royal Light Infantry, "having become disorganized is removed from the list of Active Militia corps. " Somewhat shaken, the officers of the regiment took their case directly to the Minister of Militia, Sir George Etienne Cartier, Member of Parliament for Montreal. Cartier apparently was quite unaware of the offending order or its cause. In August, authority was granted for the re-enrolment of two companies of the regiment; a further order of 12 April 1872 stated that "the 5th Battalion, `Royal Light Infantry', Montreal, is hereby authorized to be reorganized, and will be reinstated with its former position and precedence in the Active Militia of the Dominion of Canada."

By 1875, the regiment had recruited to a strength of ten companies, including a second Highland company, and in November the name of the unit was changed to the 5th Battalion, Fusileers tsici, Montreal. This was amended the following January to the 5th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, Montreal. As the strength of the regiment increased, so did its Scottish character; and in 1880, at its own request, the unit was redesignated the 5th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. In 1884, the regiment again was renamed, this time the 5th Battalion, Royal Scots of Canada.

The services of the regiment were not required for the Northwest Rebellion of 1885; however, it did have an opportunity for active service in 1899, when volunteers were required for the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry for service in South Africa. The Royal Scots of Canada soon filled its quota of volunteers, and earned its first battle honour: South Africa, 1899-1900.

The regiment's approach to full Highland status was reflected in 1904 by a further change in title to 5th Regiment, Royal Scots of Canada, Highlanders. In 1906, the regiment was designated the 5th Regiment, Royal Highlanders of Canada, and became formally associated with the Black Watch of the British Army.

The regiment raised three active-service battalions during the First World War: the 13th Battalion (RHC), the 42nd Battalion (RHC), and the 73rd Battalion (RHC). It was not by accident that Canadian units of the Black Watch bore the two historic numbers of their parent unit of the British Army. All three battalions were in action at the Battle of Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917. However, the 73rd RHC was broken up after the battle to reinforce the 13th and 42nd battalions.

When the militia was reorganized after the war, the Royal Highlanders of Canada became a two-battalion regiment. To conform with the re-designation of its British counterpart, the regiment was twice re-titled. In 1934, it became The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) of Canada and, in 1935, it was given its present title, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada.

On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the 1st Battalion was mobilized and assigned to the 5th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Canadian Division. The 1st RHC was heavily committed throughout the campaign in North-West Europe. It lost some 150 officers and more than 2,000 other ranks, giving it tragic distinction of suffering the most casualties of any unit in 21st Army Group.

The 2nd RHC, mobilized in March 1942, was broken up to provide reinforcements for battalions in Italy and England.

After the War, the RHC was reorganized as a one-battalion regiment of the Reserve Army. The regiment supplied one company for each of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Highland battalions, which formed part of Canada's NATO brigade. In 1953, these battalions of regulars were redesignated the 1st and 2nd battalions, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada. With the reduction of the Regular Army, the two regular battalions of the regiment were disbanded in 1969, leaving the militia battalion to represent the regiment. The Black Watch of Canada, as a regiment of Canadian Militia, forges a link with those Scottish soldiers who came to Canada to fight, but remained to build this country.


When the regiment was formed in 1862, the dress of the 5th Battalion, The Royal Light Infantry of Montreal was that of the British Army light infantry except that its lace and buttons were silver rather than gold. The head-dress was a black shako of 1861-69 pattern with a green ball. The collar, shoulder-straps, and slashed cuffs of the long-skirted red tunic were dark blue. The forage cap was a high pillbox, similar to that of the British guards, with a red band.
In undress, the officers wore the long double-breasted dark-blue frock-coat and a low round forage cap with straight black peak and red band. A loose single-breasted four-button patrol jacket was worn over the sword-belt on active service.

When transferred to The Royal Light Infantry in 1863, the Highland Rifle Company of Montreal adopted the standard light infantry uniform when on parade with the unit. Only a diced band on the forage cap indicated the Highland origin of the company. Off parade, however, the company was permitted to wear trews of Black Watch tartan and a feather bonnet with red hackle.

Upon being reorganized as the 5th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, Montreal in 1876, the regiment adopted fusilier dress: a fusilier busby with white plume, and the standard Canadian-pattern red tunic with dark-blue facings and pointed cuffs trimmed with a white crow's-foot. Both flank companies were designated as Highland, and dressed in Scottish doublets with gauntlet cuffs, trews of Black Watch tartan, and fusilier busbies. Glengarrys with diced bands were adopted as the forage cap of the Highland companies. In 1879, the entire regiment adopted this dress, and shortly thereafter changed its title to the 5th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers.

When the kilt was adopted in 1883, the fusilier busby was replaced by the white helmet for full dress until enough bonnets could be purchased to supply the entire regiment. This was achieved with the assistance of several prominent citizens of Montreal and, in 1895, the feather bonnet became part of the official full-dress uniform of the regiment. In the same year, the red hackle was authorized for all ranks.

When the regiment adopted the kilt, the Lorne tartan was selected in honour of the Marquis of Lorne, then Governor-General of Canada. This proved an unfortunate choice because of the inconsistency of pattern and dye of succeeding lots of tartan. Within a few years, the Lorne tartan was replaced by the Black Watch. As it was a sealed pattern of the British Army, it was reproduced with great uniformity.

The plate depicts a field officer of the 5th Battalion Royal Scots of Canada in full dress in 1891. The scarlet Highland doublet is faced with blue; the collar is edged with gold lace, and piped around the seam with gold cord. The blue gauntlet cuffs are decorated with three vertical loops of gold lace, each terminating in a regimental button; the cuffs are trimmed with broad gold lace and edged in white. White piping runs down the front of the doublet and along the edges of the Inverness flaps, which are trimmed with gold lace and decorated with three vertical lace loops with a regimental button at the base of each loop. A Highland broadsword is attached to the traditional white Scottish cross-belt by white sword slings; a dirk is carried on the brown leather waist-belt. The regiment wore a white sporran with two black tails; the official Black Watch five-tailed sporran was not adopted until after the outbreak of the First World War.
The officer in the illustration wears the usual red and white diced hose of the Highland regiments. In 1899, authority was granted for the adoption of the black and red hose tops of the Black Watch.

In 1891, the other ranks of the regiment still wore antiquated equipment of Crimea vintage: white waist-belt, ball bag, and bayonet frog, and a white cross-belt supporting a black cartridge pouch on the right hip. The ancient Snider-Enfield, the original breech-loading rifle of the British Army, was still the standard long arm of Canadian militia infantry regiments.

When, in 1895, feather bonnets were issued, the transition from Light Infantry to full Highland status was completed. This long and costly process was effected only with considerable personal sacrifice by all ranks. But the result was not merely a unit in full Highland dress: the effort required to bring about these changes created a regiment with great pride and spirit, a unit that achieved a remarkable record of service in two world conflicts.

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