Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Hurrah for the Blackskirts!

The march of the Sidcup Highlanders.

‘Hairy’ McClary was an unlikely figure in the ranks of British fascism - every inch the stereotypical Scotsman: rough, mad eyed, hard drinking and with a beard as red as the highland ferns in autumn. This formidable figure went from being a down-and-out on the streets of London to the leader of one of the strangest pseudo-fascist units in the history of the civil war: the Sidcup highlanders.

With the onset of civil war and the proclamation of the Scottish Republic, many a royalist nobleman lost his estates north of the border. Absentee landowners based in England, who only ventured north for the Glorious Twelfth, could only look on impotently as their castles, farms and shooting grounds were confiscated by the Scottish government and either given over to new masters or left abandoned.

Suddenly thousands of gillies, tenants, groundskeepers and house staff found themselves without a master. The vast majority of them swore loyalty to the new order, while some joined pro-British groups within Scotland. A sizeable number however fled south (passing the throng of fellow Scots heading the other way to join the Republic) hoping to secure employment within their lords’ English possessions. Sadly not all of the landowners reciprocated this loyalty, and many an out of work Scot found themselves joining ranks of the English unemployed.

They made their way to London, where into this dispossessed diaspora, many of whom had fought in the Great War, came those few present day Scottish soldiers whose loyalty to the Crown was greater than loyalty to their country and those of Scottish descent who had found themselves marginalised by the antics of the ‘traitorous’ Scottish government.

Forced into poverty and vilified, suspected and distrusted by the English authorities, their plight was ignored until one day an unlikely saviour came along in the shape of Roderick Spode: 7th Earl of Sidcup and leader of the pseudo-fascist Blackshorts.

Spode’s King Offa’s Legion had recently been issued with a serious drubbing in the disastrous siege of Causton and he was desperate to add some kind of ‘backbone’ to his force. Quite by chance he and his wife Madeline came across Archie ‘Hairy’ McClary: formerly head gillie at Madeline’s uncle’s highland estate. At his wife’s urging, Spode reluctantly took this scruffy down-and-out for a bath and a good meal at his club, where he learnt of the plight of his fellow Scots.

McClary assured Spode that he and his compatriots, tough and fierce fighters with many a year’s military experience between them, would follow anyone who pulled them out of the gutter to hell and back, especially if there was a ‘couple of bob for a wee dram’ thrown into the bargain. Lord Sidcup, while not necessarily an intelligent man, knew a gift horse when he saw one and soon had McClary gather his associates. Fortified with a whisky or two they proved remarkably receptive to Spode’s Blackshort rhetoric and soon were volunteering to join his legion.

Kitted out in surplus military gear and dressed in a Scottish version of the Blackshort uniform (wartime shortages meaning that Spode had to fall back on the usual black cloth, rather than tartan for their kilts), a new unit was formed and the great English knee was joined by the braw bricht knee of the Scot. King Offa’s Legion has found it’s backbone in the shape of the Sidcup Highlanders!

Oh, and a word to the wise: if you’d prefer your bones to remain in their current alignment, don’t call them ‘Blackskirts’ to their faces…



(Figures are mainly Great War Miniatures Highlanders, Tommy gunner is Artizan and McClary is from Crusader Miniatures.)

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