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The Scots Greys
Cap badge of the Scots Greys
Active 1678–1971
Country  Kingdom of Scotland (1678–1707)
 Kingdom of Great Britain (1707–1800)
 United Kingdom (1801–1971)
Branch Army
Type Line Cavalry
Role Armoured regiment
Size One regiment
Part of Royal Armoured Corps
Garrison/HQ Redford Barracks, Edinburgh
Nickname(s) "Birdcatchers"
Motto(s) Nemo me impune lacessit (Nobody touches me with impunity)
Second to None
Colours Blue facings with gold lace (for officers) or yellow lace (for other ranks)
March Quick (band) - Hielan' Laddie
Slow (band) - The Garb of Old Gaul; (pipes & drums) - My Home
Colonel-in-Chief HM The Queen
Tartan Royal stewart.jpg

The Royal Scots Greys was a cavalry regiment of the British Army from 1707 until 1971, when they amalgamated with the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales's Dragoon Guards) to form The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys).

The regiment's history began in 1678, when three independent troops of Scots Dragoons were raised. In 1681, these troops were regimented to form The Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons, numbered the 4th Dragoons in 1694. They were already mounted on grey horses by this stage and were already being referred to as the Grey Dragoons. In 1707, they were renamed The Royal North British Dragoons (North Britain then being the envisaged common name for Scotland), but were already being referred to as the Scots Greys. In 1713, they were renumbered the 2nd Dragoons as part of deal between the establishments of the English Army and Scottish Army when they were being unified into the British Army.[1] They were also sometimes referred to, during the first Jacobite uprising, as Portmore's Dragoons.[2] In 1877, their nickname was finally made official when they became the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys), which was inverted in 1921 to The Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons). They kept this title until 2 July 1971, when they amalgamated with the 3rd Carabiniers.

Origins of the Scots Greys

Dragoon's helmet and pistol from the 17thC civil wars period, Edinburgh Castle

The Royal Scots Greys originated as three troops of dragoons. The first two were formed on 21 May 1678 under the commands of Captain John Strachan and Captain John Inglis. The third, under the command of Captain Viscount Kingstoun, was formed on 23 September 1678. These were the first mounted troops raised for the British crown in Scotland. Inglis, Stachan and Kingstoun's troops would spend their early years suppressing prohibited Presbyterian assemblies in Scotland.[3]

In 1681, by Royal Warrant, these three troops were combined, with the addition of three further troops, into what would be named the Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons.[4] Lieutenant-General Thomas Dalziel would be the regiment's first colonel. In its original configuration, the Scots Greys were configured as a true dragoon regiment. Although mounted, as cavalry regiments were, their armament was closer to that carried by infantry units. Troopers of the Scots Greys were authorized, during the late 17th century, to carry matchlock muskets with bayonets, while their sergeants and corporals carried halberds and pistols. Only the officers were authorized swords, though the lieutenants were to be armed with a partisan.[5] Interestingly, the original uniform called for the troopers to wear grey coats, but there is no record that the regimental mounts had to be of any particular colour.[6]

Between its formation in 1681 and 1685, the Scots Greys were employed primarily in keeping civil order in Scotland. The regiment participated in expeditions against various fractious clans which resisted the monarch's rule. In 1688, the regiment was quartered in London at the start of the Glorious Revolution. Upon the landing of William of Orange, the regiment took the side of William and Mary, being taken on into the new king's army. Ordered back to Scotland, the Scots Greys took part in the Battle of Killiecrankie against the Jacobites. For their service, the regiment's title as a Royal regiment was confirmed and they were ranked as the 4th Dragoons.[7]

1693–1714: Grey Horses, Red Coats, and War of Spanish Succession

17th-century government dragoon, Edinburgh Castle

Prior to 1693, there is no record that the regiment used grey horses exclusive to others. However, when inspected in London in 1693 by King William III, people took note that the regiment was mounted on all grey horses. Some have offered the theory that the grey horses originated with the Dutch Horse Guards. When they left to return to the Netherlands, the horses were turned over to the Scots Greys.[8] Although there is no definite reason, some of the men also wore either fur caps or broad-brimmed hats. By the time of their royal inspection, uniforms of the regiment had also changed. Gone were the dull grey coats they had initially worn, replaced with the red, or scarlet, coats with blue facings proclaiming the Scots Greys "Royal" status.[8] After this first showing of an all grey horsed regiment, the regiment became increasingly known as the "Grey Dragoons" or the "Scots Regiment of Grey Dragoons".

Together with the Royal English Dragoons and Lord Fairfax's Dragoons, the Scots Greys were transferred to the Netherlands in 1694. There, they saw action during the Nine Years' War deployed in the traditional dragoon role of reconnaissance and security duties. However, other than a few minor skirmishes on the border with France, the Scots Greys did not see any significant actions during their three years on the continent.[8]

After returning to Scotland on garrison duties from 1697 to 1702, the Scots Greys were sent to Holland to join the army under John Churchill, soon to become the Duke of Marlborough. The War of the Spanish Succession had begun a year earlier and the Scots Greys were to take part in his campaigns on the continent. During the first two years of the war, Marlborough's forces laid siege to a number of fortresses, including those on the Meuse, the lower Moselle and Rhine rivers. In the process, capturing Venlo, Roermond, Stevensweert, Liège, Bonn, Huy, and Limbourg. Under the command of Thomas Lord Tiviot, the Scots Greys would participate in the sieges.[9] For most of the campaigns of 1702 and 1703, the Scots Greys performed the typical cavalry duties of reconnaissance and screening for Marlborough's forces. Their first notable action was the capture of a French convoy in 1703, including a large shipment of bullion.[10]

The following year, with the Holy Roman Empire threatened by the success of Rákóczi's Hungarian revolt, Marlborough made his march to the Danube. During the campaign, the Scots Greys served as part of Ross's Dragoon Brigade.[11] At the Battle of Schellenberg, on 2 July 1704, the Scots Greys were originally held as part of the reserve. With the failure of the first assault, the Scots Greys were ordered into the line as dismounted infantry. Once the breakthrough occurred, the Scots Greys were back in the saddle participating in the pursuit.[10]

Part of the Battle of Blenheim tapestry at Blenheim Palace by Judocus de Vos. In the background is the village of Blenheim; in the middle ground are the two water mills that Rowe had to take to gain a bridgehead over the Nebel. The foreground shows a British grenadier with a captured French colour. At the Battle of Blenheim, while most other cavalry regiments wore tricorn hats, the Scots Greys wore the mitre hat, similar to those worn by grenadiers.

A little more than two weeks later, the Scots Greys fought in the Battle of Blenheim. As part of Ross' Brigade, the Scots Greys again fought as dismounted infantry in the attack on Blenheim itself.[10] On route to the village, the Scots Greys and the Wynne's Regiment of Dragoons had to fend off a charge by the French regiments of d'Artois and 1er Provence.[12] With the help of the Hanoverians, the Scots Greys beat back the charge and then helped to clear the French from Blenheim. Despite being heavily engaged, at times in hand to hand combat, the Scots Greys did not have a single fatality, though they did suffer many wounded.[10]

Following the Battle of Blenheim, the Scots Greys returned to the Netherlands. In 1705, they took part in Marlborough's campaign along the Moselle river.[13] At the Battle of Elixheim, the Scots Greys participated in the massed cavalry charge which broke through the French lines.[14] Although victorious, it was an incomplete victory as Marlborough had to follow up and complete the defeat of Duc de Villeroi's army.[15]

The following year, the Scots Greys were once again in the field under Marlborough. With the French armies pressing the Alliance, Marlborough's forces had to remain in the Low Countries. The French armies were maneuvering to fight a battle that would allow them to dictate terms for a peace treaty.[16] The two armies met near Ramillies on 23 May 1706. During the battle, the Scots Greys, serving in Lord Hays' brigade of dragoons, forced their way into the village of Autre Eglise, routing the French infantry defending the village. After passing through the village, the Scots Greys encountered French and quickly defeated the Regiment du Roi. The French quickly surrendered, with the Scots Greys capturing their colours.[17] It was also at this battle that the Scots Greys discovered that one of its troopers was more than he appeared. Carried wounded from the battle to the surgeon, it was discovered that one of the dragoons was in fact a woman who had joined the regiment searching for her husband.[18]

