Highland Light Infantry

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This article is about the British regiment. For the Canadian regiment, see Highland Light Infantry of Canada.
Highland Light Infantry
Cap Badge of the Highland Light Infantry
Active 1881–1959
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Type Infantry
Role Light infantry
Part of Highland Brigade
Garrison/HQ Hamilton Barracks (1881-1921)
Maryhill Barracks, Glasgow (1921-1959)
Nickname(s) "Hell's Last Issue" They were nicknamed 'The Glesga Keelies' during the Peninsular Wars.
March Quick- The Bugle Horn
Mascot Elephant
Anniversaries Assaye (September 23)
Hackle White over Red
Tartan MacKenzie Tartan[dead link]

The Highland Light Infantry was a light infantry regiment of the British Army from 1881 to 1959. In 1923 its title was expanded to the Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment).[1]

The regiment was formed as part of the Childers Reforms on 1 July 1881 by the amalgamation of the 71st (Highland) Light Infantry (as the 1st Battalion) and the 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot (as the 2nd Battalion) as the city regiment of Glasgow, absorbing local Militia and Rifle Volunteer units. Its exact status was ambiguous: although the regiment insisted on being classified as a non-kilted Highland regiment it recruited mainly from Glasgow in Lowland Scotland[2]

During 1917, members of the HLI were painted by the war artist Frederick Farrell, in Flanders.[3]

The HLI was affiliated with a Canadian militia regiment called The Highland Light Infantry of Canada.

The HLI (as it was popularly known) continued in service, actively taking part in the First and Second World Wars, until it was amalgamated with the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1959 to form the Royal Highland Fusiliers (Princess Margaret's Own Glasgow and Ayrshire Regiment) which later merged with the Royal Scots Borderers, the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), the Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons) and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland, becoming the 2nd Battalion of the new regiment.


Regular battalions[edit]

On July 1, 1881 the 71st and 74th Regiments of Foot were redesignated as the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Highland Light Infantry respectively. Following the independence of India, all infantry regiments were reduced to a single regular battalion in 1948. The 1st and 2nd Battalions were merged in Glasgow on September 23 to become the 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry (71st/74th Foot). 2nd Bn was in England when alerted for service in Egypt. They landed at Alexandria on 20 August 1882 wearing red serge tunics and the old 74th (Lamont) trews. Engaged in some of the fiercist fighting of the pre-dawn battle of Tel-el-Kebir, they lost 17 dead and 57 wounded. Lt Edwards was to receive the only VC won during the battle.

Militia battalions[edit]

As part of the Childers scheme, militia regiments became reserve battalions of the new regiments. The 1st Royal Lanark Militia was designated as the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, HLI. In 1883, a 4th (Militia) Battalion was formed. In 1908, the militia was redesignated as the "Special Reserve". The Special Reserve battalions provided drafts for the fighting battalions during the First World War, were placed in suspended animation in 1921 and finally disbanded in 1953.

Territorial battalions[edit]

The 1881 reforms also designated the rifle volunteers raised in 1859/60 as volunteer battalions. Accordingly, the 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th and 10th 25th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers were attached to the HLI, being formally renamed as 1st to 5th Volunteer Battalions in 1887. On the creation of the Territorial Force in 1908, they became the 5th (City of Glasgow), 6th (City of Glasgow), 7th (Blythswood), 8th (Lanark) and 9th (Glasgow Highlanders) Battalions (TF).

During the First World War, the territorial battalions formed duplicate "second line" units. At the end of the war, the TF was disbanded, being reformed as the Territorial Army in 1920. The 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th Battalions were reformed.

In 1938, the 7th HLI was converted to Royal Artillery, leaving three TA battalions. On the doubling of the Territorial Army in the following year the 5th, 6th and 9th HLI formed duplicate 10th, 11th and 2/9th Battalions.

In 1942, the 11th HLI was converted to armour, becoming the 156th Regiment in the Royal Armoured Corps, but retaining their HLI cap badges on the black beret of the RAC.[4]

The TA was reformed in 1947, with the HLI having two battalions: the 5th/6th and Glasgow Highlanders. In 1967, both units were amalgamated with other Territorial infantry battalions in the Lowland Brigade to form the 52nd Lowland Volunteers.

War-formed battalions[edit]

The regiment was considerably expanded for both the First and Second World Wars. Twenty-six battalions fought in World War I, with a number of garrison and reserve units also being formed. In the Second World War, a lesser expansion took place.

