Military Wiki
Cape Town Highlanders
Active 24 April 1885 –
Country South Africa
Allegiance South Africa
Branch Army
Type Infantry
Role Mechanised infantry
Size One battalion
Part of Army Conventional Reserve
Garrison/HQ Cape Town
Motto(s) Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (No One Assails Me with Impunity) (Latin)
Bydand (abiding, steadfast, an adjectival use of the Middle Scots present participle of bide[1])
March Quick: Cock o' the North
Colonel of the Regiment Colonel P. McLoughlin PVD, SM, MMM
Tartan Gordon

The Cape Town Highlanders Regiment is a mechanised infantry regiment of the South African Army. As a reserve unit, it has a status roughly equivalent to that of a British Territorial Army or United States Army National Guard unit.


Descendants of Scottish immigrants to South Africa raised the Cape Town Highlanders in 1885. On 24 April of the same year, their services were accepted – since then, this date has always been celebrated as the regiment's official birthday.

The regiment first saw active duty during the Bechuanaland Campaign that was fought in the Northern Cape in 1896. At the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War the regiment was again mobilised for active duty. During the war the regiment or elements thereof took part in several actions, including the relief of Kimberley.

The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn became colonel-in-chief of the regiment in 1906, and the regiment's name was thus changed to the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn's Own Cape Town Highlanders. When the regiment was embodied in the Citizen Force in 1913, the title was changed to 6th Infantry (Duke of Connaught and Strathearn's Own Cape Town Highlanders).

During World War I the Cape Town Highlanders first fought against Germany in German South West Africa, but was subsequently combined with the Transvaal Scottish Regiment to form the 4th South African Infantry (South African Scottish) Battalion, part of the 1st South African Brigade. (The South African Scottish, like various similar units, was formed by the South African government since a clause in the Defence Act of that time prohibited existing units from serving so far outside the country's borders.) After fighting in the Senussi Campaign in North Africa the brigade was shipped to France, where it took part in many battles between 1916 and 1918, including the famous Battle of Delville Wood. The title was changed again, in 1932, to Cape Town Highlanders (Duke of Connaught and Strathearn's Own).

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939 the regiment was again mobilised. However, it did not fight in the first campaign of the South African Army in the war, the Abyssinian Campaign of 1940 to 1941. However, in mid-1941, the regiment was briefly sent to Egypt to escort thousands of Italian prisoners of war to internment camps in South Africa; it returned to Egypt in late June of the same year to join the newly arrived South African 1st Infantry Division in the Western Desert. The Cape Town Highlanders fought in all of the major battles of the Western Desert Campaign, including the Battle of El Alamein. Indeed, the regiment is one of only three in the world (all of them South African) to have not only the usual two Alamein battle honours – "Alamein Defence" and "El Alamein" – but a third, "Alamein Box", which resulted from a separate action during the initial defence. This action played a significant role in halting Rommel’s advance on the tired and depleted British Eighth Army. During the regiment's subsequent deployment to Italy, the regiment was temporarily combined with South Africa's senior Scottish unit, the First City Regiment, to form the First City/Cape Town Highlanders. This combined unit fought from Battle of Monte Cassino to the Alps, culminating in the heroic capture at bayonet-point of the strategic peak of Monte Sole as part of the South African 6th Armoured Division.

In 1947, Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) was appointed colonel-in-chief, and from 1948 until South Africa became a republic in 1961, the regiment was the Queen's Own Cape Town Highlanders.

The first significant post-war action of the Cape Town Highlanders took place in January 1976, during Operation Savannah. This was the first large-scale incursion by the South African forces into Angola during the 23-year-long "Border War" in South West Africa (now Namibia). During the following years the regiment was mobilised several times, the last mobilisation occurring in October 1988.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, South Africa's National Party government became increasingly concerned that the Regiment, whose rank and file were seen to be politically liberal and opposed to Apartheid, would not be prepared to suppress anti-Apartheid unrest internally in South Africa amongst local non-white township populations and white protestor groups in the Cape Town area. To gain control of the Regiment, the government flooded the unit's ranks with Afrikaners and other National Party supporters from outside of the main recruitment pool area (Cape Peninsula), generally with the rank of NCO or above. This ethnic and political re-engineering of the unit totally altered the tone and culture of the Regiment which had formerly been based on English-speaking South Africans of Scottish or UK descent.[citation needed] The regiment was also mobilised in April 1994 as part of the efforts by the South African military to ensure a peaceful first fully democratic election.

