It is a well-known fact that the average Jock only follows officers

out of a sense of morbid curiosity

It is a myth to which the officers of Scots regiments tend to succumb

with a kind of paternalism. They regard their Jocks as a breed of

wayward and potentially deadly children to be kept firmly in check in

peacetime and unleashed in full Celtic fury on the enemy when the war

drums roll.

Just before the start of the ground phase of the Gulf conflict in

1991, an officer with a fairly pronounced public school accent raised

some hackles by declaring wistfully that, despite hi-tech weaponry and

laser guidance, the best way to clear bunkers and trenchlines was to

''stick a Jock with a rifle and bayonet in one end like a ferret down a

rabbit hole''.

It was not meant as an insult. In large part, it happens to be true.

But Jocks of all regiments would undoubtedly have taken umbrage at being

compared to a variety of marauding polecat. More so if the words had

been uttered by members of an English, Welsh or Irish unit in some

hostelry after drink had been taken.

Part of the success of the British Army down the centuries has been

the fostering of the regimental spirit, that fierce tribal pride born of

tradition which impels men to throw themselves into harm's way when

required, irrespective of personal danger. The Scots have always been

susceptible to that particular stimulus.

Some would say they have been conned. Others that they fight with

unparalleled ferocity because they have come to believe their own

publicity. Reality is probably somewhere in between, with a dash of

determination not to let their mates down -- the ultimate in peer

pressure -- as the final incentive.

In the First World War, Scots flocked to the colours by the hundred

thousand. Glasgow raised three battalions within days to swell the ranks

of Kitchener's New Army in 1916. The city's trams department raised a

1000-man unit within 16 hours. The second came from former members of

the Boys' Brigade and the third was composed of clerks and accountants

recruited by the Chamber of Commerce.

BY the end of the first day on the Somme in July of the same year, the

British Army's blackest day, 60,000 men lay dead or wounded for

negligible gains. More than half of the Boys' Brigade battalion, 511

men, were left hanging on the wire in no-man's land.

Over the four years of slaughter, half a million Scots signed up. More

than 125,000 died. The evidence is there on the war memorials of almost

every town and village in the land. But the enduring memory of most

Germans who had to face them across the moonscape between the rival

trenches was of kilted devils -- the Ladies from Hell -- who would press

home their bayonet charges in the teeth of murderous fire and whose

prowess in trench raids made them dreaded opponents.

In the close confines of the trench bays, the Jocks learned quickly

that a sharpened shovel hefted as a substitute battleaxe and a sack

filled with Mills bombs were of more value than the unwieldy rifle and

bayonet. They excelled in this most brutal of kill-or-be-killed clash.

But the Jock has always displayed paradoxical kindness, even in the

midst of war and the horrors of the battlefield. In the Gulf it was the

King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Highland Fusiliers who took

pity on the hordes of starving, shell-shocked Iraqi prisoners and went

hungry to give them their own rations.

Scots regiments have always performed well in Northern Ireland,

earning the respect and even grudging admiration of some of the most

ardent Republican supporters over 24 years of anti-terrorist operations

in the province. The common Celtic heritage may have much to do with the

Jock's comprehension of the nuances of that ongoing nightmare.

Persistence and tolerance by young Scots squaddies in many of the

hotbed housing estates of Belfast have also yielded a wealth of

intelligence on the gunmen and bombers of both persuasions. Their

ability to communicate on a level the Irish can understand and their

natural humour have calmed countless explosive situations.

The Jock's usual humour tends to be of the gallows variety. On one

occasion, after several soldiers had been blown to bits in a booby-trap

ambush in the bandit country of South Armagh in the 1970s, there was a

serious danger of a group of enraged NCOs drawing weapons from the

armoury of their base and driving south over the Irish border to raid a

known haunt of the IRA in Dundalk.

As talk in the sergeants' mess grew ever more bitter and the two cans

of beer per man per day rule was flouted to drown the shock and sorrow

of the savage murder of comrades, the likelihood of a major

international incident was on the cards.

Some of those present had had to supervise the collection of the

remains. It was a process involving rubber gloves, plastic bin bags, and

an assortment of unrecognisable body parts and shreds of uniform strung

grotesquely over the blackthorn hedges around the bomb site. They had

every reason to be upset.

Just at the point where the majority had decided on revenge, a senior

veteran opined that the man he envied least that night was the

commanding officer, who would have to write letters of condolence to the


He then suggested that a practical way to begin the letters in the

circumstances of the incident would be: ''I regret to inform you that

your son/husband has been killed in a terrorist bomb blast. His mortal

remains can be located at the following grid references.'' The mess

dissolved in the laughter of hysteria.

