David Rowlands: Military Artist
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The 79th at the River Escaut   The 79th at the River Escaut

May 1940: The Cameron Highlanders were raised as the 79th Regiment in 1793, and to mark the Bicentenary of the regiment, I was asked to paint a picture of 'the kilted Camerons' in action. It was felt that my painting should be the same size and 'upright' shape as the 1893 Centenary painting of Piper McKay at Waterloo (by Lockhart Bogle), so that the two pictures might complement each other.

In September 1939, the 1st Battalion of the Queen's Own Highlanders, as part of the British Expeditionary Force, left for France. They were wearing the service dress jacket, the kilt and khaki hose and puttees. No kilt aprons or sporrans were worn. But later that month an order was published stating that 'the active service dress of Highland Regiments would be the universal battle dress.' This order was greeted with rage and sadness by the Battalion. The Commanding Officer, Lt Col. D N Wimberley, felt that with an effort the kilt might still be retained. As battle dress jackets were issued, the CO had tartan patches sewn on to the sleeves, but the trousers remained in store! The Battalion advanced into Belgium in the kilt, and the soldiers fought their way back to Dunkirk in the kilt, and as a result the Camerons were the last Highland regiment to wear the kilt in battle.

The scene of the action is the fighting near Antoing, on the River Escaut in May 1940. At the left can be seen a Hotchkiss gun of the anti-tank platoon, commanded by Major Donald Callander MC. He and other officers told me their personal recollections of the campaign.

In battle order, the small haversack was worn on the back. Above it was the anti-gas cape, held by two thin white tapes. The respirator was worn on the chest. There are some useful eye-witness drawings of soldiers of the battalion in France.

The picture was commissioned by The Queen's Own Highlanders.

Medium: Oil on Canvas

Printed image size(s): Non-Standard Size

Owner: The Highlanders, 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland

Price(s): 55