Lovat Scouts – “Hunstanton’s Highland Heroes” by Mary Mackie Pub: Morningside. ISBN 978-0-9575978-2-2 £ 6.50
The Moidart Sniper (John (Ton) MacDonald, by Fergie MacDonald with Alan Henderson: Pub Fergie MacDonald. ISBN 9781527227675. £10.00
Ardnish was Home by Angus MacDonald. Pub Birlinn. ISBN 9781780274263 £8.99
Perhaps it is the interest in Outlanders, with Jamie Fraser, perhaps it is simply the commemoration of the Centenary of the First World War, but there seems to be a great increase in writings about the Lovat Scouts. Very briefly, the origin of the Lovat Scouts was that, after the military disasters of the early months of the second Boer War, it was clear that the British army did not have the fieldcraft skills to effectively defeat the Boers. The 14th Lord Lovat recognising these problems saw in the shepherds, ghillies and gamekeepers of the Scottish Highlands a reservoir of fieldcraft and scouting skills. He thus put forward idea of a unite recruited from this source, and the result was the Lovat Scouts. While the Scouts were initially disbanded at the end of the war, by August 1914 they were part of the new Territorial Force.
In Lovat Scouts – “Hunstanton’s Highland Heroes”, Mary Mackie lovingly records the arrival of the Lovat Scouts in Norfolk and the time which they spent in the area being trained as part of the Highland Mounted Brigade. This is an interesting book in that it skilfully weaves together the activities and the experiences of both the civilian population and the Lovat Scouts. There are two things of note for the general Historian about the time which the Scouts spent in Norfolk. When they were travelling there, it is claimed that they were the origin of Russians with snow on their boots. On their travels down to Norfolk the Scouts had been overheard by someone talking in the Gaelic. They asked where they were from and the Scout replied “Ross-Shire” which was misheard as Russia.
It was also where the Lovat Scouts could have entered the history books along with the other Highlanders who having joined the British Army have had in some way their loyalty exploited, have mutinied, as it was, after some months being trained in their original role, and being a highly trained Cavalry unit, the Highland Mounted Brigade became a front-line infantry assault unit. The first the men knew of this was when their horses were taken from them, and it did not go down well. “It was a terrible blow for morale.”
In “The Moidart Sniper (John (Ton) MacDonald”, Fergie MacDonald recounts the life of his Father, John ‘Ton’ MacDonald 1893 – 1988, during the Great War. Ton MacDonald was one of the men who went to Hunstanton, and the book traces his subsequent career through the Dardanelles, a spell out of the Army, and back in to again serve with the Scouts. Ton was like all of the Lovat scouts at that stage Territorial Force, and was entitled to be discharged at the end of his enlistment. He then returned to Moidart, to wait until the army wanted him back.
When he was recalled, Ton was, because of the good reputation which he had made in the Dardanelles, posted to the Lovat Scouts Sharpshooters, a Sniper unit which had been set up by the 14th Lord Lovat who had recruited the original Scouts. This was a very different unit from the Infantry into which the majority of the Scouts had become. Extremely skilled and talented there was something like a 60% failure rate in training, with the failures RTUd ruthlessly. It produced a body with the highest esprit de corps, with a very high proportion of officers providing the link with HQ, for as well as sniping, the main job of the Sharpshooters was battlefield observation and intelligence gathering.
The Moidart Sniper is a fascinating book. According to Lord Lovat writing the forward, the records of the Lovat Scout Sharpshooters were lost in WW2. Fergie MacDonald talks about his close relationship with his Father, and I suspect that much of the roots of the book came from a living oral tradition, stories passed down within the community which had supplied the Lovat Scouts.
There is an acknowledgement of this oral transmission of sorties of peace and war in the Acknowledgements and Dedication of “Ardnish was Home by Angus MacDonald” As this work of fiction was published before “The Moidart Sniper” the appearance of “Percy” the Turkish Sniper in the Dardanelles shot by Corporal Angus McKay, the story must have come to Angus MacDonald through the same means.
“Ardnish” is at one level a complex book. It is really three stories cleverly interwoven. There is the peacetime story of Ardnish – set in Morar, there is the account of the War in the Dardanelles, and there is the story of the third protagonist, a Nurse, for the story begins with a Lovat Scout being lying wounded in a hospital tent in the Dardanelles.
“Ardnish” is definitely a fine piece of oral history retold with a fictitious background. However, it rounds of very neatly our three books about the Lovat Scouts in the Great War, all of which are well worth reading and which are available from the Museum shop.