The following seven letters are from readers on on the interchangeable use of the words ‘British’ and ‘English’ in the English press; a form of cultural colonialism, English arrogance or ‘Cockney conceit’ as it is termed in the correspondence. These letters came in response to the coverage of the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt where Scottish and Irish representation was perceived to have been whitewashed by the press, despite the heavy involvement of the Highland regiments. The poem published on the 14th October, ‘The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir’, which sparked the discussion will also appear below.
‘England v Great Britain.’ (21 October, 1882)
Sir,—I was highly delighted with G. Bruce’s verses on “The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir” in your issue of the People’s Journal of 14th October. The words in the sixth verse struck me as strictly true, and I am happy to know that “G.B.” is not the only one in Scotland that holds the same opinion.
“England stole Great Britain’s name—
Tries to hide auld Scotland’s fame—
What she does is burning shame!
Now I have observed in English newspapers (especially London) when they have described any battle where British were engaged, they would use the words “English Army”—”English Navy.” when the proper words should be “British Army”—”British Navy.” England is only a part of this Great Empire as Scotland and Ireland, the three together being designated by Act of Parliament as “Great Britain and Ireland,” and it is hardly fair that the word “English” should be used when the soldiers and sailors engaged are composed of men recruited from the three countries. “Honour to whom honour is due.” I know for a fact that Scotchmen and Irishmen do not like to be called “English,” and I say the sooner that Cockney ignorance and conceit (as I believe it is from that source it springs) should cease from doing so the better, as it may lead the Scotch people to be discontented with their English neighbours, and be a greater thorn in their path than the Irish. I have enjoyed many a hearty laugh when reading in some English newspaper a paragraph describing a battle when it speaks about the troops engaged—one line calling them “English troops,” and the very next line speaking of them as “British troops.” This arises from Cockney ignorance and conceit, and reminds me of the Cockney I made acquaintance with on board of the steamer from London to Leith about four years ago, who asked me the very intelligent question, viz.—”Did I know one David Wright, a butcher in Scotland?” I have no doubt some will say—Bah! it is hardly worth while taking notice of such things; let Johnny Bull, Sandy, and Paddy be called by any name, it is all the same to me, &c., &c. Now I call these men unpatriotic, and no lovers of their country. There was a time when such men were expelled from their country.—I am, &c.,
3 East Register Street, Edinburgh,
16th October 1882.
‘England v Great Britain’ (4 November, 1882)
“A.A.C.,” London, writes:—I have a grievance. Mr Thomas Turner’s scathing denunciation of those who deem it a small matter whether the representative appellation “Englishman” be applied to any native of our mighty isle or not has aroused my Highland blood, and I thirst for an opportunity to prove my patriotism and love of my country—Scotland. True, I no longer enjoy the privilege of breathing my native air; yet I am a “Scottie” still, and in many a wordy war have I defended Scotland’s prestige and fought for her honour, and I hope to do so again. Cockneys are conceited, and have good reason to be so, but they are not so amazingly ignorant as Mr Turner supposed. Journalists are, as a rule, men of extensive information and considerable tact. Cockney journalists are men to be envied for these qualities, and if they use the term “English troops” in one line and “British troops” in the next that scarcely proves their ignorance. There was a time, sir, when I held an opinion similar to that of Mr Geo. Bruce—a gentleman I used to know well—and that of Mr Turner. I even went the length of spoiling a well-thumbed history by drawing a fierce red dash through the word “English” and inserting “British” in glowing capitals when I fancied that the claims of Scotia’s sons were overlooked, but a sojourn in the “boasted city of the world” has toned down and modified my opinion. I once had the temerity to ask an Englishman who occasionally contributes to Cockney journalism what was meant by using the word “English” when “British” was clearly the term that ought to be employed. His answer was—”My dear sir, you ought to know better than to suppose for an instant that any slight is intended to your country, or rather you part o the country. Why, it is one of the brightest gems in the British Crown. Do not harbour such feelings against us. We admire Scotland, and