408: Highland Light Infantry, raised 1758

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Highland Light Infantry

The Highland Light Infantry was a regiment of the British Army from 1881 to 1959. In 1923 the regimental title was expanded to the Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment)

The regiment was formed as part of the Childers reforms on 1 July 1881 by the amalgamation of the 71st (Highland) Light Infantry and the 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot as the city regiment of Glasgow, absorbing the local militia andrifle volunteer units. Its exact status was a somewhat ambiguous one – although the regiment insisted on being classified as a non-kilted Highland regiment, it recruited mainly from Glasgow in Lowland Scotland.

The HLI (as it was always known) continued in service, actively taking part in the First and Second World Wars, until it was amalgamated with the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1959 to form the Royal Highland Fusiliers (Princess Margaret’s Own Glasgow and Ayrshire Regiment).

The HLI was affiliated with a Canadian militia regiment: The Highland Light Infantry of Canada.

Regular battalions

On July 1, 1881 the 71st and 74th Regiments of Foot were redesignated as the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Highland Light Infantry respectively. Following the independence of India, all infantry regiments were reduced to a single regular battalion in 1948. The 1st and 2nd Battalions were merged in Glasgow on September 23 to become the 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry (71st/74th Foot).

Militia battalions

As part of the Childers scheme, militia regiments became reserve battalions of the new regiments. The 1st Royal Lanark Militia was designated as the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, HLI. In 1883 a 4th (Militia) Battalion was formed. In 1908 the miltia was redesignated as “Special Reserve”. The Special Reserve battalions provided drafts for the fighting battalions during the First World War, were placed in suspended animation in 1921 and finally disbanded in 1953.

Territorial battalions

The 1881 reforms also designated the rifle volunteers raised in 1859/60 as volunteer battalions. Accordingly, the 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th and 10th 25th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers were attached to the HLI, being formally renamed as 1st to 5th Volunteer Battalions in 1887. On the creation of the Territorial Force in 1908, they became the 5th (City of Glasgow), 6th (City of Glasgow), 7th (Blythswood), 8th (Lanark) and 9th (Glasgow Highlanders) Battalions (TF).

During the First World War the territorial battalions formed duplicate “second line” units. At the end of the war the TF was disbanded, being reformed as the Territorial Army in 1920. The 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th Battalions were reformed.

In 1938 the 7th HLI was converted to Royal Artillery, leaving three TA battalions. On the doubling of the Territorial Army in the following year the 5th, 6th and 9th HLI formed duplicate 10th, 11th and 2/9th Battalions.

The TA was reformed in 1947, with the HLI having two battalions: the 5th/6th and Glasgow Highlanders. In 1967 both units were amalgamated with other Territorial infantry battalions in the Lowland Brigade to form the 52nd Lowland Volunteers.

War-formed battalions

The regiment was considerably expanded for both the First and Second World Wars. Twenty-six battalions fought in World War I, with a number of garrison and reserve units also being formed. In the Second World War a lesser expansion took place.

The 16th (Service) Battalion (2nd Glasgow) was formed from former members of Glasgow Battalion of the Boys’ Brigadeon 2 September 1914, and was known as the Glasgow Boys’ Brigade Battalion. It is particularly remembered for an incident at the Frankfurt trench in the Battle of the Ancre, the last offensive of the battle of the Somme where around 60 men of D company were surrounded and cut off behind enemy lines. Relief attempts failed, but the men of the Frankfurt trench refused to surrender. After refusing to surrender the Germans stormed the trench and found only 15 wounded men alive, three of whom died soon afterwards. General Sir Hubert Gough praised their stand under Army Order 193.


The HLI was the only Highland regiment to wear trews, until 1947 when kilts were authorised. An earlier exception was the Glasgow Highlanders who wore kilts and were a territorial battalion within the HLI. The HLI’s full dress of 1914 was an unusual one; comprising a dark green shako with diced border and green cords, scarlet doublet with buff facings and trews of the Mackenzie tartan. Officers wore plaids of the same tartan, while in drill order all ranks wore white shell jackets with trews and green glengarry caps.The 74th had served for their first fifteen years in India, where the kilt was considered too heavy, and although they resumed it on returning to Scotland in 1806, they lost their Highland dress in 1809, and even the name “Highland” in 1816. When their commanding officer, Colonel Eyre Crabbe, was about to retire in 1845 after 38 continuous years with the regiment, he “submitted to the Commander-in-Chief… the earnest desire of the officers and men to be permitted to resume the national garb and designation of a Highland regiment, under which the 74th had been originally embodied.” The aged Duke of Wellington agreed, but although the regiment had hoped to adopt the full Highland dress of kilt and feathered bonnet, they had to settle for the trews and bonnet which the 71st regiment wore. A painting (by David Cunliffe) of Colonel Crabbe with some of the officers and men was commissioned to mark the return to Highland status and uniform, and is in the National War Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh Castle.


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