The Scots Greys spent the next year on outpost duty. However, in 1708, with the French once again advancing into the Low Countries, the Scots Greys' next significant action would be the Battle of Oudenarde.[17] At the battle, the Scots Greys, now renamed the Royal North British Dragoons and were held in reserve until the French retreated. The Scots Greys took part in the pursuit until ordered off when it became too dark.[19]

The following year, Marlborough's Allied Army took the offensive against the French. The Scots Greys, still part of Sybourg's Brigade, took part in the capture of the fortress as Tournai and Ypres.[20] With Marlborough's army heading towards Mons, the French Army moved to intercept. After a series of maneuvers, the two armies met at the Battle of Malplaquet on 11 September 1709. During the battle, the Scots Greys were brought up from the reserve but found themselves engaged with French cavalry almost as soon as they were ordered forward. After initially being driven back by the French cavalry, the Scots Greys rallied and reengaged the French. In a series of charges, the Scots Greys steadily drove back the French horse, until finally forcing them to retreat. In the process, the Scots Greys captured the standard of the French Household Cavalry.[17]

1710 passed with the Scots Greys once again patrolling the frontier with the France. In 1711, the Scots Greys took the field once again with the Duke of Marlborough's army. This time, they helped force Marshall Villars' "ne plus ultra" lines defending Paris from the Allied Army operating from the low countries. As part of the covering force, they participated in the siege of Bouchain.[17] This would be the last major battle of the war for both the Scots Greys and Marlborough. Marlborough would be stripped of his command, and the Scots Greys would be returned to Britain as the peace talks neared their completion.

As the Scots Greys were returning home, Britain was in the process of reorganizing the army in the aftermath of the Union of England and Scotland. The British government was trying to make it more uniform, as well as sorting out the question of which regiment took precedence over which. An examination of the records revealed that the designation of the Scots Greys as the 4th regiment of dragoons was improper. At the time they entered the service, in 1685, there had been only one other regiment of dragoons in service. However, the senior English dragoon regiment was raised after the Scots Greys was first formed. Although this would mean that the Scots Greys should be designated as the first dragoon regiment, there was a problem. The Royal Scots were already due to be redesignated as the first regiment of infantry. In order to blend the English and Scottish military establishments together, a compromise was reached. The English dragoon regiment would be designated as the first, and the Scots Greys would become the second.[21] Therefore, the Scots Greys were redesignated as the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons[1] (and hence the motto Second to None).[22]

1715–1741 Home Service and Jacobites

Painting of the Battle of Sheriffmuir by John Wootton. The view is from the British government side. To the right, there are figures mounted on grey or white horses where, according to the accounts of the battle, the Scots Greys lined up before charging and routing the Jacobite cavalry.

Once back in Britain, the Scots Greys returned to Scotland where they helped police the countryside. In 1715, the Earl Mar declared for the "Old Pretender", James Stuart, sparking the Jacobite Rising. Remaining loyal to the Anglo-German king, the Scots Greys were active in putting down the uprising. This included taking part at the Battle of Sheriffmuir on 13 November 1715. There the Scots Greys, under the Duke of Argyll, were stationed on the right of the Government forces.[23][24] Also known at that time as Portmore's Dragoons, the Scots Greys initially attacked the left flank of the Jacobite army. Advancing around a bog, which the highlanders had thought would protect their flank, the Scots Greys surprised the highlanders, making repeated charges into disordered ranks of the Jacobite infantry.[2] The Scots Greys continue to pursue the shattered left wing of the Jacobite force as it fled for nearly two miles until it was blocked by the river Allan. Unable to fall back, disorganized, they were easy targets for the Scots Greys' dragoons. It is reported that the Duke of Argyll was said to cry out to "Spare the poor blue bonnets!". However, little quarter was given by Scots Greys to any group trying to rally that day.[2] The rest of the royal forces were not as successful. The Jacobite's managed to route the left wing of the Royal army, the day ending in a tactical standoff.[1]

Although the fighting was indecisive, the battle had halted the Jacobite's momentum. For the next four years, the Scots Greys continued to suppress Jacobite supporters in Scotland.[24] With the final end of the First Jacobite Rising in 1719, the Scots Greys went back to their traditional role: policing Scotland. The next 23 years passed relatively uneventfully for the regiment.[1]

War of Austrian Succession

Water colour of pair of troopers as they would have been uniformed during the War of Austrian Succession. On the left is a trooper of the Scots Greys (then known as the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons). On the right is a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards. Unlike most British cavalry, the Scots Greys still carried infantry weapons, including long muskets (as opposed to carbines) and bayonets, in addition to a cavalry saber.

In 1742, the Scots Greys were ordered to join the British Army forming on the continent. Initially, they were used to garrison the area around Ghent.[1] Eventually, they joined the main British Army, which was part of the Pragmatic Army, in time for the Battle of Dettingen on 27 June 1743. At the start of the battle, the Scots Greys appear to have been stationed, with the majority of the British cavalry, in the front line, most likely on the left flank of the Pragmatic Army. The Scots Greys and other regiments were attacked in the battle by the French Maison du Roi.[25] During the battle, the Scots Greys were described as taking the "most pains to be diminished." Despite their seemingly reckless charge, they suffered few casualties during the fight with the French Household Cavalry, the Maison du Roi cavalry, capturing their standard in the process.[26]

The next year was relatively quiet for the Scots Greys. Operating around Brabant and later Ghent, the Scots Greys did not see any action. This changed in 1745 when the Scots Greys took the field with the Duke of Cumberland's forces, part of the Pragmatic Army, as they tried to block the advance of Marshal Saxe. The two forces collided at the Battle of Fontenoy on 11 May 1745. Through most of the day, the Scots Greys were held in reserve until the battle turned against the Pragmatic forces. The Scots Greys, together with the Royal Horse Guards and the Black Horse, were ordered to attack the French forces.[27] With the British and Hanoverian forces forced to retreat after the failure of the attack, the Scots Greys helped to cover the retreat. The charge of the British cavalry allowed the army to retire in good order.[26]

The defeat at Fontenoy sent reverberations through the British realms. In Scotland, the Young Pretender landed in the Highlands and began raising an army to retake the throne. With the start of the Second Jacobite Uprising, the Forty-Five, much of the British Army which made up the Pragmatic Army was recalled to deal with the Jacobites. The Scots Greys were initially ordered to return with the bulk of the army. However, weather prevented the regiment from sailing, and eventually were ordered to remain in the low countries with three other regiments of cavalry under the command of Sir John Ligonier.[26] As part of Ligonier's command, the Scots Greys fought at the Battle of Rocoux on 11 October 1746. Once the French forces began to drive the Allied forces from their positions, the Scots Greys were ordered to cover the retreat. The Scots Greys charged the advancing French infantry, driving them back long enough to allow the Allied forces to retreat in good order.[26]

The following year, the Scot Greys once again took the field with the Pragmatic Army. Following the British victory at Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland returned to the continent with six brigades and orders to achieve a victory to offset defeats in India.[28] The Scots Greys were brigaded with Rothes Dragoons, Queens Dragoons, and Duke's Dragoons.[28] The cavalry, commanded again by Ligonier, was posted on the left flank of the British Army at the Battle of Lauffeld on 2 July 1747. As the British center gave way under the French assault, Ligonier realized that the cavalry would have be committed to enable the British forces to retreat. Without orders from Duke of Cumberland, Ligonier lead the Scots Greys and the other dragoon regiments in a charge against the French forces. Even though the Scots Greys suffered heavy casualties, the pressure of the French attack was relieved, allowing the rest of Cumberland's forces to retreat from the field.[29]

Because of the heavy casualties suffered, the Scots Greys spent the next year being brought up to strength. By the time the regiment neared being brought back up to full strength, the Peace of Aix-la-Chappelle was signed. At the conclusion of the peace, the Scots Greys returned to Britain.[30]

Seven Years' War

The Scots Greys passed the seven years between the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and the start of the Seven Years' War moving from station to station within Great Britain. The years passed relatively uneventfully for the regiment. The major development during this period was the addition of a light company to the Scots Greys in 1755.[31]

However, soon after the light company was raised, with Britain entering into the Seven Years' War, it was detached from the Scots Greys and combined with the light companies of other cavalry regiments to form a temporary, separate light battalion. This light battalion would be employed raiding the French coast.[30] One of the most notable raids was the attack on St. Malo from the 5 to 7 June 1758. The raid resulted in the destruction of the shipping at St. Malo.[32]

