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January 30, 2008


F. J. Taylor

Interesting legend, which I heard many years ago. However, the song, while interesting, is a modern one, and is incorrect in several historic respects - it was not the "Highland Brigade" which wasn't formed till the Crimean War (1854 - 56) but the 42nd RHR (the Black Watch). I believe Murray's Highlanders were there as well, but the BW took the assault and bore the brunt of the casualties.

The battle was indeed a ferocious one, with the Highlanders being scarcely able to reach, let alone penetrate the dense barricades of the French, despite desperate heroism and three assaults, and the fierce and intense fire of the French caused great casualties to the Highlanders, who lost many officers and almost 50% of the regiment.

Abercrombie, the Brit CO, saw the day was lost, and ordered the Highlanders to retreat, but so persistent and valiant were they that it took several repetitions of this order to get them to break off the assault. Despite their heavy losses, they took off all their dead and wounded, including Major Campbell.

Also, the pipes wouldn't have played "Scotland the Brave" which was a modern song written in 1958 by Cliff Hanley. The tune played would have most likely been "The Campbells are Coming" (the BW was originally a Campbell-based militia), or one of the other old marching tunes of the regiment, such as the "Hieland Laddie" a very old tune that is related to an even older Irish march of the clan O'Sullivan, "Fead an Iolaire" - "The Eagle's Whistle"

Tim Abbott

Great story, Tour Marm! The Childe Ballads are awash in cruel deeds and murder by moonlight. My favorite of all musicians, Richard Thompson, (and I am certainly not alone in this opinion http://ditchingboy.blogspot.com/2006/07/richard-thompson-1000-years-of-popular.html) does an appropriately haunting version of Bonny St. Johnstone, which derrives from varients of Childe Ballad #20, the Cruel Mother. http://www.richardthompson-music.com/song_o_matic.asp?id=586

Tour Marm

I'm addicted to Scottish ballads, too! And I've learned to take all with a grain (or shaker) of salt concerning the facts.

The Scots must have the most hauntingly melodic, lyrical, and maudlin expositions of death, murder, defeat, and treachery in the world!

We Campbells have suffered a bad reputation ever since Glen Coe ( check out http://www.contemplator.com/scotland/glen_coe.html )and I am still hesitant to enter a McDonald's for fear of retribution! So it is not surprising that R.L. Stevenson substituted the Camerons for Campbells.

My family too, has a ghost tale concerning a spirit appearing at our house in Virginia, the day he died abroad.

Since we are on the subject of Scottish ballads, please allow me to digress:

My stepmother/cousin wondered about the first and last lines of the Clifton Webb film, "The Man Who Never Was". She thought that either Burns or Stevenson had written the lines, but I was not convinced of that. Naturally, I contacted the Imperial War Museum in London to enquire as to the source of the quote. I was delighted to receive this reply:

It is a verse from the ballad "Battle of Otterburn". This appears in a manuscript dating from circa 1550. Walter Scott published it in his "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border" and it was then printed in Francis J Child's "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads", published in five volumes between 1882-1885. There seems to be no named author.

The Battle of Otterburn took place on 5 August 1388 when James Douglas,
2nd Earl of Douglas attacked Henry Percy (Hotspur) in Northumberland. This was part of the frequent border skirmishes between Scotland and England. Percy was defeated but Douglas lost his life, explaining the lines "I saw a dead man win the fight/
And I think that man was I."


Ah! The history!

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