Saving the banner
DURING the Gulf War, a headline caught my attention. It was about a young Kuwaiti soldier who took his life in his hands to recapture a regimental tank flag taken by the enemy during a skirmish on the Iraq border. As the details emerged, it reminded me of a stone in Kiel graveyard, Morvern, and a story connected with it that used to be told in the parish many years ago of an 18-year- old man called Donald Livingstone who rescued his clan banner at Culloden in 1746.
Donald Livingstone, better known locally as Domhnall Mollach (Gaelic for ‘hairy Donald’) was born in 1728 at Savary near Fiunary, on the shores of the Sound of Mull. The Livingstones first arrived in Morvern from Appin through Mull many centuries ago. Although they were tenants of the Duke of Argyll, who owned most of the parish at the time of the ’45, Donald and his four brothers, one of whom was the great-great-grandfather of Dr David Livingstone, the famous missionary and explorer, were Jacobites and fought under the Stewarts of Appin.
At Culloden, the Stewart Regiment, numbering about 300, were in the front line along with the Camerons and the Athol men. As soon as the battle began, they charged, breaking through Barrell’s (4th) and Munro’s (37th) at the front of Cumberland’s army. Passing through them, they continued to surge forward but, coming under heavy fire from three other artillery regiments, were forced back. The charge stopped, the Highland line was shattered and the battle was over in less than an hour. The Appin Regiment lost 92 men and 65 were seriously wounded.
Some clan historians say the Carmichaels were the hereditary standard-bearers of the Stewarts of Appin, while others maintain it was the Livingstones, 17 of whom were killed defending the colours. Be that as it may, neither recorded fact nor tradition is divided as to what happened next.
Donald Mollach from Morvern saw the blue and yellow banner lying on the ground and, rushing forward under fire, ripped it from its staff, wrapped it round his body and took to his heels. On the way off the battlefield, he was struck on the chest by a musket ball which knocked him off his feet but only because of the impact as the folds of the banner acted as body armour. A little while later, a riderless horse trotted by and Donald managed to get into the saddle. Two English dragoons saw him riding away and went after him. He dealt with one and frightened the other off.
Donald eventually found his way home to Savary still with the banner, but soon he had to hide it and take to the hills himself when 200 of the Argyll Militia arrived in the parish looking for Prince Charles Edward Stewart and known Jacobite sympathisers. For months, he was constantly on the move, resting in caves during the day and being supplied with food by friends at night. When the soldiers left and life returned to some form of normality, Donald retrieved the banner and returned it to his grateful chief in Appin.
The banner remained in the Stewart family who, by some odd freak of fate, also acquired two colours of the Hanoverian Barrell’s 4th Regiment whom, it will be recalled, fought against the Appin men at Culloden. In 1930, all three banners were given to the Stewart Society on condition they were to be kept together and that in any account of them recognition was to be given to Donald Mollach. The following year they were presented to the Scottish National Military Museum in Edinburgh Castle and laid up with full military honours. There they stayed until 1998 when the director of the new National Museums of Scotland, who was casting round for exhibition material, wrongly removed them because he considered them to be ‘appropriate’ for a public display on the Jacobites.
Donald Mollach died at Savary in 1816 and was buried beside his parents in Kiel, Morvern. The spot is marked by a magnificent sculptured monument and a metal plaque placed there in 1983 during a special service of commemoration attended by clan chief Sir Dugald Stewart of Appin and Baron Alastair Livingstone of Bachuil, Lismore, one of Donald Mollach’s descendants.
The newspaper report of the Kuwaiti soldier who rescued the regimental flag in Operation Desert Storm made no mention of whether he received the thanks of his commander or what became of the flag. Perhaps one day his story, too, may be written up and recorded for posterity among his people, just as Donald’s was all these years ago.
Donald Livingstone revealing the Stewart banner to his mother at Savary. From a painting by Skeoch Cumming.
Donald Livingstone’s gravestone, Kiel, Morvern.