respect her traditions, while we welcome her sons with open arms. It was a red-letter day in history when England and Scotland joined hands, and if we say ‘England’ when we mean both, or Ireland also, it is because it comes more readily to our lips. Our ideas are not bounded by the Cheviots and the Tweed when we say ‘England’ or ‘English interests;’ and although it is a standing joke with us to twit Scotchmen about the unimportance of Scotland, it is only when we find them so amusingly verdant or jealous as to imagine we do not recognise its worth. We would be deceiving ourselves were we to suppose that Scotchmen have not had more than their share in making England what it is. They sit in our high places, they conduct our business and commerce, and in fighting they are the rampant lion in our flag.” Scotchmen are “billies” to make themselves at home wherever they go, and I firmly believe that the natives of no country carry with them such a patriotic love as Scotchmen do. The age of variance between the two countries, however, is over—they are one now—and to have their merits recognised Scotchmen must not be bigoted. It occasionally happens that men of the Dr Johnson type are encountered, who reproduce that worthy’s hatred of everything Scotch; but the are to be pitied, and I for one smile calmly and serenely when I stumble into their company, and I rest assured that the majority of even Cockneys show, by their ready appreciation of Scotchmen, that belief in Scotland is the hotbed of reliable supporters of Great Britain’s celebrity. I admit that a few ignorant Cockneys cherish the idea that until Scotchmen cross the Borders they are a race of semi-savages who wear kilts, and that until they get their intellects stuck into chimney-pot hats are air them in a London fog, they are mere nobodies; but ignorance of this type must die out under the auspices of the School Boards.
‘”English” versus “British”‘ (11th November, 1882)
Writing on the above subject, Mr A. Ritchie, Pathhead, Kirkcaldy (for the whole of whose eloquent letter we cannot afford space), observes:—The 1st clause of the Union Agreement distinctly states that “on the 1st of May 1707, and for ever after, the kingdoms of England and Scotland shall be united into one kingdom, under the name of Great Britain;” therefore, it is neither more nor less than a gratuitous insult to us, as Scotsmen, for our neighbours over the Border to talk and write as if our country as only an English province. Our ancestors bravely fought or nobly died to avert that contingency; and we will be ungrateful to them and unworthy of our country if we allow ourselves to be wheedled out of our nationality. But some people may say that “this is merely a matter of sentiment, seeing that we enjoy the privileges of a free country.” Of course it is only sentiment, I reply; but sentiment, remember, is not to be despised. It is the mainspring of our noblest actions, and the power which has shaped and fashioned many of our most equitable laws. For instance, what prompts us to succour the distressed, to defend the weak, and to help the needy? Sentiment—the sentiment of pity. What induced the British Parliament to abolish slavery, and to vote £20,000,000 sterling to purchase the freedom of the West Indian slaves? The sentiment of humanity. What prompted the Canadians at the time of our threatened rupture with Russia a few years ago to offer to assist us, if hostilities broke out, with an army corps of 10,000 men? The sentiment of kinship. And after all, what is patriotism but sentiment—a sentiment created within us by the recollections of the glorious deeds of our forefathers. We may be moral, we may be refined and religious, but if we prevent our sentiments or feelings from being shocked at the sight of immorality, coarseness, or irreverence our sentiments soon leave us, and we glide imperceptibly on the downward course to vice and misery. So if we as a people allow the existence of our country to be ignored by our neighbours our sentiment of patriotism will quickly die out within us, and the way will thereby by gradually paved for the first adventurer who may choose to rob us of our glorious liberty. And this is a by no means improbable contingency, if we consider the vast armaments of Continental nations and the restless ambition of their rulers. And the pages of history furnish us with instances of nations being quickly subdued by the sword of a conqueror, when their inhabitants became imbued with the “dolce far neinte” spirit. I am aware that we Scotsmen are not a very romantic race. We are hard-featured, hard-headed, and sometimes heard-hearted; but in our pursuit of things practical let us leave a little room in our hearts for sentiment and pride of country, or else we may
“Go down to the dust from whence we sprung,
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.”
