Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 1 (December and January 1891-1892)

In ‘The People’s Journal’ for the 5th December 1891, an article was publish reporting on a plan to merge the Queen’s Own Cameron (79th) Highlanders with the Scots Guards and in consequence replace their kilts with breeks. The exploits of the Highland Regiments of the British Army had become one of the most important outlets for Scottish national pride. The thin red line at Balaclava, Waterloo and many other world famous battles amplified the image of Scots as a warrior people, and it was the kilted regiments portrayed in paintings and verse which made them distinct from the other nations of the British isles (especially the English). This potential de-kilting of the Cameron Highlanders also came at a time when modern Scottish nationalism was being born as calls for Home Rule intensified. All this made the proposal to remove the kilt, this great symbol of Scottish prestige, a contentious issue with readers. The paper received months worth of correspondence, some tongue-in-cheek, others apparently with a surprising amount of vitriol. The arguments for and against the kilt presented by readers gives a brilliant insight into how late 19th century Scots saw themselves, or at least how they hoped Scotland was viewed internationally.

5th December 1891

The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and the Tartan. A Protest.

[By a Special Correspondent.]

Again the War Office is ruffling the temper of the Camerons. It is proposed to link the old 79th to the Scots Guards, and to abolish the kilt! “The bodies wi’ the breeks” was a satirical impromptu played by Glenorchy’s piper, Findlay M’Ivor, at the battle of Altimarlach, by which he expressed the kilted Argyllshire men’s contempt for the trousers men of Caithness. And now the War Office, in the face of all tradition, experience, sound advice, and right feeling, proposes to reduce one of the most distinguished of our kilted regiments to the ignominious position of being were “bodies wi’ the breeks!” Will the Camerons tamely submit to the change if t is attempted to be forced upon them? We should hardly think so. Ought they to do so? Certainly not. Far be it from us to say a word against the gallant corps—the Scots Guards—to which it is proposed they should be linked, but the step would mean a humbling of justifiable Highland pride, a suppression of a glorious individuality, and a disregard for traditions that have inspired to victory on many a red-dyed field. It is time the country raised its voice against this wanton pottering and tinkering on the part of the War Office. It is good neither for the country nor the army. The complaint is raised that recruiting is going down. Little wonder. For a dozen men, in the Highlands at least, who would willingly range themselves under the colours of the 79th, there are probably not two who would become members of a corps vaguely described as the “Third Battalion of the Scots Guards.” …

J.C.

 

12th December 1891

Kilts or Breeks?

Sir,—Will you kindly allow me space in your valuable paper? I am sorry to read in the People’s Journal of the 5th inst. That it is proposed to link the old gallant 79th Highlanders to the Scots Guards, and to abolish the kilt. Surely never! The Commander-in-Chief had better think twice before he attempts to commit such a rash act. If he does abolish the kilt, he will ruffle the temper of all true-hearted Highlanders. It is a true saying that

Satan finds some mischief still

For idle hands to do,

and certainly it will be a daring mischief to begin tinkering and pottering with Highland regiments. The fact of the matter is the English don’t know what to scheme to over-ride everything Scotch. Were it not for the Highlanders Scotland would have been unheard of at Waterloo, Corunna, or Balaclava, as at Trafalgar or Aboukir. There were Lowland regiments at these battles, but John Bull has pocketed all the glory for them. The 79th Highlanders is the most national of all the Highland regiments. Wake up, Cameron men! Don’t be trampled on in this way.—I am, &c.,

An Old 79ther. Barnet, Herts, 1891.

 

2nd January 1892

The Kilt Denounced.

Sir,—I am surprised that any of your intelligent correspondents should be so far left to themselves as to say anything in favour of that trashy thing they call a kilty dress. All honour to our brave and heroic men who have rendered so much valuable service to Queen and country, but what on earth hae this contemptible thing got to do with it? Nothing more than my granny’s petticoats. Indeed, to me the kilt is well worthy the name of any asylum deserter, or some simpleton who has got a piece of tomfoolery to perform at a puppet show; no doubt the silly kilt might add to the fun considerably. But worse still when we see an old fool strutting along our streets exhibiting his rheumatic knees. We wonder whether he is compos mentis or not. Awake, ye mothers, wives, and sisters, and help us to get this weak-minded rag of a thing banished from the face of the earth, and you will greatly oblige

Hersel’.

 

9th January 1892

The Kilt Defended.

Sir,—I reply to the letter which appeared in your last issue denouncing the kilt, will you kindly allow me space in your valuable paper for these few words in defence of the garb of Old Gaul? The kilt is and was the Highlander’s dress in the North of Scotland until a number of years back. But now I see it condemned by “Hersel’” just as if it was an old useless hencoop lying on a dung heap. He, or she, never saw a right kilt on a fool. His uniform would look more like a woman’s petticoat than a kilt. The noblest dress a person can put on is the kilt, or the Highlander’s dress. Who, then, is the kilt’s enemy? Is it the trousers? No. Is it the breeches? No. Who is it then? He who does not know anything about a kilt or its style.—I am, &c.,

Geo. M’Phee. Bridgepark, Muir of Ord, 2nd Jan. 1892.

 

16 January 1892

Kilt v. Breeks.

The Kilt Defended.

Sir,—“Hersel’” must be a right down ignoramus, and surely knows nothing about the kilt dress, or else he would be aware of the fact that when the legs are bare from infancy and exposed to all kinds of weather their muscles are developed and hardened; and moreover, in consequence of the lower part of the body being exposed the whole body is better able to withstand the cold and the inclemency of the weather than one whose trunk and muscles have been wrapped from his childhood in perhaps 2 ins. thick  of the stuff which “Hersel’” grannie’s petticoats were made of. If “Hersel’” is an Englishman, I do not wonder at him calling the kilt a trashy thing, for the simple reason, many of his forefathers quaked on seeing 4 ins. square of the tartan kilt. And if he is a Scot, which I hope he is not, I am bewildered at the insulting tone of his epistle, and would earnestly request him to keep within the shade of his grannie’s petticoats, of which, I have no doubt, he knows more than of the good old Highland garb, which I and every true Scotsman should wear with pride.—I am, &c.,

J. T. Henderson.

 

Sir,—In the last week’s Journal “Hersel’” has exploded with hatred to the kilt. Such rotten ideas will, I fancy, not get much support North of the Tweed. It is impossible to tell from the signature whether “Hersel’” is a male or a female or a hermaphrodite; but one thing apparent to all your readers is that “Hersel’” has spindle shanks or “scabbit” knees, or some other physical defect which “Hersel’” wishes to hide inside her “trooser.” “Facts are chiels that winna ding,” and one fact is that rheumatic knees is an unknown complaint among habitual wearers of the kilt. “Hersel’” is either joking or is greatly mortified at not being a good model for the kilt. The fable of “The fox and the grapes” can be aplied to this case especially well, I think.—I am, &c.,

Callum Brogach. Kildonan, Sutherland. Continue reading “Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 1 (December and January 1891-1892)”