The Scottish Horse

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 06.01.54A very specific politicization of Scottish ethnic associational activity is worth pausing over as we continue to remember the First World War: in that war the Scottish Horse played an important role. The regiment’s roots, however, lay in the South African War over a decade earlier, and were in no small way a direct expression of a strong sense of duty many Scots felt towards Empire. This is most immediately seen in one particular activity several Scottish ethnic associations in Africa pursued: the idea to form Scottish units in support of the war effort. The Johannesburg Caledonian Society, for instance, supported the formation of a unit to be known as Scottish Horse, a cavalry regiment that was raised in Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg under the leadership of Lord Tullibardine.

What marks out the Scottish Horse—apart from its promotion by Scottish ethnic associations—is that it recruited a large number of volunteers from Australia for its second battalion, chiefly from Victoria. Over 250 of them left Port Melbourne in the Orient , arriving incCape Town in February 1901. Recruits also arrived directly from Scotland. A memorial to the Scottish Horse was unveiled on Caledonia Hill near Johannesburg in 1904, with an identical memorial being situated on Edinburgh Castle Esplanade.


Apart from telling an important part of South African and imperial history, the case of the Scottish Horse also documents how closely connected Scottish ethnic associations were with the military. From the London Scottish to the Scottish Horse in South Africa and the Scottish regiments in Australia, many Scottish clubs and societies were profoundly engaged in furthering ethnic regiments. This is reflected too in activities pursued after the South African War. The Diamond Fields Scottish Association, for instance, had an ‘annual pilgrimage to the Highland Brigade and Black Watch Memorials at Magersfontein’ to remember those who had fallen.


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