“J.C.,” Berwick-on-Tweed, writes:—Two letters have appeared in the People’s Journal on England v. Great Britain, which I quite agree with, and when they are at it I think there might be something said about Scotland v. the Highlands. Reading the People’s Journal on the war in Egypt, we read of “the Highland Brigade,” “a Highland charge.” “a Highland cheer,” a Highland this and a Highland that; but Scotland is not mentioned at all. Now, I am a Scotchman, but not a Highlandman, and I think there is as much injustice done to Scotland in saying Highland troops as there is in Englishman saying English troops. England, Ireland, and the Highlands were represented in Egypt, but not Scotland. Now, the so-called Highland Regiments are composed of English, Irish, and lots of Lowlanders, as well as Highlanders; but when they don the kilt they are all Highlanders; and I question very much if there are one hundred Highlanders in some of the Highland Regiments. Talking about Cockney conceit, I would here remind the writers that Highlandmen have got their share of that same thing.
“R.R.,” Glasgow, writes:—I heartily agree with Thomas Turner’s letter in your issue of the 21st ult. I was also very much delighted with G. Bruce’s verses on “The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir.” What he says is strictly true, especially the fifth and sixth verses. But I do not agree with all that “A.A.C.” says in last week’s issue. He may be a Scotchman, but he is not a patriotic Scotchman. He says Scotchmen must not be bigoted. I say no man is bigoted if he stands up for his country’s rights, Great Britain has as good a right to be called “Scotland” as “England.” We were never conquered by England, and therefore we have every reason to stand up for our rights and be proud of our country. Honour to whom honour is due.
‘The Highlanders.’ (18th November, 1882)
Sir,—In last week’s issue of the Journal I observe that a correspondent signing himself “J.C.” makes some sneering remarks anent the Highlanders, and also takes pains to let us know that “he is a Scotchman, but not a Highlandman.” Well, I think that few Scotchmen will care to partake of the comfort which “J.C.” seems to enjoy in being “a Scotchman, but not a Highlandman,” as, I believe, all leal-hearted Scots are justly proud of the Highlands and the Highlanders. “J.C.” further asserts that “the so-called Highland regiments are composed of English, Irish, and lots of Lowlanders as well as Highlanders.” Now, one would naturally infer from the wording of the foregoing sentence that the writer thereof wishes us to believe that the bulk of the men in these regiments are either of English or Irish nationality. As this same idea has been mooted before, and as certain English papers sneeringly describe some of the Highland regiments as the “Shoreditch” or the “Middlesex Highlanders,” I will state a fact or two which will tend to dispel this illusion. There are, according to a return which I read last year, 15,000 Scotchmen in the British army; and the Highland regiments, including the 71st Highland Light Infantry, are nine in number. Now, let us take the average strength of these nine regiments as 70 men, which, I think, is not too low a figure, and we have a total of 6300 men. Then, allot 1000 men each to the Scots Guards, the 1st Royal Scots, and to the 21st Royal Scots Fusiliers, which regiments have two battalions; to the other four regiments of the line, which are described as Scotch, 700 men each; and to the “Scots Greys,” 400 men. That brings us a grand total of 12,500. Therefore we see that there are enough Scotchmen in the army to man all the Scotch regiments, and 2500 to spare.
Of course I do not mean to assert that all the above-mentioned regiments are solely composed of Scotchmen; but, judging from the well-known clannishness of the Scotch, it may safely be assumed that at least six-sevenths of the men in them are from “north o’ the Tweed.” And, by the way, that assumption was strictly correct in the case of the 42d Highlanders, when they returned from the Ashantee War, as was shown by a return then made by Colonel M’Leod, the commander of the regiment. Besides, if we scan the report of the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, we will see at a glance that almost all the names of those given as killed or wounded in the Highland Brigade are essentially Scotch.
The Highland regiments may not contain many real Highlanders; but that is not to be wondered at, seeing that these hardy mountaineers have been driven from their native hills and glens to make room for deer forests and grouse preserves.—I am, &c.,
‘Highland or Lowland’ (2nd December, 1882)
Sir,—In a recent issue of the People’s Journal I saw a letter from a correspondent signing himself “J.C.” finding fault with the Highlands for getting the credit for the doings of the Highland Regiments in the recent war. Let me say to “J.C.” that it is very unbecoming of any one laying claim to be a patriotic Scotsman to be so very jaundiced in his opinions of a portion of his own countrymen, who deserve better at his hands.
