'Savage Scots': wish you weren't here

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REVEALED: "the devils in skirts" in all their glory. A military historian has unearthed German propaganda from the First World War which shows how the Kaiser's army demonised Scottish soldiers as savage barbarians.

The image was used on a postcard distributed by German occupiers in Belgium and France and seeks to play on the racist fears of the local population by sarcastically depicting "Some Champions of Civilisation, Liberty and Progress" as a crowd the Germans regarded at the time as being barbarians. It includes Arabs, Africans, Indo-Chinese and Sikhs.

In an ominous precursor to later Nazi propaganda, the group of people to be shunned includes a Slavic-looking Russian and a bearded French soldier with Semitic features. Some of the Africans are clad in native dress and the group even includes a Red Indian in reference to Canadian forces

But most prominent on the postcard in the crowd regarded by the Germans as undesirables is a kilted Highland soldier in the foreground with two more - one with black warpaint on his face and the other with a drink-induced red nose - in the background.

Historian Matthew Low, who found the card in a junk shop while researching in France, said: "I was very excited to discover this card. It is a rare example of how the Germans viewed the Scottish troops as bloodthirsty savages.

"We know that the imperial German army declared the Black Watch the regiment 'to be most feared' and frequent references were made to kilted Jocks as 'devils in skirts' and 'ladies from hell'.

"I have looked at thousands of First World War postcards and never seen anything like this. I don't think it would have been very well received by the French and Belgium populace, so I doubt whether they would have kept hold of them too often."

The ferocity of the fighting between German and Scottish forces can be gauged from the huge Scottish losses. Over 26 per cent of Scottish servicemen died, compared with a UK figure of just 11 per cent.

Low said: "Much of the German detestation of the Scots came from their reluctance to take prisoners and some historians like Niall Ferguson have speculated that the war on the Western Front may have dragged on because German units were reluctant to surrender to the Scots."

He added: "The image of the kilted warrior became tremendously romantic during the war. Sometimes English regiments taking up a new position in the trenches would shout to their enquiring opponents that they were the Black Watch just to scare them. Others, like the Tyneside Scottish, were desperate to wear kilts despite their impracticality. The kilts and bagpipes were psychological weapons. "

A copy of the postcard has now been given to the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen.Gary Sheffield, Professor of War Studies at the University of Birmingham, said: "Judging by some of the uniforms, it is a fairly early postcard, probably from 1914/15.

"They might be saying that Scots are savages, but I think it also saying that the British and French are bringing the barbarians over from Africa to fight for them. Because you see the French soldier in the back of the picture, and a few other British soldiers.

"The Germans had a view that it was unfair against the rules of so-called civilised warfare to bring in Africans and Indians.

"The Germans particularly highlighted Scottish troops because they were easily recognisable because of the kilts. And the 51st Highland Division and the 15th Scottish Division did have pretty formidable reputations."

Tim Newark, the editor of Military Illustrated magazine, said it confirmed a European view of the Highlanders as savage soldiers.

"Highlanders sometimes liked to play up to such a reputation," he said. "Some 79th Cameron Highlanders during the campaign before the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 made impromptu frying pans out of French cuirassier breastplates.

"As they were frying up some steaks, they invited some Belgians to join them, but the Belgians took one look at the Highlanders frying meat in the dead men's breastplates and ran off. They thought the Scotsmen were eating the Frenchmen!"

Contemporary accounts suggest that the Germans did have plenty to fear from the Scottish troops.

Stephen Graham, who was a private in the Scots Guards, recalled being told by an instructor: "The second bayonet man kills the wounded… You cannot afford to be encumbered by wounded enemies lying about your feet. Don't be squeamish."