The kings of Scotland always had a force of full-time professional soldiers, paid for by their subjects. In times of need, however, all men aged between 16 and 60 could be called up to defend the kingdom for a 40 day period. Highlanders were not exempt and were involved in battles such as Bannockburn (1314) and Flodden (1513).
The Highlands were long an unruly place and clan warfare was an ever present threat until 1746. Most battles involved territorial claims. The Battle of Harlaw in 1411 was over the land that went with the Earldom of Ross. The Lord of the Isles was to challenge the King - and lose.
The Battle of Park (around 1490) was again over the same land, but an insult used as the pretext. Kenneth Mackenzie insulted John Macdonald of Islay, Lord of the Isles, by sending his daughter back - "a one-eyed wife, on a one eyed horse, with a one eyed servant and a one eyed dog".
Weapons of war
Most fighting involved hand-to-hand combat so the use of the broadsword, targe (shield) and dirk (dagger) were common but bow and arrow were also used with great effect as with Donald Odhar and his brother Iain, who pinned raiding Macleods to their birlinn mast at Leac-na-saighead, Gairloch. By the 17th century musket and pistol had appeared, though Highlanders lacked cannon.
The Highland Regiments
The first Highland regiment established in the British army was the Black Watch in 1725; others followed such as the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Cameron Highlanders and the Queen's Own Highlanders. All have served with great distinction in places far and near, perhaps most notably the Argyll & Sutherland's 'thin red line' that stopped a Russian cavalry charge in its tracks at Balaclava.
The Highlander at sea
The navy recruited men from the Highlands and Islands during both World Wars. Many fought at the Battle of Jutland (May 1916). Indeed, the naval link with the Highlands is very strong. Both Scapa Flow and the Cromarty Firth were used by the Grand Fleet during World War I. In World War II Loch Ewe was the port of departure for the Russian Convoys. Today, it is home to a NATO base and Gareloch to nuclear submarines.
. . . and in the air
The RAF has forged strong links with the Highlands in recent years. Kinloss and Lossiemouth are two major bases while Stornoway and Machrihanish are used for NATO exercises. Bombing ranges are loctaed at Tain and Cape Wrath. The Highlands provide excellent terrain for low flying practice.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
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