As a result of the subsequent abolition of conscription and the transformation of the South African Army, the Cape Town Highlanders Regiment returned to its original form of a volunteer regiment.

In 2000 a contingent of the Cape Town Highlanders Regiment attended the Queen Mother's 100th birthday and paraded the regiment's Colour on Horse Guards Parade. The Drums and Pipes participated in a special parade centenary for the Queen Mother in Edinburgh, and carried on to participate in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. With the death of the Queen Mother in 2002, the regiment sent a contingent to participate in her funeral procession. The Drums and Pipes have since performed regularly at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009). In 2006, they were invited, together with the Queensland Police Pipe Band and 4 bands from the new Royal Regiment of Scotland to perform at Balmoral Castle for the Royal Family. The Band has also participated in the Basel Tattoo, Jinhae (South Korea) and at the Cape Town Tattoo, held in the Castle of Good Hope.

The regiment is currently a mechanised infantry regiment in the SANDF and has sent members as part of the Peace keeping contingent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi.

Regimental symbols

  • Regimental tartan: The Gordon regimental tartan from the clan Gordon; it is the only regiment in the world other than The Gordon Highlanders to wear this tartan.
  • Regimental mottos: The regiment has two mottos. The first, "Nemo Me Impune Lacessit", is in Latin and means "No Man Challenges me with Impunity"; it is used by several Scottish regiments. The second, "Bydand", is in Doric and means "Steadfast". This motto was unique to The Gordon Highlanders and the Cape Town Highlanders. However, with the amalgamation of The Gordon Highlanders with other Scottish units, this motto has fallen into disuse by them; the Cape Town Highlanders still uses it on a shield that also bears a stag's head which is worn on the ceremonial sporran by those with the rank of corporal and below.
  • Regimental quick march: The regimental quick march is "Cock o' the North"; it was also the march of The Gordon Highlanders and commemorates the Marquess of Huntly, son of the Duke of Gordon, whose nickname was the "Cock o' The North".


Battle honours


The Cape Town Highlanders Regiment has the following battle honours on its regimental colours:

  • Bechuanaland 1896–97
  • South Africa 1899–1902
  • South West Africa 1915
  • Gazala
  • Alam Hamza
  • Best Post
  • Alamein Box
  • Alamein Defence
  • Alam el Halfa
  • Battle of El Alamein
  • Western Desert 1941–43
  • Cassino II
  • Paliano
  • Chiusi
  • Florence
  • Gothic Line
  • The Greve
  • Monte Stanco
  • Monte Pezza
  • Sole/Caprara
  • Po Valley
  • Italy 1944–45

The "Lost" colours

The South African Union Defence Act of 1914 prohibited the deployment of South African troops beyond the borders of the South Africa and its immediate neighbouring territories. To send troops to Europe to support the Commonwealth in World War I, Generals Botha and Smuts created the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force. However, because of the limitations of the Defence Act, they issued a General Order (Order 672 of 1915) which stated that The South African Overseas Expeditionary Force will be Imperial and have the status of regular British Troops. "Status" was meant to imply administrative purposes, as Britain was paying for the maintenance of the force in the field for the sake of local political sensitivities.[2]

On 8 June 1916 the Adjutant General's office at Defence Head-Quarters issued a note stating: ....the force is raised locally for the purpose of assisting the Imperial Authorities...and it amounts to the Union Government having allowed the Imperial Authorities to recruit men in South Africa for this it is certainly not raised under the Defence Act of the Union of South Africa, and this being the case, the Union Government can grant no commissions. Any such commissions will be of temporary nature and will lapse at the conclusion of hostilities.[2]

As such, the below colours were awarded to the Unit, but because of the unit being an "Imperial Unit" at the stage of award, the right to bear the colours lapsed at the end of hostilities.[2] The fifteen "missing" battle honours awarded for service in France and Flanders to the 4th South African Infantry (South African Scottish) battalion include some of the most famous in South Africa’s military history:


  1. SND: Bydand
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Digby, Peter. K. Pyramids and Poppies: the 1st SA Infantry Brigade in Libya, France and Flanders: 1915 -1919 1993, Ashanti, Rivonia. Pg 416

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