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There Was a Soldier

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  • There Was a Soldier

    I picked up a signed copy of this when I was in Edinburgh for my 20th. I had went into the bookshop before I left to check out the military section which was quite disappointing when this caught my eye as I walked past the Scottish section.

    The book has accounts from Scottish soldiers from 1707 to the present day and this includes accounts of soldiers from the Jacobite side, so it's not limited to ones in service with the British Army. With the timespan the book covers and the fact that Scots tended to have a higher literacy rate for a period of time than anywhere else should make this a very interesting read. Once I have finished it I shall post here my thoughts on the book.
    Last edited by Mackie; 06 Jul 09, 21:02. Reason: Grammar

  • #2
    There was a Soldier...So Far

    I am almost half way through the book and so far it ranks as one of the best I have ever read. Most of the accounts, ranging from officer to soldier, are very well written and filled with detail.

    The author starts the book by outlining why regular Scottish soldiers were able to write so well. Primarily thanks to the Presbyterian doctrines of the Church of Scotland which stressed the need for everyone to be able to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. That is why so much were able to read and write at that time.

    As a result, we had the knock on effect of excellent first hand accounts being written by Scottish soldiers who fought and served all over the world.

    One of the most interesting accounts is from a Private Robert Kirk of the 77th Foot who was captured by Shawnee Indians in 1758 during the Seven Years War. He was captured by an Indian warrior during an ambush, before he was to take part in a battle for Fort Duquesne (later Fort Pitt, situated beside modern Pittsburgh). The Indian adopted him into his family (his brother had died) so he was very lucky to have survived. Adoption was something the Indians did when they lost a family member, it wasn't nice for our Private, but it did save him from being scalped! He was however, tortured. There were French officers there but they didn't stop it and actually participated!

    Nothing but death inevitable was before us, and we remained in this painful uncertainty till the fifth day, when we were brought forth, being nine in number, amongst a great many Indians, where we were unbound, scourg'd, and tortur'd the whole day; and here I cannot help remarking [on] the inhumanity of the French, who took a great pleasure in participating in this cruel spectacle.
    During his time as a prisoner Kirk had to witness several prisoners being burned alive while the Indians practised some ritual. Kirk spent some 8 months as a prisoner, but he finally escaped the following summer and re-joined his regiment. There is another account from Kirk fighting the Indians some five years later as fighting continued with Indians after the Seven Years War ended.

    Another memorable account is from a Sergeant James Thompson of the 78th Highlanders at the Landing of Louisbourg (Canada) in 1758, also during the Seven Years War. Thompson was part of an expedition consisting of 14000 men, 40 warships and 150 transports led by General Amherst. Thompson describes the amphibious landing in vivid detail. As the British approached the beaches they took heavy fire from the French batteries. Sgt. Thompson describes how his transport took so much fire that they began to fill the holes in the most creative way!

    ...she was completely riddled with shot-holes, and nearly a bucket-full of musket balls and small shot was taken out of her. Had there been any other troops than Highlanders in our situation, they must have gone to the bottom for want of such a ready means of plugging up the shot-holes as we carried about us in our plaids.
    Thompson also describes a situation where a French sniper was picking many a man from the transports when a Highlander, disobeying orders not to fire, took a shot at the Frenchman.

    There sat next to Fraser in the boat, a silly fellow of a Highlander, but who was a good marksman for all that, and notwithstanding that there was a positive order not to fire a shot during the landing, he couldn't resist this temptation of having a slap at the Savage. So the silly fellow levels his fuzee [fusil or musket] at him and in spite of the unsteadiness of the boat, for it was blowing hard at the time, 'afaith he brought him tumbling down like a sack into the water.
    The Sgt. then describes the taking of Louisbourg and how the Highlanders tricked the French in the woods that they were far greater in number than they were, making the French retreat and then the Highlanders giving chase. He also mentions a Highlander capturing a French officer and taking his sword as a prize, due to the etiquette at the time he wasn't supposed to do that, he refused to give it up! His Commander eventually had to buy it off him and then give it the French officer.

    These are some of the first accounts you come upon when reading the book, there are many more interesting ones. I have just finished reading an account from a soldier about the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, the famous Thin Red Line of the 93rd Highlanders.

    As I said before, the book has been excellent so far and the accounts are of great quality. I do wish there were some more accounts from the late 1700s, the Seven Years War and American War for Independence in particular. That is the only issue from me. This is a book that's worth every penny.
    Last edited by Mackie; 26 Jul 09, 07:42.


    • #3
      Cool. My father has a copy of the painting of the thin red line on his wall (he was RMO for the argyll and sutherland highlanders). I love Campbell's order: '93rd... you cannae run, you must fight'. 4 squadrons of Russian heavy cavalry wiped out for 1 dead and 1 wounded. Nemo me impune laset!

      I'll have to get the book from Amazon. Thanks for the recommendation.
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