If “J.C.” knew anything of the history of the Highland Regiments be would not be so ready to rush into print on such a trifling pretext. When these regiments gained for themselves the renown which still hangs around them like a halo of glory, they were entirely composed of native Highlanders, from the day that the gallant Black Watch saved the rear of the British army at Fontenoy till the day on which the 23d (then so very Highland as to be designated the “Rorys” by the other regiments) formed the “thin red line” at Balaclava. The deeds of these regiments have been the wonder of the whole world—deeds to which Tel-el-Kebir was only child’s play in comparison. They were then brought face to face with the best and most disciplined troops in the world. The manner in which they acquitted themselves on every occasion and the confidence placed in them in being at all times assigned the post of danger shows most emphatically that they were superior to any other.
There is another thing which I must say in this connection, and I am sorry to have to say it; but “J.C.’s” conduct deserves it off me. That there are Lowlanders in the Highland regiments now, and even occasionally a sprinkling of English and Irish is true; and it was a sorry day for them that such a thing happened, for until the admission of Lowlanders into these regiments such a thing as corporal punishment was unknown and unneeded among them. Up to that time they bore out the character given them by a military writer, as being “Lions in the field and lambs in the camp.”
But what even yet makes them superior to any other regiment, though only the wreck of their former selves? The proud heritage of an invincible name handed down to them from the mists of antiquity, by which even the stoic and apathetic Englishman is imbued with some of the fire of the Gael. But why should “J.C.” grudge his friends ayont the Grampians any little glory which may accrue from the doings of the Highland Brigade? If he would only consider what the Highlanders have done for Scotland during the last century, I am sure he would not be so mean as to say that it is to them alone that “she owes the glory she has attained as a military nation during that period; for while we hear of the English Parliament, the English Army and Navy, Scotland is not once mentioned; nor would we hear of Scottish soldiers were it not for the very men “J.C.” assumes to despise. Were it not for the Highlanders, Scotland would have been as unheard of at Waterloo, Corunna, or Balaclava as at Trafalgar or Aboukir. It is true there were Lowland regiments at these battles, but John Bull has pocketed all the glory for them. But “J.C.” is not the only one who has ill-requited the poor Highlanders. At the very time when they were shedding their blood so freely for the honour of their country, their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters were being hounded out of the country like so much rubbish to make room for sheep and deer, and even now when the few that remains of them were adding fresh lustro to the British name in the trenches of Tel-el-Kebir, was not the Supreme Court of Scotland attempting to crush the last spark of life out of the crofters of Skye, once the most famous nursery for soldiers in the world? Is it to be wondered that the bugle call is heard in vain among the mountains of Caledonia, and that now the recruiting sergeant has to betake himself to the street corner in place of the Highland glen? We are told the warlike spirit of the Highlanders is gone. Surely it is time; but in the dire hour of necessity our country may repent when it is too late.—I am, &c.,
Glasgow, 23d Nov, 1882.
“A.W.,” Aberdeen, agrees with what Mr Ritchie wrote about the Highlanders a fortnight ago, but we really think that enough has been said on the subject in the meantime.
The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir (14 October, 1882)
“The Highland Brigade bore the brunt of the battle.”—’Telegram’
“The Highland Brigade hardly got justice in the official despatches”—’The Press’
Turkey noo has met her match;
Scotland’s sent her auld “Black Watch”
Order in the East to patch
Tartan on the Nile!
Scotched Rebellion made a stand—
Britain halted on the sand,
Waiting for the kilts to land—
Tartan rank and file!
Weel she kent the bluidy cause
Made the Anglo-Saxons pause—
Long to ancient Britain fa’se—
Scotland grim did smile!
Scotland marched unto the front—
Scotland “bore the battle’s brunt”—
Fought and conquered—as her wont—
Tel-el-Kebir only tells
Britain’s soul in Scotland dwells!—
Floating still owre Campsie fells—
England stole Great Britain’s name—
Tries to hide auld Scotland’s fame—
What she does is burning shame!
Anarchy must hide her dead
Deep beneath auld Freedom’s head—
Heiland bluid’s no vainly shed
On the plains o’ Nile!
She will be Great Britain yet—
The suns o’ Scotland only set
Brighter mornings to beget.
God protect our Isle!
G. Bruce, St Andrews.