406: The Kings Own Scottish Borderers, & Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) 1689

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King’s Own Scottish Borderers

The King’s Own Scottish Borderers was an infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Scottish Division. It was raised on 18 March 1689 by the Earl of Leven to defend Edinburgh against the Jacobite forces of James II. It is said that 800 men were recruited within the space of two hours. The Regiment’s first action was at the Battle of Killiecrankie on 27 July of the same year. Although this battle was a defeat for the government army, the Jacobite commander, Viscount Dundee (Bonnie Dundee), was killed by a volley fired by Leven’s Regiment, bringing an end to James II’s attempt to save his throne. The Regiment was judged to have performed well and was granted the privilege of recruiting by beat of drum in the City of Edinburgh without prior permission of the provost. For a period it was known as Semphill’s Regiment of Foot, the name under which it fought at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. When the British infantry were allocated numerical positions in the ‘line’ of Infantry the regiment was numbered 25th Foot (based on its formation date) in 1751. The Regiment fought at the Battle of Minden on 1 August 1759 with five other regiments; this battle honour was celebrated by the Regiment each year on 1 August. The 25th was the county regiment of Sussex from 1782 to 1805, before its recruiting area was moved to the Scottish Borders region. From then it was known as the King’s Own Borderers, becoming the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in 1887. The Regiment was affectionately known by the Scottish public as the “Kosbies” but this term was never used within the Regiment.

World War 1
At the outbreak of war in August 1914, the two Regular Battalions and the two Territorial Battalions (4th and 5th) were mobilized. In addition, ‘New Army’ Battalions (6th, 7th and 8th) were raised, together with a 9th Battalion, which provided reinforcements for the other Battalions, and a 10th (Garrison) Battalion. The 1st Battalion fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and then on the Somme, at Ypres, Lys and Cambrai. 2nd KOSB served with the BEF at Mons, Le Cateau and on the Aisne, and later at the 2nd and 3rd Battles of Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge and the Lys. The 4th and 5th Battalions fought at Gallipoli with the 52nd Division, then in Palestine (Battle of Gaza) and France. The 6th Battalion suffered heavy casualties at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, and later fought on the Somme, at Arras and at Ypres. The 7th Battalion lost about two-thirds of its strength and the 8th over one-third at the Battle of Loos, and the two Battalions were amalgamated in the spring of 1916. 7th/8th KOSB went on to fight on the Somme, at Arras, Pilckem, at Arras again during the great German Spring Offensive of 1918, and on the Marne (with the French and Americans), ending the war in Belgium.

Between the two World Wars the 1st Battalion served in India and Chanak (1922), Malta and Palestine (1936). 2nd KOSB served in Ireland, Egypt, Hong Kong and India, where it was when war broke out in September 1939.

The 20th Century – World War 2

1st KOSB embarked for France in 1939 with the BEF (3rd Infantry Division). They crossed the Belgian frontier in May 1940, from where, facing an enemy of overwhelming numerical superiority, they were at length ordered to withdraw. On the night of 31st May/1st June they were evacuated from the beaches at DunkirkThey returned to France on D-Day, 6th June 1944, landing at ‘Queen’ Beach. They fought around Caen until the town capitulated, and then advanced north through Belgium and Holland to the Rhine and BremenAlso present in France in 1940 were the 4th and 5th (Territorial) Battalions, with the 52nd (Lowland) Division, forming part of a second BEF. Landing at St. Malo on the 13th June, the original intention to establish a bridgehead with the French Army was frustrated by the fall of France, and on the 18th June the 2nd BEF was evacuated from Cherbourg. 4th and 5th KOSB subsequently trained as mountain troops and later as air-transportable troops. In the event, they found themselves in the Low Countries in the autumn of 1944, making assault landings on Walcheren Island, at the mouth of the River Scheldt. They fought through into Germany, taking part in the capture of Bremen.

The 6th and 7th Battalions, duplicates of the 4th and 5th, were initially both in the 15th (Scottish) Division. The 6th landed with the Division on the Normandy beaches on the 15th June 1944, and soon found themselves involved in the fierce battles around Caen and the River Odon. Fighting through France, Belgium and Holland, and crossing the Siegfried Line, they advanced across the Rhine into Germany, ending the war just beyond Hamburg. 7th KOSB became glider-borne troops with the 1st Airborne Division, and in September 1944 they were flown into the dropping zones at Arnhemwhere, surrounded by an enemy force superior in numbers and equipped with tanks, they fought a gallant but ultimately futile action. When the order to retreat was given on 25th September, the 740 strong Battalion had been reduced to 4 Officers and 72 men.

Having undergone jungle training in India, 2nd KOSB sailed with the 7th (Indian) Division to Burma in September 1943. They crossed into the Arakan, and took part in the critical actions at Ngakydauk Pass and in the ‘Admin Box’, where 2 COs were killed. Later they were flown to the central front at Imphal. In early 1945 they marched towards the Irrawaddy and took part in the assault that turned the Irrawaddy line. The Battalion’s last battle took place at Prome in May 1945, by which time Rangoon had fallen and the Japanese Army’s defeat in Burma was assured.

Post-war Army reductions led to the disbandment of the 6th and 7th Battalions in 1946, and the 2nd Battalion in 1947. Between 1945 and 1947 the 1st Battalion was on internal security duties in Palestine.