The balance of the regiment was transferred to Germany, where it joined the army commanded by Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. Assigned to the cavalry under the command of Lord George Sackville, the Scots Greys arrived in Germany in 1758.[32] The following year, the Scots Greys took part in the Battle of Bergen on 13 April 1759. There, the forces of Britain, Hanover, Brunswick, and Hesse-Kassel were defeated, leaving the cavalry, including the Scots Greys, to cover the retreat. Because of the rear-guard action by the British cavalry, the army was able to survive to fight again later that year near Minden.[30]

Reeling after the defeat at Bergen, the British army and its allies reformed and engaged in a series of maneuvers with the French armies. Eventually, the two forces collided on 1 August 1759 at the Battle of Minden.[33] The Scots Greys, still part of Sackville's command, were held back due to Sackville's delay. Eventually, while Sackville consulted with his superiors, his deputy, on his own initiative, finally ordered the Scots Greys and the rest of the cavalry forward. However, when Sackville returned, he countermanded the order and the cavalry held its place.[34] Once the battle appeared won, with the French retreating, the Scots Greys and the rest of the cavalry pressed the pursuit of the retreating French army.[35]

With Sackville sacked as commander of the British cavalry on the continent and court-martialed for his actions at Minden, the Scots Greys and the rest of the British cavalry came under the command of Marquess of Granby.[36] The following year, 1760, saw the British cavalry more aggressively led at the Battle of Warburg. There, on 31 July 1760, the Scots Greys participated in Granby's charge, which broke the French left flank and then defeated the counter-charge of the French cavalry.[35] Three weeks later, the Scots Greys, along with the Inniskilling Dragoons, met with the rearguard of the French forces near the town of Zierenberg. There the dragoons, supported by some British grenadiers, encountered a French cavalry force covering the retreat. Two squadrons of the Scots Greys charged four squadrons of French cavalry.[35] The Scots Greys and Inniskillings routed the French, sending them in a disorderly retreat into the town of Zierenberg. Soon after, infantry was brought up to storm the town; the town and the survivors of the Scots Greys' attack were captured.[37]

The Scots Greys began the following year by conducting patrols and skirmishing with French troops. Eventually, the Scots Greys were with the main army under Brunswick at the Battle of Villinghausen on 15–16 July 1761.[35]

The start of 1762 found the Scots Greys again raiding and clashing with French cavalry along the Hanoverian frontier. With the war approaching the end, the French decided to make one last concerted effort to overrun Hanover. At the same time, Brunswick, still commanding the Anglo-Hanoverian-Brunswick-Hessian forces in western Germany, wanted to take the initiative once the campaign season arrived. The two forces met at the castle of Wilhelmsthal near Calden.[38] Still attached to Granby's command, the Scots Greys were present for the Battle of Wilhelmsthal, on 24 July 1762. As the French center gave way, the Scots Greys were ordered to exploit the victory. The Scots Greys drove the French forces through the village of Wilhelmsthal, capturing many prisoners and part of the baggage train.[35]

The Battle of Wilhemlstahl was to be the Scots Greys' last major engagement of the war. The following year, the French and British concluded the Treaty of Paris ending the hostilities, for the moment, between the two. With the end of the fighting, the Scots Greys returned home to Great Britain via the low countries.[39]


Home service and changes

Between 1764 and 1815, the Scots Greys remained on home service. Unlike many of the other regiments of British cavalry, they did not see any combat during the American Revolutionary War. Also, except for the Flanders Campaign of 1793-94, they saw no other active service during the French Revolutionary or Napoleonic Wars until the Waterloo Campaign of 1815. For most of the 20 years following the Seven Years' War the Scots Greys remained in Scotland and England.[40]

During this time, however, change was happening to the Scots Greys. Through a series of changes in uniform and equipment, the regiment began to be identified more as a regiment cavalry, rather than as mounted infantry. Drummers, an instrument of the infantry, were replaced with trumpeters, as was standard for cavalry regiments, in 1766.[41] Two years later, the Scot Greys traded in their mitre-style grenadier cap for the tall bearskin hat that would remain a part of the regiment's uniform until its amalgamation in 1971.[42] During this period, the Scots Greys also underwent an organizational change. Although deemed to be a heavy dragoon unit, each troop of the regiment was reorganized to include a detachment of light dragoons. These light dragoons were mounted on lighter, faster horses than the rest of the regiment. However, this increase in strength was soon lost, as the light troops of Scots Greys and other heavy dragoon regiments of the British Army were combined to form a new regiment, the 21st (Douglas's) Light Dragoons, in 1779.[43]

Campaign in the Low Countries

With the French Revolution in 1789, and the increasing tensions between Great Britain and Revolutionary France, the Scots Greys were brought up to strength and then expanded with four new troops to nine troops of dragoons, each of 54 men, in 1792 in anticipation of hostilities.[44] Four troops of the Scots Greys were alerted for possible foreign deployment in 1792 and were transported to the continent in 1793 to join the Duke of York's army operating in the low countries.[45] The Scots Greys arrived in time to participate in the siege of Valenciennes and then the unsuccessful siege of Dunkirk.[44]

Following the failure of the siege, the Scots Greys were employed as part of the screen for the Duke of York's army, skirmishing with French forces.[46] The next significant of action for the Scots Greys occurred at Willems 10 May 1794 on the heights near Tournai. There the Scots Greys, brigaded with the Bays and the Inniskillings, charged the advancing French infantry. The French infantry, upon seeing the threat of the cavalry formed into squares. The Scots Greys charged directly into nearest of the squares. The charge broke the formed infantry square, a remarkable feat. The breaking of the first square demoralized the other French infantry, allowing the Bays and the Inniskillings to break those squares as well.[47] In exchange for 20 casualties, the Greys had helped route three battalions and capture at least 13 artillery pieces.[46] This would be the last time that British cavalry, alone without artillery support, would break an infantry square until the Battle of Garcia Hernandez in 1812.[47]

Despite the victory before Tournai, the Allied Army would be defeated at the Battle of Tourcoing on 18 May 1794. From then on, the British Army would be retreating the face of the French Army. During the retreat, the Scots Greys were active in covering the British forces retreat through the low countries and into Hanover.[46] By the spring of 1795, the Army reached Bremen, in Hanover, and was embarked on ships to return to England. The four troops of Scots Greys arrived in England in November 1795, allowing the regiment to be reunited.[47] The ninth troop was disbanded when the regiment was reunited.[46]

Despite their exploits in the low countries, and the fact that Britain would be heavily engaged around the globe fighting Revolutionary and, later, Napoleonic France, the Scots Greys would not see action until 1815.[48] Over the next twenty years, the Scots Greys would rotate through stations in England, Scotland, and Ireland.


A model in the Regimental Museum, Edinburgh Castle

This changed when news of Napoleon's escape from Elba reached Britain. The Scots Greys, which had been reduced in size because of the end of the Peninsular War, were expanded. This time, there would be 10 troops of cavalry, a total of 946 officer and men, the largest the regiment had ever been to that time.[49] Six of the ten troops were sent to the continent, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel James Inglis Hamilton, to join the army forming under the command of the Duke of Wellington.[49] The Scots Greys, upon arrival in Ghent, were brigaded under the command of Major-General Ponsonby in the Union Brigade, with Royal Dragoons and the Inniskillings Dragoons.

The Scots Greys, with the rest of the Union Brigade, missed the Battle of Quatre Bras despite a long day of hard riding. As the French fell back, the Scots Greys and the rest of the Union Brigade arrived at the end of their 50-mile ride.[50] With the rest of Wellington's Army, the Scots Greys fell back to take positions near the village of Waterloo.

Scotland Forever! by Lady Elizabeth Butler. Lady Butler's depiction of the Scots Greys famous charge at the Battle of Waterloo. In actuality, it appears that they were unable to build up the momentum of a gallop, because the broken ground obliged them to advance at a canter.