It had the calculated effect. The moment for mutiny had passed, and

the tension had been broken. Drinking and mourning continued, but there

would be no showdown in an Irish street. The battalion's colonel wisely

turned a blind eye.

More recently, two Jocks were on ceremonial guard duty outside

Edinburgh Castle when an American tourist, festooned with camera

equipment, approached them. Pointing to the Latin motto above the gate

-- Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (Wha daur meddle wi' me) -- he inquired what

it meant.

Without missing a beat, one squaddie replied: ''Nae four-tonners

beyond this point, Sir.''

It is a well-known fact that the average Jock only follows officers

out of a sense of morbid curiosity. Lore has it that the most dangerous

thing known to man is a young subaltern, commonly referred to as ''a

Rupert'', freshly out of the officer factory at Sandhurst, and in

possession of a map.

In Kenya in the late 1950s, a detachment of Lanarkshire's finest, the

Cameronians, were travelling through the bush in one of the

aforementioned four-tonners when it broke down.

As a rifleman with some rudimentary knowledge of mechanics struggled

to restore the engine to life, the young officer in charge kept

interfering with unhelpful solutions to the problem. Frustrated beyond

the bounds of patience -- and patience was never a strong point in the

regimental character -- the squaddie suggested that ''Sir might consider

takin' shelter under yon tree an' workin' oot the quickest route tae the

nearest base''.

Minutes later, the young second lieutenant called out: ''McBride, I

think I've cracked it. Isn't the gearbox automatic?'' ''Ah don't know

aboot automatic, Sir, but it's certainly aw'-tae- * * * *.''

It has to be mentioned that the Cameronians were the battalion dubbed

the Poison Dwarfs by the bemused burgermeister of Minden. It followed a

series of incidents in which the ''Scabby Rabs'' resolved basic

differences of opinion with local Germans and members of other British

regiments in their own inimitable fashion.

THEY had been doing much the same thing in Lanark, Hamilton and

Motherwell for years, and claimed to be upholding a long-standing

regimental tradition. The burgermeister failed to appreciate the finer

points of that argument. Several bars in his town looked as if they had

been delayed victims of RAF bombing. He said the regiment was ''a

visitation upon the city, nothing short of poison dwarfs.''

In official Army circles, a similar diplomatic veil hangs over the

exploits of one ''Big Bill'' Speakman, a member of the Black Watch

attached to the KOSB during the Korean War.

Speakman, who stands six feet seven-and-a-half-inches in his stocking

soles, had what might best be described as a chequered military career.

He was not fond of Redcaps -- military police -- but extremely fond of

the odd refreshment. He was, as they say, a man of Celtic temperament

when it came to the drink.

On November 4, 1951, Big Bill led a series of charges up a fire-swept

Korean hillside to prevent a section of his company being overrun by the

Chinese. At the head of six men, he broke through several waves of enemy

troops until he ran out of grenades. He then hurled empty beer bottles

at the thoroughly confused attackers until his comrades managed to

retreat to new positions.

His reward was the Victoria Cross, and promotion to sergeant. He is

still alive, and rumoured to be about to join the august ranks of the

Chelsea Pensioners.

But the Jocks' variety of humour can be a mixed blessing. To their

credit, they are not above recounting jokes against themselves.

Consider the night in Belfast in 1972 when the KOSB turned out two

full rifle companies in the dead of night to surround an area of waste

ground. A covert observation team lying up for days in a bombed-out

building had watched an Irishman stealthily burying what they believed

to be a cache of arms and explosives.

When the Jocks attacked the site with picks and shovels, the cache

turned out to consist of a wire-haired terrier in a state of advanced

rigor mortis and six unopened bottles of Harp lager. It may have been

the Belfast version of a Viking funeral, but suspicion lingers that the

locals had their own eagle-eyed observers and had set the regiment up.

There have been Jocks in the service of the British Crown since 1662,

although what is now the Royal Scots (Pontius Pilate's Bodyguard) and

the First of the Line, started its regimental history fighting for the


Before that, Scots had made up the bodyguard of a succession of French

kings, and many thousands had fought under the banner of Sweden in the

30 Years War. They have subsequently served all over the world as both

shock troops and ambassadors for Britain.

In a future that looks all too likely to see a profusion of local

conflicts and civil wars worldwide, they seem destined to continue that

role with their usual combination of the gallus and the gallant.