Prince Charles fires off in defence of Black Watch

PRINCE CHARLES has fired a new broadside in defence of the Black Watch as the historic Scottish army battalion faces further changes in the latest round of defence cuts.

In the foreword to a new history of the famous former regiment, the Prince, who was colonel-in-chief of the Black Watch until 2006, has revealed his deep “dismay” about the amalgamation of the unit into the new Royal Regiment of Scotland (RRS).

He also says he “took no pleasure” from being the Black Watch’s last colonel-in-chief and makes clear that he wants what remains of one of the British army’s main fighting battalions to have a future.

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Further amalgamations of the Scottish battalions which make up the RRS are expected to be announced later this year although the Ministry of Defence stresses no decisions have yet been made.

The book – Highland Furies – is being published to coincide with the symbolic final laying up the former regiment’s “colours” in Perth on Saturday.

In the foreword, the Prince, known as the Duke of Rothesay in Scotland, writes: “No-one was more dismayed than I was when the announcement came in 2004 that the Black Watch was to merge with other Scottish regiments and I took no pleasure in knowing that I would therefore be not just the third, but the last Colonel-in-Chief.

“Happily, the name continues in the British Army’s order of battle and I take immense pride in the achievements of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, of which I am privileged to be Royal Colonel.”

He goes on to say that he hopes the historical book will provide inspiration for officers and men to exceed the achievements of a “very fine regiment.”

Lieutenant-General Sir Alistair Irwin, who was commanding officer of the Black Watch until his retirement from the army in 2005 and who has also contributed to the book, said the 2006 changes had been “a difficult time for everybody.

“Changes of that kind are never comfortable and never happy and never what anybody really wants but the world changes all the time,” he said. “This new generation have made a conspicuous success of things.”

The book, which will be launched at Balhousie Castle in Perth on the same day as the regimental colours ceremony, is the first volume of a history of the Black Watch, which traces its history back to 1739 and has fought in the Crimea, India, the American War of Independence, as well as at the Battle of Waterloo.

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More recently the battalion has completed two tours of Afghanistan and was part of the initial attack on Basra in 2003 during the Iraq war.

Victoria Schofield, the book’s author, said: “The Black Watch is the oldest Highland regiment and one of the most famous military regiments in the world. It has an absolutely fascinating history that involves the stories of so many people and soldiers and families. If these cuts go ahead it really will be the end of the Black Watch. Everybody is very sad about it because it is such a historic name.”

It is believed the expected new plans for the battalion, which are likely to be announced later this month, will see the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders abolished because it is the most junior battalion of the five in the RRS. Its name could be attached to the Black Watch in a bid to keep the traditions of both historic regiments alive.

If the merger goes ahead, the new battalion will be part of a wider reorganisation of the army as it is reduced by 20,000 and the 17,000 troops in Germany are brought back to the UK.

The laying up of the old regimental “colours” in Perth this week symbolises the final amalgamation of the Black Watch into the RRS, which has its own battle colours. In what is expected to be an emotional ceremony, the “colours” – which were used as a rallying standard on the battlefield – will be “laid to rest” in the Black Watch’s Regimental Museum.

Regarding the expected changes within the battalion, a spokesperson for the Prince said: “The Prince of Wales is the Royal Colonel of the Black Watch and as such will be being kept informed of everything that’s going on.”

An army spokesperson said: “We do acknowledge that change in any organisation is unsettling and emotional and this was the case for many, including the Colonel-in-Chief and many former members of the Black Watch, on the formation of the RRS six years ago.

“However, no organisation which wants to remain relevant can stay the same and it has to evolve with the fresh challenges it is faced with.

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“What is important to those serving, however, is that they remain professional and well-trained members of a relevant and operationally sound regiment within a modern Armed Forces and they continue to make history as they have always done.”