On the morning of 18 June 1815, the Scots Greys found themselves in the third line of Wellington's army, on the left flank.[51] As the fights around La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont developed, Wellington's cavalry commander, Earl of Uxbridge, held the cavalry back. However, with the French infantry advancing and threatening to break the British center. Uxbridge ordered the Household Brigade and the Union Brigades to attack the French infantry of D'Erlon's Corps. The Scots Greys were initially ordered to remain in reserve as the other two brigades attacked.[52]

As the rest of the British heavy cavalry advanced against the French infantry, just after 1:30 pm, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton witnessed Pack's brigade beginning to crumble, and the 92nd Highlanders falling back in disorder.[52] On his initiative, Hamilton ordered his regiment forward at the walk. Because the ground was broken and uneven, thanks to the mud, crops, and the men of 92nd, the Scots Greys remained at the walk until they had passed through the Gordons. The arrival of the Scots Greys helped to rally the Gordons, who turned to attack the French.[52] Even without attacking at a full gallop, the weight of the Scots Greys charge proved to be irresistible for the French column pressing Pack's Brigade. As Captain Duthilt, who was present with de Marcognet's 3rd Division, wrote of the Scots Greys charge:

Just as I was pushing one of our men back into the ranks I saw him fall at my feet from a sabre slash. I turned round instantly – to see English cavalry forcing their way into our midst and hacking us to pieces. Just as it is difficult, if not impossible, for the best cavalry to break into infantry who are formed into squares and who defend themselves with coolness and daring, so it is true that once the ranks have been penetrated, then resistance is useless and nothing remains for the cavalry to do but to slaughter at almost no risk to themselves. This what happened, in vain our poor fellows stood up and stretched out their arms; they could not reach far enough to bayonet these cavalrymen mounted on powerful horses, and the few shots fired in chaotic melee were just as fatal to our own men as to the English. And so we found ourselves defenseless against a relentless enemy who, in the intoxication of battle, sabred even our drummers and fifers without mercy.[53]

A lieutenant of the 92nd Highlanders who was present would later write, "the Scots Greys actually walked over this column".[54]

Depiction of Sergeant Charles Ewart capturing the eagle of the French 45e Régiment de Ligne (45th Regiment of the Line) at the Battle of Waterloo.

The Eagle of the French 45th Ligne captured by the Royal Scots Greys. Painting by Stanley Berkeley depicting the famous charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo. The kilted figures carrying muskets are the 92nd Highlanders. According to legend, the men of the 92nd hung on to the stirrups of the Scots Greys during the charge. Although both regiments record it as part of their history, independent eyewitness accounts do not confirm the truth of the "stirrup charge".[55]

As the Scots Greys waded through the French column, Sergeant Charles Ewart found himself within sight of the eagle of 45e Régiment de Ligne (45th Regiment of the Line). With a chance to capture the eagle, Ewart fought his way towards it, later recounting:

One made a thrust at my groin – I parried it off and ... cut him through the head. one of their Lancers threw his lance at me but missed ... by my throwing it off with my sword ... I cut him through the chin and upwards through the teeth. Next, I was attacked by a foot soldier, who, after firing at me charged me with his bayonet, but ... I parried it and cut him down through the head.[56]

With the eagle captured, Sergeant Ewart was ordered to take the trophy off, denying the French troops a chance to recapture their battle standard. In recognition of his feat, he was promoted from sergeant to ensign.[57]

Having defeated the column and captured one of its battle standards, the Scots Greys were now disorganized. Neither Ponsonby nor Hamilton were able to effectively bring their troopers back under control. Rather than being able to reorganize, the Scots Greys continued their advance gaining speed, eventually galloping, and now aimed at Durutte's division of infantry.[58] Unlike the disordered column that had been engaged in attacking Pack's brigade, some of Durutte's men had time to form square to receive the cavalry charge.[58] The volley of musket fire scythed through the Scots Greys' ragged line as they swept over and round the French infantry, unable to break them. Colonel Hamilton was last seen during the charge, leading a party of Scots Greys, towards the French artillery.[59] However, in turning to receive the Scots Greys' charge, Durutte's infantry exposed themselves to the 1st Royal Dragoons. The Royal Dragoons slashed through them, capturing or routing much of the column.[60]

Ensign Ewart's grave at Edinburgh Castle

A pub named in honour of Ensign Ewart on Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

Having taken casualties, and still trying to reorder themselves, the Scots Greys and the rest of the Union Brigade found themselves before the main French lines.[61] Their horses were blown, and they were still in disorder without any idea of what their next collective objective was. Some attacked nearby gun batteries of the Grande Battery, dispersing or sabring the gunners.[62] Disorganized and milling about the bottom of the valley between Hougoumont and La Belle Alliance, the Scots Greys and the rest of the British heavy cavalry were taken by surprise by the counter-charge of Milhaud's cuirassiers, joined by lancers from Baron Jaquinot's 1st Cavalry Division.[63]

As Ponsonby tried to rally his men against the French cuirassers, he was attacked by Jaquinot's lancers and captured. A nearby party of Scots Greys saw the capture and attempted to rescue their brigade commander. However, the French soldier who had captured Ponsonby executed him and then used his lance to kill three of the Scots Greys who had attempted the rescue.[61] By the time Ponsonby died, the momentum had entirely returned in favor of the French. Milhaud's and Jaquinot's cavalrymen drove the Union Brigade from the valley. The French artillery added to the Scots Greys misery.[59]

The remnants of the Scots Greys retreated back to the British lines, harried by French cavalry. They eventually reformed on the left, supporting the rest of the line as best they could with carbine fire. In all, the Scots Greys suffered 104 dead and 97 wounded and 228 of the 416 horses. When they were finally reformed, the Scots Greys could only field two weakened squadrons, rather than the three complete ones with which they had begun the day.[59]

Following the victory of Waterloo, the Scots Greys pursued the defeated French Army until Napoleon's surrender and final abdication. The Scots Greys would remain on the continent until 1816 as part of the army of occupation under the terms of the peace treaty.[59]

1816–1856: Years of peace and the Crimean War

Between 1816 and 1854, the Scots Greys remained in the British Isles. As they had done in the interludes between continental wars, they moved from station to station, sometimes being called upon to support local civilian authorities.[64] During these years, there was very little that changed, either in the Scots Greys or the British Army in general.

The decades of peaceful home service were broken with the outbreak of war with Russia. Trying to prop up the Ottoman Empire, Britain, France, and Sardinia, mobilized forces to fight in the Black Sea. The allied nations agreed that the target of the expedition would be Sevastopol in the Crimea. Assigned to Brigadier-General Sir James Scarlett's Heavy Brigade of the Cavalry Division, the Scots Greys, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Griffith arrived in the Crimea in 1854.[65] The Heavy Brigade was not present for the Battle of Alma on 20 September 1854. However, a little over a month later, the Heavy Brigade was present at Balaclava.

Map of the Battle of Balaclava showing the stand of the 93rd Highlanders and then the Charge of the Heavy Brigade against the Russian cavalry under General Ryzhov.

On 25 October 1854, the Heavy Brigade was part of a British force supporting the siege operations around Sevastopol. The British on the right flank of the siege lines were over extended, giving the Russian forces under General Pavel Petrovich Liprandi an opportunity to disrupt the British siege works and possible destroy their supply base at Balaclava.[66] With nearly 25,000 men, including 3,000 cavalry troopers formed in 20 squadrons and 78 artillery pieces, General Liprandi attacked the British positions.[67] To defend its supply base and siege lines, the British could counter with approximately 4,500 men and 26 artillery pieces.[68]

As the Russian's attacked, the Scots Greys watched as the redoubts protecting the supply lines and Balaclava were overrun by the Russians.[69] They watched as the Russian force charge the 93rd Highlanders, only to be turned back by the "thin red streak tipped with a line of steel".[70] With additional Russian cavalry heading towards the Colin Campbell's 93rd Highlanders, Lord Lucan ordered Scarlett's Heavy Brigade to attack.

