Falkirk’s goodbye to war heroes past and present

The Argylls on the march in World War I
The Argylls on the march in World War I

The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders marched through the streets of Falkirk on Thursday in a final farewell to a community which has filled their ranks since their inception.

Of course the regiment is not originally from these parts and by the time it was formed by amalgamation in 1881 the 91st from Argyll and the 93rd Sutherland had already distinguished themselves in war wherever the red coats of the British Army were ordered to serve.

In the years after the failed Jacobite Rising of 1745 the Government realised that the fighting qualities of the Highlanders so often used against them might now in more peaceful times at home help to expand and protect the Empire overseas.

The Argyllshire Highlanders were formed in 1794 and saw action in South Africa, Spain and India while the Sutherland Highlanders appeared four years later and served in America, France, India and famously formed the ‘Thin Red Line’ at Balaklava in the Crimean War when 500 men held the line against a 25,000 strong Russian attack.

In the 1870s their area of recruitment was changed from Sutherland to Central Scotland and their command headquarters moved to Stirling Castle where it remained after the two regiments merged in1881. From then on Falkirk district became a major source of new recruits.

By the time the Bairns, Mariners, Portonians and the rest marched off to fight the Boers in 1899 many of them were in the Regiment as the memorial in Newmarket Street confirms. Of the 38 dead 10 were Argylls.

The town memorial in Dollar Park says only that “Over Eleven Hundred Falkirk Bairns died for their King and Country and in the Cause of Freedom 1914-1919”, but thanks to Provost Pat Reid and his colleagues we now know the names and regiments of all who fell in both wars. Not surprisingly 324 out of 1160 in World War I and 96 out of 220 in World War II were Argylls.

Many of our 17 other war memorials show the huge sacrifice made by the comrades in arms of those who march today. For example in Bonnybridge 55 out of 178, Denny and Dunipace - 43 out of 154 and Larbert and Stenhousemuir - 94 out of 282. The second war was the same though mercifully the numbers were fewer, and Korea and the conflicts of modern times found the Argylls to the fore once again.

A national plan to downgrade the Regiment in 1970 brought a tremendous wave of anger across the district and the huge ‘Save the Argylls’ campaign was successful. In 1972 the Argylls were given the Freedom of Falkirk.

But times change and soon the Regiment will be no more than a small company to be used on ceremonial occasions and the proud traditions will merge with many others.

In Falkirk we should never allow the memories to fade away. When the crowds saluted the end of an era, many thoughts would have been shared for the thousands who went before, to fight wars not of their making.