The 16th (Service) Battalion (2nd Glasgow) was formed from former members of the Glasgow Battalion of the Boys' Brigade on 2 September 1914, and was known as the Glasgow Boys' Brigade Battalion. It is particularly remembered for an incident at the Frankfurt trench in the Battle of the Ancre, the last offensive of the battle of the Somme, where around 60 men of D company were surrounded and cut off behind enemy lines. Relief attempts failed, but the men of the Frankfurt trench refused to surrender. After refusing to surrender, the Germans stormed the trench and found only 15 wounded men alive, three of whom died soon afterwards. General Sir Hubert Gough praised their stand under Army Order 193.[5]

The 16th and its two sister battalions, the 15th (Glasgow Tramways) and 17th (Glasgow Commercials), were never known or titled as the Glasgow Pals. Albeit, they were part of the Lord Derby scheme that introduced 'the Pals' Battalions - a name and system peculiar to northern England.The only nicknames the three civic battalions raised by Glasgow had were their own names for each other, given when camped at Gailes Camp, near Troon, from September 1914 to May 1915. Their names were the 15th - The Boozy First, the 16th - The Holy Second, 17th - The Featherbeds.The 15th were originally known as the First Glasgow's and the 16th as the Second Glasgow's. The 17th were also known as the Third Glasgow's and nicknamed the Saintly Third. Due to a storm which destroyed their tented camp on their first night under canvas at Gailes Camp the Third were then billeted in nearby Troon. The two battalions who were to remain in tented accommodation, began to call the 17th soldiers 'The Featherbeds'. The 17th Battalion adopted it and continued to have a social activities club up until the 1970s known as The Featherbed Club.

Battle honours and colours[edit]

The following battle honours or honorary distinctions were borne on the regimental colours, representing actions fought by the 71st and 74th Regiments of Foot or the HLI prior to 1914:

Ten representative battle honours for each of the First and Second World Wars were borne on the queen's colours:

The 74th Foot had been awarded a third colour, known as the "Assaye Colour", by the Governor General of India in 1803. This was a white silk flag bearing an elephant with regimental number "LXXIV" and the honours "Assaye" and "Seringapatam". The colour continued to be carried by the 2nd Battalion HLI from 1881 to 1948, and the 1st Battalion from 1948 to 1959.[7]


The HLI was the only regular Highland regiment to wear trews for full dress, until 1947 when kilts were authorised. An earlier exception was the Glasgow Highlanders who wore kilts and were a territorial battalion within the HLI. The HLI's full dress of 1914 was an unusual one; comprising a dark green shako with diced border and green cords, scarlet doublet with buff facings and trews of the Mackenzie tartan. Officers wore plaids of the same tartan, while in drill order all ranks wore white shell jackets with trews and green glengarry caps.[8]

The 74th had served for their first fifteen years in India, where the kilt was considered too heavy, and although the regiment resumed it on returning to Scotland in 1806, they lost their Highland dress in 1809, and even the name “Highland” in 1816. When their commanding officer, Colonel Eyre Crabbe, was about to retire in 1845 after 38 continuous years with the regiment, he “submitted to the Commander-in-Chief… the earnest desire of the officers and men to be permitted to resume the national garb and designation of a Highland regiment, under which the 74th had been originally embodied.” The aged Duke of Wellington agreed, but although the regiment had hoped to adopt the full Highland dress of kilt and feathered bonnet, they had to settle for the trews and bonnet which the 71st regiment wore. A painting (by David Cunliffe) of Colonel Crabbe with some of the officers and men was commissioned to mark the return to Highland title and distinctive uniform, and is in the National War Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh Castle. The MacKenzie tartan became the agreed trews (trousers)for the new 71st/74th HLI of 1882.

David Niven, who was a graduate of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, was commissioned into the HLI as a subaltern. He claimed in his memoirs that he was dismayed at the appointment, as he dreaded the prospect of wearing trews, and had accordingly written "Anything but the Highland Light Infantry" on his choice of regiment form. He served with the HLI in Malta and Britain in the 1930s.


Click for larger image


  1. ^ Army Order 221/1923
  2. ^ W.Y. Carman, page 160 "Richard Simkin's Uniforms of the British Army: the Infantry Regiments", ISBN 0-86350-031-5
  3. ^ "Glasgow's forgotten war artist Fred Farrell". Herald Scotland. 24 May 2014. Retrieved 9 May 2015. 
  4. ^ Forty, George (1998). British Army Handbook 1939–1945. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. p. 51. 
  5. ^ Glesga Pals: 16th Battalion Highland Light Infantry
  6. ^ Swinson, Arthur (1972). A Register of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army. London. [page needed]
  7. ^ The Royal Highland Fusiliers – A Soldier's History. Royal Highland Fusiliers. c. 1979. [page needed]
  8. ^ Bowling, AH. Scottish Regiments and Uniforms. ISBN 0-85524-043-1. [page needed]

http://www.memorialstovalour.co.uk/vc398.html Lt Edwards VC (1882)

External links[edit]