Leading men into battle for the first time ever, Scarlett ordered his brigade to form two columns. The left column contained a squadron of the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, followed by the two squadrons of the Scots Greys.[71] As they trotted to the assistance of the Campell's Highlanders, Scarlett was informed of additional Russian cavalry threatening his flank. Ordering the brigade to wheel about, the Scots Greys ended up in line with the Inniskilling Dragoons in the front row supported by the 5th Dragoon Guards.[71] Even with the Russian cavalry approaching, Scarlett waited patiently for his dragoons to be brought into formation rather than move in a disorganized formation.[72]

The approaching Russian cavalry was on the heights and numbered about 3,000 sabers. The Scots Greys and the rest of the British dragoons were waiting at the base of the heights, and totalled about 800 men.[72] Satisfied that his brigade was ready, Scarlett finally sounded the advance. Although Scarlett had spent precious minutes ordering his line, it soon proved to be unwieldy, especially in the sector occupied by the Scots Greys, who had to pick their way through the abandoned camp of the Light Brigade. The Scots Greys, once clear of the Light Brigade's camp, had to speed up to catch Scarlett and his aides, who were more than 50 yards ahead of them.[73] For some reason, the Russian cavalry commander chose to halt up slope of the Heavy Brigade, choosing to receive the charge at a halt.[74]

Photograph of Colonel Clarke of the Scots Greys by Roger Fenton. The picture shows Colonel Clarke, wearing his bearskin hat, and one of the surviving horses of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade. Holding the reins is probably Colonel Clarke's servant.

Scarlett and his command group, two aides and a trumpeter, were the first to reach the Russian cavalry. The rest of the brigade follow closely. As they neared the Russian line, they started to take carbine fire, which killed the Scots Greys' commander and took the hat off of its executive officer.[75] The Scots Greys finally came abreast of the Inniskillings just short of the Russians and the two regiments finally were able to gallop.[74] As the Inniskillings shouted their battle cry,Faugh A Ballagh, observers reported that the Scots Greys made an eery, growling moan.[76] The Scots Greys charged through the Russian cavalry, along with the Inniskilings, and disappeared into the melee among the mass of Russian cavalry. With both forces disordered by the charge, it became clear to the regimental adjutant of the Scots Greys that, to avoid be overwhelmed by Russian numbers, the Scots Greys had to reform.[77] Pushed back from the center of the mass, the Scots Greys reformed around the adjutant and drove again into the Russian cavalry. Seeing that the Scots Greys were again cut off, the Royal Dragoons, finally arriving to the fight after disobeying Scarlett's order to remain with the Light Brigade, charged to their assistance, helping to push the Russians back.[78] Amid the hacking and slashing of the saber battle, the Russian cavalry had had enough, and retreated back up the hill, pursued for a short time by the Scots Greys and the rest of the regiments.[79]

The entire encounter lasted approximately 10 minutes, starting at 9:15 and ending by 9:30 a.m. In that time, in exchange for 78 total casualties, the Heavy Brigade inflicted 270 casualties on the Russian cavalry, including Major-General Khaletski.[79] More importantly, the Scots Greys helped rout a Russian cavalry division, ending the threat to Campbell's Highlanders, and with it the threat the British supply base. With the rest of the Heavy Brigade, the Scots Greys could only look on as Lord Cardigan lead the Light Brigade on their ill-fated charge.

As the Scots Greys returned to the British lines, they passed Colonel Campbell and the 93rd Highlanders. Campbell called out to the Scots Greys, "Greys, gallant Greys, I am sixty-one years of age, but were I young again, I should be proud to serve in your ranks."[76] Not only did Campbell recognize their achievement, so did the Crown. Two members of the Scots Greys, Regimental Sergeant Major John Grieve and Private Henry Ramage, were among the first to be awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions on 25 October.[80] The regiment was awarded a battle honour for its part in the battle.

For the rest of the war, the Heavy Cavalry, including the Scots Greys, had little to do.[81] The siege of Sevastopol finally ended with its fall to the Anglo-French forces in September 1855. With the conclusion of the peace treaty in 1856, the regiment left for home.

1857–1905: Home service, Egypt, and the 2nd Anglo-Boer War

Colonel's uniform of the 2nd Dragoons Guards regiment The Royal Scots greys. Belonged to Nicholas II of Russia

By 1857, the regiment was back in Britain, returning to its peace time duties in England, Scotland and Ireland for the next fifty years of service without a shot being heard in anger.[82] After years of being known as the Scots Greys, though official designated as the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons, their nickname was made official. In 1877, the regiment was retitled as 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys).[81]

Although individual members of the regiment on secondment to other units may have seen action, the regiment as a whole did not see action until the start of the Anglo-Boer War. The largest detachment of the Scots Greys to see action were the two officers and 44 men who were sent to join the Heavy Camel Regiment during the expedition to relieve Gordon at Khartoum. They saw action at the Battle of Abu Klea, where the suffered thirteen killed in action, and another three who died of disease.[83]

In 1899, the regiment's years of peace ended with the start of the Second Anglo-Boer War. That year, the Scots Greys, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Hon. W.P. Alexander, were ordered to Cape Town to join the Cavalry Division being formed.[84] In the years since Balaclava, much had changed about warfare. Gone were the red coats and bearskin shakos. The Scots Greys would now fight wearing khaki. In fact, with the popularity of wearing khaki that accompanied the start of the Boer War, the Scots Greys went so far as to dye their grey mounts khaki to help them blend in with the veldt.[85]

The regiment arrived in the Cape Colony in December 1899 and was put to work guarding the British lines of communication between the Orange and Modder rivers.[86] When Lord Roberts was prepared to begin his advance, the Scots Greys were attached to the 1st Cavalry Brigade under Brigadier General Porter.[86] While serving under Porter, the Scots Greys were reinforced by two squadrons of Australian horsemen.[87]

Once Roberts' offensive began, the Scots Greys took part in the relief of Kimberly. With Kimberly relieved, the Scots Greys were engaged in the fighting during the advance to Bloemfontein and later Pretoria, including the Battle of Diamond Hill.[88]

Following the capture of Pretoria, the Scots Greys were sent to liberate British prisoners. The POW's being held at Waterval POW camp, the same one where those captured in the Jameson Raid had been held.[89] As the Scots Greys approached, prisoner lookouts at the camp spotted the dragoons when they moved through Onderstepoort. As word spread through the camp, the British prisoners over-powered the guards, mostly men either too old or too young to be out on commando, pushed their way out of confinement to meet with the Scots Greys.[90] Although the camp guards were easily overcome, and most likely unknown to the British forces and prisoners, Koos de la Rey and his men were positioned to try and prevent the rescue of the British prisoners.[89] De la Rey ordered warning shells fired, trying to keep the prisoners in their prison camp. Faced with the approaching Scots Greys and the prisoners, De la Rey opted to not do more and instead ordered a retreat rather than fight a battle over the prison camp.[91] The Scots Greys finished the liberation without further incident.

The fall of Pretoria was also the end of the second phase of the war. With the end of formal fighting, and the start of third phase of the Boer War, the guerrilla campaign by the Boers, the Scots Greys were on the move constantly.[88] The Scots Greys initially operated west of Pretoria, but soon detachments were being sent out to garrison important points. This included detachments sent to guard the passes in the Magaliesberg.

Monument to the Royal Scots Greys in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, erected in 1906 to commemorate the fallen of the Regiment during the Boer War

Among the detachments was a squadron was left at Uitval (also known as Silkaatsnek) under the command of Major H. J. Scobell. There they were eventually joined by five companies from the 2nd battalion, the Lincolnshire Regiment, with a section of guns from O Battery, RHA.[92] While Scobell had kept a strong picket line to watch for Boer commandos, this was changed when he was superseded as the commander of the garrison and the Scots Greys came under the command of an infantry colonel.[93] This decrease in pickets allowed a force of Boar commandos to attack the outpost on 10 July 1900. Most of the squadron was captured during the disaster that ensued. The defeat allowed the Boers to hold Silkaatsnek.[94]

Following the disaster at Silkaatsnek, the Scots Greys were concentrated and returned to operating with the 1st Cavalry Brigade. From February to April 1901, the Scots Greys and 6th Dragoon Guards were sent on a sweep from Pretoria to east of Transvaal. In the process, they captured or destroyed large amounts of Boer war stocks, including nearly all of the remaining artillery.[88] Following that success, the Scots Greys and 6th Dragoon Guards were sent to sweep the guerrillas from the valley of the Vaal and into the Western Transvaal. There, they received word of the defeat of Benson's column at Battle of Bakenlaagte on 30 October 1901.[88] Reinforced by the 18th Hussars, 19th Hussars, and a detachment of mounted Australians, the reinforced brigade chased after the Boers, killing a number of those who had participated in the fighting at Bakenlaagte.[88]

The Scots Greys would continue fighting to suppress the guerrilla campaign. The most notable capture made by the regiment was that of Commandant Danie Malan.[95] Eventually, the last of the "bitter enders" in the Boer camp agreed to peace, with the formal end of the conflict happening on 31 May 1902. The Scots Greys remained for three more years, helping to garrison the colony, operating out of Stellenbosch, before returning home to Britain in 1905.[95]

The Great War

During the inter-war years, the Scots Greys were reequipped and reorganized based on the experience of Boer War. Lee Enfield rifles and new swords were introduced as the British Army debated what the role of cavalry would be in the coming war. In 1914, the Scots Greys were organized as a regiment of three squadrons. Each squadron was made up of four troops with 33 men each.[96] When war did come, in August 1914, the Scots Greys were assigned to the 5th Cavalry Brigade commanded by Brigadier P.W. Chetwode.[95] The Scots Greys would remain attached to the 5th Cavalry Brigade for the rest of the war.

