The Scottish Rifles – Early Beginnings
Date posted: December 14, 2017
The first NSW Military Unit with a Scottish Association was The Duke of Edinburgh’s Highlanders formed in 1868. The Unit wore a kilt of Black Watch tartan and became known as the Highland Brigade before it was disbanded in 1878, following a decline in numbers caused by curtailment of new enrolment by Sir Henry Parkes, then the Premier of New South Wales. Prior to this, the Volunteer Act of 1867 provided for the granting of 50 acres of freehold land to any volunteer who gave five years continuous efficient service. This system had given rise to abuse and it was this that led Sir Henry Parkes to stop recruiting. The system of Land Grants to Volunteers was finally abandoned in 1878, and with volunteers dwindling the Highland Brigade was disbanded.
Following the death of General Gordon in Khartoum in 1885, the NSW Government sent a special force to the Sudan. This aroused public reaction in the State, which led to the formation of a new Unit, to be called the Scottish Volunteer Rifle Corps in 1885. The name was later abbreviated to the Scottish Rifles and they first paraded in November 1885. The chosen uniform of the Scottish Rifles was to be a kilt of Black Watch tartan but as the Unit was not formally affiliated to the Black Watch (the Royal Highland Regiment), the tartan was adapted by adding a thin red line.
During the Boer War the Scottish Rifles was not involved as a Unit but some 85 members enlisted into those Australian contingents which did serve. As a result of the large numbers of Scottish members who enlisted, the Scottish Rifles received a Battle Honour, South Africa 1900-1902, and was granted a King’s Colour (see photograph on the right).This Colour was laid up in Scots Church in Sydney on 28th November 1926, but during subsequent renovations to the church the Colour has been mislaid. On the pike staff of the Colour there is a shield that reads:
“Presented by His Most Gracious Majesty, the King Emperor, to 1st Battalion, New South Wales Scottish Rifle Regiment, formerly 5th Infantry Regiment, New South Wales, Scottish Rifles, in recognition of services to the Empire in South Africa, 1900-1902”
During the last years of the 19th century, the Scottish Rifles continued to grow, reaching a strength of 23 officers and 617 other ranks by 1900, with several Companies having been formed in country areas of New South Wales.
Following Federation the Commonwealth forces were reorganised and the Scottish Rifles was formed into two Battalions. The first Battalion was to have six companies in Sydney and two in Newcastle. There was to be a portion of a second Battalion on the Northern Rivers with one Company in Maclean, one at Lismore-Ballina and one at Lismore-Mullimbimby.
In 1908 the Scottish Rifles received the coveted honour of affiliation with the Black Watch (the Royal Highland Regiment).
In 1911, the Government announced that a new Citizens’ Army involving compulsory service was to be formed and all existing Units would be absorbed into the militia. In 1912 this came into effect and all trainees were drafted into new Battalions, those in Sydney being the 25th and 26th Infantry and the Scottish Rifles ceased to exist.