In 1951 1st KOSB – National Service men amongst its numbers – was posted to Korea. There it fought an arduous campaign against the Chinese and North Korean armies in extreme climatic conditions. On the night of 4th/5th November 1951 the Battalion was holding a position on a narrow, ridge in the Kowang-San region. Throughout the day the soldiers had been subjected to a concentrated barrage of shell and mortar fire, and, as night fell, the Chinese infantry advanced an entire division of 6000 men. The positions of the forward companies were overrun, but the Battalion stood its ground, and the Chinese attack petered out. An intial casualty check after the attack revealed that 7 Borderers had been killed, 44 were missing and 87 were wounded. On returning to Hong Kong a full casualty check revealed that 31 Borderers had been killed, 90 were wounded and 20 had been taken Prisoners of War. Intelligence reports indicated that over 1000 Chinese had been killed. Pte. Bill Speakman was awarded the VC for his part in the battle, and 2nd Lt. W. Purves the DSO – the only National Service officer to have won this honour.

In Malaya during the Emergency (1955-59), the 1st Battalion was engaged in action in the jungle against Communist terrorists. From 1962 to February 1964 it was on internal security operations in Aden. In May 1964 it was recalled to Aden in aid of the Federal army, which was fighting Yemeni insurgents in the Radfan Mountains. In the following year the Battalion was in Borneo, patrolling the Malaysia-Indonesia border.

From 1970 onwards, 1 KOSB spent a great deal of time in Northern Ireland , the last tour in 2004 – 2006. The ‘Derryard Incident’ took place during 1 KOSB’s 6th tour of Northern Ireland, on the 13th December 1989. The Provisional IRA launched a major assault on the Derryard Permanent Vehicle Checkpoint near the Fermanagh-Monaghan border, which was manned by two teams from Support Company, 1 KOSB. The attack had evidently been carefully planned, and was on a scale unprecedented in Northern Ireland, involving at least 12
terrorists armed with rockets, flamethrowers, Armalite and AK47 rifles,
machine guns and fragmentation grenades. An armoured lorry smashed into
the compound, and a van containing a 240-kilogram bomb was driven in. The
Jocks inside the base were subjected to intensive fire, and suffered a
number of casualties, in spite of which they remained calm and organised,
attended to their wounded, and returned fire. They were reinforced by a
returning security patrol, and after 10 minutes of fierce close-quarter
fighting, the terrorists were beaten back. Two KOSBs lost their lives in
this incident; 2 DCMs were awarded, and 1 posthumous MID.

Restructuring of the Infantry

Until 2004 the regiment was one of five in the line infantry never to have been amalgamated, the others being:

In 2004, as part of the British Government’s defence review, it was announced that the Scottish Division would lose an infantry battalion. This was achieved through the amalgamation of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers with the Royal Scots to form the Royal Scots Borderers on August 1, 2006. This single battalion became the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Court case

Campaigners against the amalgamation of the KOSB argued that the Westminster government is “outwith the competency” (i.e. does not have the right) to merge or disband the regiment, because it was raised by the independent Scottish Parliament prior to the foundation of the United Kingdom and had been in continuous service ever since. To this end, the campaigners went to court in Edinburgh in an unsuccessful attempt to get an interdict against the amalgamation with the Royal Scots.

King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regimental Museum

The King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regimental Museum is located in Berwick BarracksBerwick-upon-Tweed. Exhibits include uniforms, badges, medals, weapons and relics from different campaigns.

Berwick Barracks is operated by English Heritage. Admission includes access to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Museum, Berwick Gymnasium Art Gallery, the Berwick Museum and Art Gallery and the exhibition ‘By Beat of Drum’ on the life of the British infantryman.

Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)

The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) was an infantry regiment of the British Army, the only regiment of rifles amongst the Scottish regiments of infantry. It was formed in 1881 under the Childers Reforms by the amalgamation of two other regiments:

The regiment saw service during the Second Boer War in South Africa, and raised 27 battalions during the First World War. The 1st Battalion saw action in Burma during the Second World War, while the 2nd Battalion was in Europe. The Territorial Force 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th Battalions also served in Europe (the 5th, 6th and 7th with the 52nd (Lowland) Division, and the 9th with the 15th (Scottish) Division). In 1948, along with every other regiment of line infantry, the Cameronians was reduced to a single regular battalion. Under the reforms of the army in the 1966 Defence White Paper, which saw several regiments amalgamated, the Cameronians chose to disband rather than amalgamate with another regiment in the Lowland Brigade. The 1st Battalion, The Cameronians was disbanded on 14 May 1968 at Douglas Castle, near DouglasSouth Lanarkshire in the presence of the Duke of Hamilton. Its recruiting area in Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway taken over by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Regimental Headquarters finally closed in 1987. However, the name of the Cameronians continued through the Territorial Army, with two companies of the 52nd Lowland Regiment badged as Cameronians. One company was disbanded in 1992, and the other was rebadged as the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in 1997.


Every new member of the regiment was issued a Bible, as a nod to Richard Cameron, after whom the original 26th Foot was named.

In honour of the regiment’s first Colonel, James Douglas, Earl of Angus the tartan was that of the House of Douglas, which was worn as trews by all ranks (except the regiment’s pipers, who wore kilts). Until 1914 the regiment wore a unique full dress uniform, comprising a rifle green shako with black upright plume, rifle green doublet and Douglas tartan trews

The regiment’s cap badge featured a Mullet from the coat of arms of the Douglas family on a stringed bugle within two sprigs of thistle.

The pipers of the 1st Battalion wore a distinctive badge of the Mullet with a scroll below bearing the name “The Cameronians”. The sporrans and dirks of the pipers of the 2nd Battalion carried a reproduction of the coat of arms of the City of Perth

As a regiment of rifles, the Cameronians carried no colours, instead wearing its battle honours on its “appointments” (drums)

The regiment’s only Colonel-in-Chief was King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden.

The regiment mounted an armed guard at the doors of the Kirk during religious services.

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