Initially, the 5th Cavalry Brigade operated as an independent unit under control of the B.E.F. However, on 6 September 1914, it was assigned to Brigadier-General Gough's command. When Gough's independent command was expanded to a division, the formation was redesignated as the 2nd Cavalry Division. The Scots Greys and the other cavalry regiments of the 5th Brigade would remain with the 2nd Cavalry Division for the rest of the war.[97]

1914: Mons, the Retreat, the Marne, the Aisne

The regiment landed in France on 17 August 1914. Soon after arriving in France, staff of the B.E.F. issued a directive ordering the Scots Greys to dye their horses. The reason was partly because the grey mounts made conspicuous targets, but was also partly based on the fact that the all grey mounts made the regiment distinctive and therefore easier to identify. For the rest of the war, the grey horses of the regiment would be dyed a dark chestnut.[98]

First contact with the German army came on 22 August 1914 near Mons. The Scots Greys, fighting dismounted, drove off a detachment from the German 13th Division. The German infantry reported that they fell back because they had encountered a brigade.[99] As it became apparent that the B.E.F. could not hold the position against the German onslaught, the Scots Greys became part of the rear guard, protecting the retreating I Corps.[98] In the aftermath of the Battle of Le Cateau, the Scots Greys, with the rest of the 5th Cavalry Brigade, helped to temporarily check the German pursuit at Cerizy, on 28 August 1914.[100]

Once the B.E.F. was able to reorganize and take part in the Battle of the Marne, in September 1914, the Scots Greys shifted from covering the retreat to screening the advance. Eventually, the advance of the B.E.F. halted at the Battle of Aisne, where British and German forces fought to standstill just short of the Chemin des Dames.[98]

1914: Race to the sea and First Ypres

After being pulled from the trenches at the Aisne, the Scots Greys were sent north to Belgium as part of the lead elements as the British and Germans raced towards the sea, each trying to outflank the other.[101] With the cavalry reinforced to Corps strength, the Scots Greys and the rest of the 5th Cavalry Brigade were transferred to the newly formed 2nd Cavalry Division.[102]

As the front became more static, and the need for riflemen on the front line more pressing, the Scots Greys found themselves being used almost exclusively as infantry through the Battles of Messines and Ypres. The regiment was almost continuously engaged from the start of the First Battle of Ypres until its end.[101]

1915–1916: Trench warfare

2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) training in a field in France. Based on the helmets being worn by the men in the photograph, it is probable that the photograph was taken after March 1916 when the Scots Greys received their helmets. This photograph is probably a picture of the regiment training in mounted tactics after being used in a dismounted role in 1914 and 1915 and the first part of 1916.

The Scots Greys rotated back into the trenches in 1915. Due to the shortage of infantry, the regiment continued to fill the gaps in the line, fighting in a dismounted role. The regiment remained on line for all but seven days of the Second Battle of Ypres. The losses in that battle would force the Scots Greys into reserve for the rest of the year.[101]

By January 1916, the Scots Greys were back in action, albeit in a piecemeal fashion. With the Kitchener Armies still not fully ready, men were still needed for the front. Like the other cavalry regiments, the Scots Greys contributed a troop to the front. In two months of action, this line troop was active in raids and countering raids by the German army.[101]

With the arrival of the Kitchener Armies, the Scots Greys were concentrated again in preparation of the forthcoming summer offensive. The 2nd Cavalry Division became the reserve for General Plumer's Second Army. Mounted, the Scots Greys were held in readiness to exploit a breakthrough that never came during the Battle of the Somme.[101]

As the war continued, it became apparent that more mobile firepower was needed at all levels of the British Army. Accordingly, the Scots Greys were expanded to include a machine gun squadron.[103]

1917: Arras and Cambrai

Despite the defeat at the Battle of the Somme, British generals still hoped to use the Scots Greys and other cavalry regiments in their traditional roles. The Battle of Arras would demonstrate the futility of that hope.[103]

Beginning in April, the Scots Greys were engaged in action around the town of Wancourt. In three days of fighting, in an action that would become known as the First Battle of the Scarpe, the regiment suffered heavy casualties among its men and horses.[104] After a short period to refit, the Greys drew the assignment of raiding the German positions at Guillermont Farm. The raid succeeded, with the Scots Greys killing 56 and capturing 14 with negligible loss to themselves.[103]

In November 1917, the Scots Greys saw a glimpse of their future when they moved to support the armoured attack at the Battle of Cambrai. Initially intended to be part of the exploitation force, as at the Battle of the Somme, the plan failed to develop the type of break through which could be exploited by the cavalry. As the fighting bogged down, the Scots Greys once again found themselves fighting on foot in an infantry role. Interestingly, part of the reason that the Scots Greys were unable to advance as cavalry was because the bridge that was crucial to the advance was accidentally destroyed when the tank crossing it proved to be too heavy.[105] Unable to advance mounted, the Scots Greys were committed as infantry to the battle.[103]

1918: St. Quentin, retreat, 100 Days

After the winding down of the battles of 1917, the Scots Greys found themselves near the St. Quentin canal. There, they witnessed the German offensive forcing their way across the canal. Although the Scots Greys held their positions, they were soon in danger of being flanked. After almost three years of static warfare, the rapidity of the German advance caught the regiment flat flooted as the German attacks penetrated the Scots Greys position.[103] In the confusion of the retreat, detachments of the Scots Greys became lost and ended up serving with other regiments of the 5th Cavalry Brigade, fighting rearguard actions as the B.E.F. retreated. Once the Michael Offensive began to grind down in April, the Scots Greys, along with the other cavalry regiments, were able to be withdrawn from the line to refit and reorganize.[103]

Photograph of the commander of the Scots Greys and his staff riding near Brimeux on 25 May 1918. While they were in reserve, the horses were obviously allowed their natural colour.

Between May and June 1918, the Scots Greys were held in reserve. However, in August, the Scots Greys was brought forward for the Battle of Amiens.[106] Still part of the 2nd Cavalry Division, the Scots Greys moved in support of the Canadian Corps' attack on Roye.[107]

With the victory at Amiens, the B.E.F. began its long awaited final offensive. During this first month of the offensive, August to September 1918, the Scots Greys rarely operated as a unit. Instead, detachments of the Scots Greys were engaged in a variety of traditional cavalry duties. This included scouting, liaison duties and patrolling.[103] As the B.E.F. approached the Sambre river, the Scots Greys were used to probe the available river crossings. However, just as they did, many dragoons of the Scots Greys began to fall ill from influenza. Within a few days, due almost solely to the influenza outbreak, the regiment could muster only one composite company of men healthy enough to fight.[108]

At the time of the Armistice, the Scots Greys were at Avesnes. To enforce the terms of the Armistice, the Scots Greys were ordered to cross into Germany, arriving there on 1 December 1918. However, although they would be here to police the terms of the armistice until a final treaty could be completed, they were almost immediately dismounted. By the beginning of 1919, the Scots Greys were reduced to 7 officers and 126 other ranks.[108] This was approximately the size of one of its pre-war squadrons.[96] After almost five years of service on the continent, the Scots Greys returned home to Britain on 21 March 1919 via Southampton.[108]

1919–1939: Inter-war years

For the next year, the Scots Greys remained in Britain. While there, the regiment was once again renamed. This time they were designated the "Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons)".[109] Although tanks had been introduced during the First World War, many senior officers believed that the horse still had a place on the battlefield. Consequently, the Scots Greys retained their horses when they were sent on to their first peacetime deployment "East of Suez". In 1922, the Scots Greys arrived in India, where they would serve for the next six years.[109]

