Stornoway reserve soldiers were part of the troops gathered on the battlefied of Culloden at the weekend.
Islanders, Colour Sergeant Kevin O’Hara and Corporal James Black from Stornoway joined in an event conducted in a spirit of brotherhood, rather than conflict to commemorate the night march of the Jacobite Army the night before the decisive battle at Culloden.
Also joining them were the ‘Government troops’ – 7 SCOTS and the Royal Marine Reserve, dressed in the correct uniform. Territorial Army soldiers were joined by members of Battlescar and MacFarlanes’ Company, dressed as the Jacobites would have been on that fateful night.
That night in 1746, before the two armies met, the Jacobites had a long, arduous march from Culloden to Nairn with the aim of launching a surprise night attack on the sleeping Govt army and repeat their earlier victories at Prestonpans and Falkirk.
They set out, but being exhausted and with few resources, turned back and returned to Culloden. However by the time the Jacobites got to the battlefield, they were exhausted and hungry and no match for the well fed and rested Govt. troops.
Colour Sergeant Kevin O’Hara, who took part in both the march and the displays along the way, said: “I want to commemorate the Battle and what the clansmen did. It was a tremendous feat of endurance and from one soldier to another, you have to respect that.”
For Colour Sergeant O’Hara, the march was part of his training.
He explained: “I will be mobilizing later this year and this march is an essential part of training. It is good practice for using your night vision, endurance marching and general fitness.”
Demonstrating that the same skills employed by those soldiers from the 1700s are still useful in today’s battlefield, he added: “The Jacobite uprising is part of our Scottish heritage, and also, part of our Scottish Soldier heritage.”
Corporal James Black from Stornoway’s day job is working in a student residence, but at the weekend his duties as a Territorial Army soldier were the focus.
He said: “It really brings home to you how hard the life was for a soldier then. I wouldn’t want to walk to Nairn and back in anything other than my army boots!”
Along the way, National Trust for Scotland re enactors demonstrated the conditions that bygone soldiers had to endure.
The soldiers taking part in the event were all reservists from 7SCOTS are based in Inverness with detachments in Stornoway and Wick. Some are veterans, having seen service in Iraq, and Afghanistan, whilst others are new recruits or in training. Additionally they were joined by member of the Royal Marine Reserve from Inverness.
Captain Alec Rose, of C Company 7SCOTS said: “Our soldiers are a mix, just like all armies. We have NCOs with combat experience and we are currently recruiting young people to join us for our Summer Challenge, so some of our new recruits will be coming along.”
For the Jacobite, life was arduous. With a satchel of oats as their only sustenance, the inexperienced soldiers had to march all night and then fight a well rested, battle hardened army.
Capt Rose said: “You can see the difference between what they wore then and now. Our soldier wears boots to protect his feet and lightweight protective clothing to help him blend into the background. He carries a ration pack that will give him all the vitamins, minerals and calories to ensure he is at the peak of fitness when he eventually meets the enemy.”
The marchers are made up from territorials, who, like the armies of old, have regular employment. Some are stalkers and ghillies like the Jacobites, while others are students, drivers or shop workers. As part of their training, the reservists have to learn how to march in the night and thus the idea was born to recreate the Jacobite march as part of their scheduled training, building on the success of the 2009 re-enactment led by Tony Pollard.
And like all soldiers, they know how to care for their own. The soldiers raised money for SSAFA, a charity that looks after the needs of all military personnel and their families.