Highlander – Book Review
Highlander: The History of the Legendary Highland Soldier. By Tim Newark. Skyhorse Publishing, 2009. 306 pages, hardcover. $24.95.
The Highlands of Scotland are a hard and rough place. It’s a cold, wet, windswept area, filled with almost quicksand-like bogs and punctuated by craggy mountains. Not surprisingly such hard land produced one of the fiercest warriors in history: the Highlander. Tom Newark tells the story of the Highlander in this excellent book from Skyhorse Publishing.
Newark, an acclaimed military history author and editor of Military Illustrated, is well qualified to recount the Highlander’s story. Making use of diaries, letters and journals, he presents an intimate portrait of the Highlander, often in the warriors’ own words. Newark expertly weaves into his narrative excerpts from these first-hand accounts. He ties together contemporary accounts with excellent commentary and analysis.
The UK government finally accomplished what no enemy ever could: elimination of the proud Highland regiments.
The early Highland warriors, a loose confederation of various clans, were feared by Lowland Scots and Britons alike. Thanks to numerous bogs, the pre-road Highlands were almost completely isolated from the rest of Scotland and Britain except for a few “land bridges.” The Highlanders controlled the terrain as invaders found to their detriment. The favored Highlander tactic soon became an all-out charge with broadswords from sloping terrain into the body of an enemy. The ferocity of the Highlander attack struck terror in the hearts of their enemies.
By the late 18th century, Highland regiments served as part of the British army in its campaigns around the world. The Highland soldier retained his unique fighting spirit. Now-famous Highland regiments such as the Black Watch, the Gordons, and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders earned their hard-won reputation in numerous conflicts around the globe. The American War for Independence, Waterloo, the Crimean War, the Boer War, World War I, World War II and into the “brush fire” wars of the Cold War turned hot: Highlander regiments fought for—and won—honor and glory.
The UK government finally accomplished what no enemy ever could: elimination of the proud Highland regiments. In 2004, while the Black Watch engaged in fierce fighting with Islamic extremists in Fallujah, the British government announced plans to merge all remaining Highland regiments into one Scottish “super-regiment.” Despite a strong outcry, 250 years of Highland regimental history with the British Army ended on March 28, 2006, when the Highland regiments lost their individual identity and became part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Forced to accept a new hat badge featuring a lion and the Scottish crown, Lt. Col. Stuart Crawford, a former tank officer, summed up the general feeling among the Highlanders: “A better and more appropriate badge might be a dagger in the back superimposed on a white flag.”
Presented in a “popular history” style, Newark’s book is enjoyable to read. However, unlike many pop history books, Highlander also includes notes, an excellent bibliography and an index. These great features make not only a pleasurable read, but also a great starting point for further scholarly study of the Highland soldier.
The only drawback with this work is its lack of maps. The book contains only one map, which depicts the boundaries of Highland clans in 1745. Considering the numerous places and battles detailed in the book, additional maps showing these locations would have greatly added to the work’s value.
Overall, Highlander is an excellent work telling the story of these proud and brave soldiers. Tim Newark does a great job in combining both contemporary accounts with current expert analysis and commentary. His writing is enjoyable to read but does not shirk on solid scholarly history. For anyone interested in Scottish military history, this book is highly recommended.
Steve Schultz is a former active duty Air Force pilot. He holds a master’s degree in military studies from American Military University. He currently lives in central Florida and writes on a variety of topics, with a focus on military history.