Upon returning to Great Britain, the Scots Greys found themselves subject to the problems that the rest of the British Army were going through in that era. In 1933, the regiment took part in a recruiting drive by conducting a march through Scotland, including a three day traverse of the Cairngorm Mountains to get better publicity.[109] Although budgets were lean, the Scots Greys, like other British cavalry regiments, were finally reequipped. Each troop would now contain an automatic weapons section.[109]

Still mounted on horses, the Scots Greys received orders for Palestine in October 1938. There they took part in suppressing the later stages of Arab Revolt. Much of the time, the Scots Greys were engaged in keeping the peace between the Jewish settlers and the Arabs.[109] The regiment was operating out of Rehovot, near Tel Aviv, when word arrived that war with Germany had begun.[citation needed]

Second World War

1939–1941: Palestine and Syria

Still stationed in Palestine, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H. N. Todd, the Scots Greys were brought up to war strength following the declaration of war against Germany. Although the German blitzkrieg attacks in Poland, France and the Low Countries demonstrated that the tank was now the dominant weapon, the Scots Greys continued to be equipped with horses.[109]

As the B.E.F. fought in France in 1940, the Scots Greys were retained in the Middle East to police the Mandate. In fact the last mounted cavalry charge on horseback by the Scots Greys occurred in February 1940, when the regiment was called to quell Arab rioters.[109]

After this final charge, the regiment received word that it would be mechanized.[citation needed] At first, the Scots Greys were transformed into a motorized regiment, using wheeled vehicles. It was as a motorized cavalry regiment that part of the regiment was assigned to the 7th Australian Division.[citation needed] Elements of the Scots Greys and Staffordshire Yeomanry formed a composite cavalry regiment assigned to reinforce the divisional cavalry element for Operation Exporter, the invasion of Vichy held Syria and Lebanon. The remainder of the regiment remained in Palestine, operating in the vicinity of Jerusalem.[110] The composite Grey-Stafford regiment took part in most of the battles of the campaign, including the Battle of Kissoué, where it held off a counter-attack by Vichy French armour.[111]

The Scots Greys were the last Regiment of the British Army to use horses on active service.[citation needed] A final review of the Scots Greys as a cavalry regiment occurred at Nablus in the Palestine mandate once the campaign in Syria and Lebanon was complete. Soon after this final review, the horses were traded in and then they who had spent their lives as dragoons were retrained to act as drivers, loaders, and gunners for tanks. Now designated as an armoured regiment, they received their first tanks in September 1941. Initially, the Scots Greys trained on the Stuart tank.[112]

1942–1943: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 2nd Bt, OC Royal Scots Greys in 1942, posing with the crew of his Grant command tank in September 1942. This photograph was taken just after the Scots Greys' first engagement as an armoured unit at the Battle of Alam el Halfa

With the conversion to armour complete, the Scots Greys were transferred to the Eighth Army. Once in Egypt, their new Stuart tanks were immediately withdrawn and the regiment spent time near Cairo learning to operate the Grant.[112] By June, the Scots Greys were ready to join the fighting against the Axis.

Although combat ready, the Scots Greys did not participate in the fighting around Tobruk in the late spring and summer of 1942. Because so many other armoured units were mauled in the fighting, the Scots Greys had to turn over their tanks to other units. In July 1942, the Scots Greys finally were committed to the fighting, equipped with a mixture of Grant and Stuart tanks. Unlike most tank units in the Eighth Army, which were either predominantly fielding heavy/medium tanks or light tanks, the Scots Greys field 24 Grants and 21 Stuarts.[113] Temporarily attached to the 22nd Armoured Brigade, the Scots Greys were placed with majority of the British heavy armour.[114] Initially held in reserve on Ruweisat Ridge, the Scots Greys conducted a successful counter-attack against the German forces to plug a hole that had been created by the German attack.[115] Attacking as though still a mounted regiment, the Scots Greys fought the Panzer IV's of the 21st Panzer Division, eventually driving them back.[116]

Officers of the Royal Scots Greys inspecting the damage caused by one of the Grants. The tank they are inspecting appears to be a Panzer III Ausf E destroyed during the fighting at Alam el Halfa.

A month later, the Scots Greys were in action again at the Second Battle of El Alamein.[112] Now attached to the 22nd Armoured Brigade, part of the 7th Armoured Division.[114] As part of the 4th Armoured Brigade, the Scots Greys took part in the diversionary attack which pinned the 21st Panzer Division and Ariete Division in place while other elements of the Eighth Army executed the main attack to the north. the way through the minefields.[117] Once the breakout began, with Operation Supercharge, the Scots Greys, now back with the 4th Armoured Brigade, which was attached to the 2nd New Zealand Division, began attempted breakout.[118] In the course of their advance, the Scots Greys participated in the annihilation of the Ariete Division on 4 November 1942.[119] At Fuka, the Scots Greys found the division's artillery. Charging forward as if still mounted on horses, the Scots Greys captured eleven artillery pieces and approximately 300 prisoners in exchange for one Stuart put out of action.[117]

The Scots Greys continued their pursuit of the Panzer Army Africa for the next month and a half. The main problem for the regiment faced as it chased after Rommel's retreating army was the condition of its tanks. Some tanks were repairable, others had to be replaced from whatever was available.[119] By the end of the month, the Scots Greys were fielding 6 Grant, 17 Sherman, and 21 Stuart tanks. Beginning in the second week of December, the Eighth Army became engaged in what would develop into the Battle of El Agheila. On 15 December 1942, the Scots Greys became engaged in tank battle with elements of the 15th Panzer Division near the village of Nofilia. Due to breakdowns and losses along the way, the Scots Greys were reduced to 5 Grants and 10 Shermans. Leading the 4th Armour Brigade's advance, the Scots Greys entered the village, overrunning the infantry defenders, capturing 250 men of the 115 Panzergrenadier Regiment.[118] Just as it was completing the capture of the prisoners, the Scots Greys encountered approximately 30 panzers of the 15th Panzer Division.[118] The tank engagement was inconclusive, with each side losing 4 tanks, although the Scots Greys were able to recover 2 of their damaged tanks.[120] The Germans withdrew as the 2nd New Zealand Division moved to the south, outflanking the 15th Panzer Division.[118]

As the pursuit continued, the Scots Greys saw little in the way of tank versus tank action while Rommel's army retreated into Tunisia. By January 1943, the decision was made to withdraw the Scots Greys from the front in order to refit the regiment.[117]

1943: Italy

British infantry of the 1/6th Queen's Regiment ride a tank from the Royal Scots Greys during the fighting in Torre Annunziata, 1 October 1943.

The Scots Greys were reequipped as an all-Sherman regiment, with Sherman II tanks. The regiment continued to refit through the Sicilian campaign, not seeing action until it was part of the Salerno landings in September 1943.[117] The regiment was assigned to 23rd Armoured Brigade, an independent brigade reporting directly to X Corps.[121]

Sherman tank of the Royal Scots Greys in Italy on 29 September 1943. The regiment's vehicles were painted with a dapple grey colour scheme such as can be seen on this tank. The crew of this tank named it "Sheik".

Soon after landing, the Scots Greys were in action against the German forces during the advance to Naples. Although the regiment was part of the 23rd Armoured Brigade, the regiment's three squadrons were split up to provide armour support for the three brigades of the 56th Infantry Division.[122] Landing with the Black Cats of the 56th Division, the Scots Greys were instrumental in defeating the counter-attacks of Sixteenth Panzer Division.[123] Finally, on 16 September, the Scots Greys were committed to the fight as a regiment, helping to stop, and then drive back, the Twenty-Sixth Panzer Division's, allowing X Corps to advance out of the beachhead.[124] The regiment would continue to participate in the Allied drive north, until it was brought to a halt at the Garigliano River. In January 1944, the regiment turned over its tanks to other units needing replacements and was transferred back to England.[117] Just before the regiment sailed, they were transferred back to the 4th Armoured Brigade.[125]

1944–1945: North-West Europe

The regiment spent the first half of the year refitting and training in preparation for the invasion of Europe. On 7 June 1944, the first three tanks of the regiment landed on Juno Beach.[117] As part of the Battle of Caen, the Scots Greys took part in the fighting for Hill 112.[126] During the fighting for Hill 112, the Scots Greys came to realize disparity between the Sherman II's and the latest German armour, including the new Panthers. In one incident, a 75mm equipped Sherman of the Scots Greys hit a Panther at 800 yards four times. All four rounds impacted harmlessly on the Panther's frontal armour.[127]

Sherman tanks and transports of the Royal Scots Greys in Wismar on 4 May 1945, three days after they raced along the Baltic to capture the city before the Red Army's advance could reach the city.

