Kilted Soldiers

Kilts have an incredibly strong military heritage, and there can be few things that fill most Scots with more pride than seeing our soldiers marching through the streets all dressed up in their dress uniforms and kilts.

So I always think it's a real pity that when you see soldiers out and about in Scotland, even when on proper military duties, they are generally just wearing their camouflage outfits, rather than kilts. I can absolutely see that for battle, practicality is all, but as I understand it, even standard barrack dress for soldiers is meant to consist of a kilt. It's a pity that isn't enforced and made the norm – when in Scotland, soldiers should, I think, be kilted at all times. I'm quite sure if we saw more soldiers out and about in their proper kilted uniforms, recruitment would go up for certain! And a good military showing would set a proper example for all Scotsmen to take note of.

(Not to mention how the tourists would love it…!)

It's a sadly missed opportunity for some top quality kilt-wearing from Scotland's finest.
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6 Responses Jun 7, 2012

I agree totally soldiers always wore their uniform for travelling it was stopped at the time of the Irish troubles as it was thought that it made them a target for the IRA the troubles are over but the rule remains

An EP User (tartanpleats?),<br />
I think you have somewhat misinterpreted my remarks, perhaps because they were not sufficiently clear. The point I was making is that the kilt historically was not the national dress of Scotland. Along with its predecessor, the great plaid, it was specifically the dress of those in the Highlands. The Lowland regiments who fought against the Young Pretender at Culloden were dressed in trousers and almost indistinguishable in dress from their English colleagues. They most certainly would not have considered the plaid or the kilt as the national dress of Scotland. The same was true, rather less controversially of the Lowland regiments 70 years later at Waterloo. Yet by the end of the nineteenth century, there were probably many Scots and foreigners who would have considered the kilt to be Scotland’s national dress. This was effectively a cultural transformation, due in no small part to the impact of Walter Scott and the exploits of the Highland regiments at Waterloo and in the Crimea, India and throughout the Empire, its most telling civilian ex<x>pression, I think, being the formation of pipe bands on the military model. Historically, the adoption of the kilt nationally had little legitimacy. That is why some purists dislike the whole business of branding Scotland with tartan. What they fail to appreciate, however, is that it is popular sentiment which has given the kilt this position, and popular sentiment which gives it legitimacy. In my view, only dead traditions remain static. Living traditions evolve, and the adoption of a garb which was specifically Highland as Scotland’s national dress is a shining example of this. However, throughout this process, the difference between Highland and Lowland dress was maintained in the Army; with both types of regiment proud of their own traditions. After all, the Royal Scots could point to their formation a hundred years before that of the oldest Highland regiment. The abolition of the distinction in dress on formation of the RRS in 2006, and the adoption of the kilt by the successors of the Lowland battalions, was therefore a significant cultural event. Symbolically, I think, it does mark the final triumph of the kilt as Scotland’s national dress, even though I agree with you that many Scots and foreigners would have thought of it as such for over a hundred years before. Does this now seem more reasonable?

Many of us will doubtless be somewhat surprised by proudscot/fightingmac's intriguing assertions that the adoption of the kilt as Scotland's national dress is actually a modern event, only finalised as recently as 2006!

On the subject of cuts to the Army, I recollect reading somewhere that in order to be called an Army there has to be a strength of 100,000+, anything less than that is technically a Defence Force - so it might not be just the historic names of the Scottish regiments that change!

It's always good to see Scottish soldiers on parade in the kilt, and I suspect that there could be a bit more display for the public. It is very sad that the regular ceremonial guard at Edinburgh Castle was withdrawn a few years ago. Perhaps it could be reinstated, but I suspect that the withdrawal of the guard was actually a somewhat political measure by the army to emphasise the extent to which they feel over-stretched. If so, I think the measure was short-sighted. There used to be a thing called KAPE, Keeping the Army in the Public Eye, and the guard at the castle surely contributed to that. Perhaps though, with the rise in public appreciation of our Armed Forces, and introduction of Armed Forces Day, it is regarded as less necessary now. Ironically, if the Castle guard were to be reinstated, we would see more of the kilt than before, since of course, apart from the Scots Guards, it is now worn as ceremonial dress by all the Scottish infantry (even the former Lowland battalions) combined since 2006 in the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

I would certainly expect that wearing the kilt would make all Scottish soldiers proud, except perhaps for those soldiers formerly in Lowland battalions who were forced to abandon their own traditions when the RRS was created. But when you assert that the decision to make the kilt the dress of the RRS is 'broadly popular at least with present soldiers' and that the soldiers take 'great pride in putting on their kilts', is this based on your own direct contact with the soldiers themselves? By the way, with your obvious interest in the military, have you actually served yourself in any capacity at any time? Sounds like perhaps you ought to!

Pity you missed out on a military career. You sound like a natural! I think you are right to maintain that the kilt is now the national dress of Scotland, even though historically it never was. And if this is so, it is largely through the influence of the Army. One might argue that the final victory of the kilt as Scotland's national dress was in 2006 when it was adopted by the whole of the RRS. I agree that this is not a bad thing. Living traditions change and develop, and this is true of the kilt. Meanwhile, it is good to know, but not unexpected, that the soldiers you know take great pride in the kilt. Interesting to know if this sentiment is shared by the significant number of Scots soldiers currently recruited overseas, from Fiji, for example. Have your military mates ever mentioned this? Also, have they told you if the regimental 'rule' is still rigorously enforced? And if so, is it by order or by suggestion? Or even by peer pressure within the Regiment? I believe that the current practice is not to enforce the rule by order, but that it remains custom and tradition. If this is true, it would be interesting to know by what mechanism the tradition is maintained. Have they ever mentioned this?

I think you may have hit on a very interesting point here. I was aware of the role of the Army in keeping kilt-wearing alive, and making the kilt popular in the public eye. But I had not really thought about the role of the army in projecting the masculinity of the kilt, through its military associations. I can well see that in this way the kilt would be more readily accepted in Victorian times as a masculine garment, totally in keeping with the Victorian cult of manliness. One suspects that Victorian respect for manliness also lies partly behind the consolidation of the regimental code of no underwear during the 19th Century. It is interesting that this practice initially just represented a continuation of the practice of the Highlanders in the 18th Century, but by the end of the 19th century had become enshrined, at least in military circles, as a “code” or “tradition”, despite the availability of drawers. I don’t know when this “codification” took place. Presumably it was a process over a number of years and I suspect it would be very difficult to find the evidence to establish how and when the process took place. Whatever the case, I would contend that, together with the strong association of the kilt with the military, the tradition of no drawers consolidated the position of the kilt as a “manly” garment, in tune with Victorian sentiment, and in this way facilitated its adoption as Scotland’s national dress. Do you agree?

It would be interesting to hear about the attitude of overseas recruits to the kilt, if you get any further feedback from your Army mates. Meanwhile, it is good to hear that the regimental tradition is being kept alive strongly today within the RRS. Interesting that from your evidence the main driving force would appear to be peer pressure. The use of mirrors is presumably now considered “out of order”, although the peer inspections you describe are no doubt equally effective! You mention nevertheless that the tradition is encouraged by a strong expectation from officers all the way down. Have your army mates indicated to you if they received any initial indication of the custom and expectation from NCO’s when dressing in kilts for the first time? The question can scarcely have gone unremarked.

Kilted soldiers instill pride, that willingness to do what it takes. My father hated national service but made friends for life, cant be that bad!