Gra­ham Jack is the cur­rent Reg­i­men­tal Sergeant Ma­jor of the Atholl High­landers, Europe’s only pri­vate reg­i­ment, based at Blair Cas­tle in Perthshire

Scottish Field - - AREA FOCUS -

Ijoined the Atholl High­landers in 1977. Like many High­landers I worked on Atholl Es­tates from 1971 un­til 1980, be­fore join­ing the po­lice. When I joined the force I had to ask my Chief Con­sta­ble’s per­mis­sion to carry on with the High­landers and I was lucky that he al­ways granted me time off to march.

The vast ma­jor­ity of High­landers are re­cruited lo­cally and many join to carry on a fam­ily tra­di­tion. Names are put for­ward by cur­rent High­landers; in the past we’ve had High­landers’ sons at six or seven years old, march­ing up and down out­side the cas­tle car­ry­ing wooden ri­fles, so we’re al­ways pretty sure they’ll fol­low in their fa­thers’ foot­steps.

I’m the eighth Jack to be an Atholl High­lander, so my fam­ily his­tory is long. I didn’t know this un­til I joined in 1977 and the RSM at the time told me about the in­volve­ment of my great­grand­fa­ther, his brother and their rel­a­tives be­fore. I worked my way up through the ranks. I was the right marker for many years and I took over the role of RSM six years ago.

There are roughly 100 Atholl High­landers at the mo­ment, in­clud­ing of­fi­cers, a full pipe band and rank and file. We march at Blair Cas­tle on the last Satur­day in May ev­ery year. On the day of the pa­rade we gather at one o’clock and we all help each other get dressed. You can­not dress your­self. At one time you had to lay the plaid on the ground then you would lie down and roll into it. But now it is put on in a spe­cific way.

When we are dressed we as­sem­ble on the lawn with our ri­fles. We en­cour­age ev­ery­one to look after their kit. I have a bit more bling as I’m the RSM. I still have the orig­i­nal sil­ver but­tons on the front of my jacket, but most peo­ple have ones that stay bright, so they don’t have to pol­ish them as much. We want ev­ery­one to take a real pride in their kit and make sure their shoes are shin­ing. One of the of­fi­cers will pick the best dressed High­lander and he will re­ceive an award and a bot­tle of whisky.

Then we head up to the back of the cas­tle, out along the top of the Can­non Brae where the field gun will be wait­ing for four guys to pull them down the hill on ropes. They take it into po­si­tion, op­po­site a tree on the other side of the drive, while we as­sem­ble and they fol­low us down. The pipe band and the Atholl High­landers march off on my com­mand. We come down the Can­non Brae, around the pa­rade square, into po­si­tion, wait un­til the pipe band get into their po­si­tion and when they stop play­ing, I will then get the men in line. The field gun is fired at three o’clock and the colours are pa­raded for the Duke.

Aside from the an­nual pa­rade we do lots of other things through­out the year. We’re about to em­bark on a tour to France and Bel­gium to com­mem­o­rate those who lost their lives in the First World War. The sev­enth Duke’s sec­ond el­dest son, Lord Ge­orge Ste­wart Mur­ray, was killed at the Somme, as were six reg­is­tered High­landers. We’ve been to the USA three times, to a town called Athol in Mas­sachusetts. The last time we were there we also vis­ited Ber­muda, so we’re quite well trav­elled.

The reg­i­ment has a long his­tory. My an­ces­tors were part

“The Atholl High­landers pro­vided guards of honour and a guard on the cas­tle for Queen Vic­to­ria

of the orig­i­nal Atholl High­landers that were founded by the fourth Duke of Atholl to fight in the Amer­i­can War from 1777. There were 1,200 sol­diers re­cruited but by the time they set off the war had ended, so they were re­de­ployed to Ire­land, where they served for six years. The reg­i­ment was dis­banded in 1783 un­til Lord Glen­lyon, later the sixth Duke of Atholl, re­cruited a num­ber of men to take with him to The Egling­ton Tour­na­ment where he was joust­ing.

On the oc­ca­sion of a visit to Blair Cas­tle by Queen Vic­to­ria and Prince Al­bert in July 1842, Lord Glen­lyon wanted to im­press and called on the High­landers to guard and en­ter­tain the Queen at Dunkeld. And it worked: fol­low­ing the birth of her sec­ond child in 1844 Vic­to­ria stayed at Blair Cas­tle for three weeks. While she was there the Atholl High­landers pro­vided guards of honour, a guard on the cas­tle and even ac­com­pa­nied her on fish­ing trips along with the Scots Greys. She was so taken with the High­landers that in Septem­ber 1845 she granted us colours and the right to bear arms, an honour that con­tin­ues to this day.

We still pa­rade with the same ri­fles. We have Lee Met­ford and Lee En­field ri­fles. The uni­form that we wear to­day is al­most ex­actly as the uni­forms made for the Eglin­ton tour­na­ment. The plaid that I wear is orig­i­nal too, I know this be­cause

it has a leather tag with the num­ber of the High­lander who first owned it. Orig­i­nally they were all made with linen and veg­etable dyes, so the re­main­ing plaids can’t be re­placed. Nowa­days they are all wool, but they don’t look ex­actly the same. We have an ex-mil­i­tary tailor who lives in Perth, so he knows ex­actly what we need. The leather and belts are made by a High­land out­fit­ter called Mar­garet Mor­ri­son in Perth and our kilts are made by a lady who lives in Blair Atholl, Nancy Cameron. Her hus­band was a High­lander and she and the pre­vi­ous tai­loress were made hon­orary High­landers. So we do have a cou­ple of ladies in the High­landers.

The Atholl High­landers con­tin­ued to pa­rade un­til the out­break of the First World War. Many men served in the Scot­tish Horse and Black Watch units. It wasn’t un­til 1966, that the tenth Duke of Atholl re­vived the High­landers. He in­vited eight men who worked on the es­tate to march and seven of them ac­cepted. They pa­raded on 8 April at Blair Cas­tle for the first time in 33 years and have done so ever since.

Be­ing a High­lander means more than just an an­nual march. As well as the tours we con­tinue to form guards of honour for roy­alty, at­tend High­land games, mil­i­tary tat­toos and the wed­dings and funer­als of High­landers.

Right: Gra­ham Jack in his full uni­form in the li­brary at Blair Cas­tle. Above: Keith Tod­hunter, the High­landers’ Reg­i­men­tal Quar­ter­mas­ter Sergeant, helps Gra­ham put on his plaid.

Above: Gra­ham is sur­rounded by por­traits of the Dukes of Atholl in the cas­tle ball­room.Be­low: The Atholl High­landers Pipe Band lead the pa­rade.

Above left: Por­trait of Iain Mur­ray, the 10th Duke of Atholl. Above left: Gra­ham positions his glen­garry. Be­low: Gra­ham braves the sun­shine in his plaid out­side Blair Cas­tle.

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