Once the breakthrough was achieved, the Scots Greys took part in the pursuit of the retreating German forces. The Scots Greys saw action at the Falaise pocket, the crossing of the Seine, and was one of the first regiments to cross the Somme River at the beginning of September 1944.[128] After crossing the Somme, the Scots Greys, along with the rest of the 4th Armoured Brigade, moved north into Belgium, near Oudenarde.[128]

In mid September, the Scots Greys took part in the Operation Market-Garden, in particular the fighting around Eindhoven where the 101st Airborne landed to capture the bridges.[129] The Scots Greys would operate in the Low Countries for the rest of the year. The regiment saw action in the operations to clear helping to capture of Nijmegen Island, and the area west of the Maas. The regiment also helped to capture the Wilhelmina Canal and clear German resistance along the Lower Rhine in order to secure the allied flank for the eventual drive into Germany.[128][130]

After nearly six months of fighting in the low countries, the Scots Greys entered Germany as part of Montgomery's Operation Plunder offensive. On 26 February, the Scots Greys crossed into Germany.[131] Little more than a month later, the regiment was involved in the capture of Bremen.[128]

With Germany crumbling, Allied commanders began to become concerned with how far the Red Army was advancing into Western and Central Europe. To prevent possible post-war claims over Denmark, the Scots Greys and 6th Airborne Division were tasked with the job of capturing Wismar on 1 May 1945. Despite having been in action for three months, the Scots Greys covered sixty miles in eight hours to capture the city.[132] The regiment captured the town just hours before meeting up with Red Army.[132]

The final surrender by the surviving Nazi officials on 5 May 1945 marked the end of the war for the Scots Greys. With no further fighting in the regiment's near future, the Scots Greys immediately began collecting horses to establish a regimental riding school at Wismar.[132]

1946–1971: Post-War and Amalgamation

After the final surrender of Japan, the Scots Greys shifted to garrison duty. From 1945 until 1952, the regiment remained in British sector of Germany as part of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), garrisoned at Osnabrück as part of 20th Armoured Brigade.[133][134] In 1952, the regiment deployed to Libya, joining the 25th Armoured Brigade.[133] The regiment returned to home service in 1955, rotating through barracks in Britain and Ireland before returning to Germany 1958 to rejoin the BAOR.[134]

In 1962, the Scots Greys were on the move again, this time deploying to help with the Aden Emergency. The regiment remained in Aden until 1963, helping to guard the border with Yemen.[135] After a year in the Middle East, the Scots Greys returned to Germany where they would remain until 1969.[134]

In 1969, the Scots Greys returned home to Scotland for the last time as an independent unit. As part of the reductions started by the 1957 Defence White Paper, the Royal Scots Greys were scheduled to be amalgamated with the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales's Dragoon Guards). The amalgamation took place on 2 July 1971 at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh. The amalgamated formation was christened The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys).[132]

Regimental traditions

Scots Greys band

Unique among British cavalry regiments was that the Scots Greys fielded bagpipers. These bagpipers were initially formed by and paid for by the regiment because they were not authorized pipers on strength. At various times throughout the history of the regiment, there were pipers in the regiment, but these were unofficial. While stationed in India in the 1920s, the regiment fielded its first mounted pipers. At the end of the Second World War, the British Army was contracting from its wartime strength. Despite the contraction of some Scottish Territorial and Yeomanary units, some of the personnel were retained by the army and sent to various other units. As part of this, the Scots Greys received a small pipe band from one of these demobilized units.[136] King George VI took a particular interest in the Scots Greys' pipe band. His interest was so great that he took part in the design of the band's uniform, awarding them the right to wear the Royal Stuart tartan.[136]

The Scots Greys band over the years has acquired a few of its own traditions, which are specific the band as opposed to the rest of the regiment. While the full dress of the rest of regiment required the wearing of a black bearskin shako, the kettle drummers wore white bearskins. The tradition of the white bearskins originated in 1894, when Tsar Nicholas II became colonel-in-chief of the Scots Greys, he presented the original white bearskins.[136] Initially, this was because the Czar of Russia presented the kettle drummers with the white bearskins.[137] Furthermore, the bandsmen, except those wearing a white bearskin, had a red plume on the side of the bearskin. The kettle drummers, with their white bearskins, wore a white plume.[136] A tradition developed within the regiment of the Scots Greys band playing the Russian national anthem in the regiment's officers mess, in honour of Tsar Nicholas II.[138]

In addition to distinctive uniforms, the Scots Greys band was also entitled to certain other prerogatives. This included flying the sovereign's personal pipe banner, carried by the pipe major when the sovereign was present.[138]

An album called Last of The Greys by the Royal Scots Greys regimental band was released in 1972 – from which the track Amazing Grace went, astonishingly, to top of the "Top 40" charts on both sides of the Atlantic.[139] In the UK, the recording went to number one.[140] The successor formations to the Scots Greys continue to release albums today.[139]


Up until at least the Second World War, The Greys also had a popular, if somewhat derogatory, nickname of "The Bird Catchers", derived from their cap badge and the capture of the Eagle at Waterloo. Another nickname of the regiment was the "Bubbly Jocks", a Scots term meaning "turkey cock".[141]

Anniversaries and the loyal toast

Most regiments of the British Army have regimental anniversaries, usually commemorating a battle which the regiment distinguished itself. In the Scots Greys, the regiment annual commemorated its participation in the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June.[138]

The Scots Greys, along with certain other regiments of the British Army, handled the loyal toast differently. Since the Glorious Revolution, officers were required to toast the health of the reigning sovereign. Typically, this meant standing and giving a toast to the monarch. The Scots Greys, however, did not stand for the toast. It is said that this tradition of giving the loyal toast while seated started during the reign of George III. During his reign, George III would often dine with the regiment; however, because of his health, he was unable to stand during the toasts. Since he could not, he allowed the officers to remain seated during the loyal toasts.[138]


The Scots Greys had the motto "Second to none". It referred to their seniority in the British Army and their fighting prowess. Their official motto, however, was that of the Order of the Thistle; Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (No one provokes me with impunity).[141]


Although there is a uniform for the British Army, for centuries each regiment had its own variations. The Scots Greys were no different. The most noticeable difference in the uniform of the Scots Greys was that the regimental full dress worn as general issue until 1914 included a bearskin cap. They were the only British heavy cavalry regiment to wear this fur headdress. Prior to receiving the bearskin, they were also unique among British cavalry regiments for wearing the mitre cap (sometimes referred to as a grenadier cap) instead of the cocked hat or tricorn worn by the rest of the British cavalry during the eighteenth century. The mitre cap dates back to the reign of Queen Anne, who awarded them this distinction after the Battle of Ramillies in 1706. The An early form of the bearskin was adopted in 1768.[142]

Other regimental dress distinctions of the Scots Greys included a yellow zigzag "vandyk" band on the No. 1 dress peaked caps of the regiment, metal insignia representing the White Horse of Hanover worn at the back of the bearskin, and the silver eagle badge worn to commemorate the capture of the French standard at Waterloo.[143]


The Scots Greys had affiliations with the following units:[141]

Battle honours

The Eagle of the French 45th Regiment, captured by the Royal Scots Greys

The regiment has many battle honours from Blenheim in 1704 through to the Second World War. Their most famous engagement took place at Waterloo on 18 June 1815.

Battle honours of the Scots Greys:[141]

Notable members of the Scots Greys

The Royal Scots Greys Monument in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.

Early Colonels — with early names for the regiment

from 1681 The Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons
  • 1681 Thomas Dalziel
  • 1685 Lord Charles Murray — Murray's Dragoons
  • 1688 Sir Thomas Livingstone — Livingstone's Dragoons
from 1694 The 4th Dragoons
from 1707 The Royal North British Dragoons
from 1713 2nd Dragoons

On 1 July 1751, a royal warrant provided that, in future, regiments would not be known by their colonels' names, but by their "number or rank".

from 1751 2nd Dragoons
from 1877 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys)
from 1921 The Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons)
from 1971 amalgamated with 3rd Carabiniers to form
Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys)


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