Cape Town Highlanders Regiment - History

History

Descendants of Scottish immigrants to South Africa raised the Cape Town Highlanders in 1885. On 24 April of the same year, their services were accepted - since then, this date has always been celebrated as the regiment's official birthday.

The regiment first saw active duty during the Bechuanaland Campaign that was fought in the Northern Cape in 1896. At the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War the regiment was again mobilized for active duty. During the war the regiment or elements thereof took part in several actions, including the relief of Kimberley.

The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn became colonel-in-chief of the regiment in 1906, and the regiment's name was thus changed to the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn's Own Cape Town Highlanders. When the regiment was embodied in the Citizen Force in 1913, the title was changed to 6th Infantry (Duke of Connaught and Strathearn's Own Cape Town Highlanders).

During World War I the Cape Town Highlanders first fought against Germany in German South West Africa, but was subsequently combined with the Transvaal Scottish Regiment to form the 4th South African Infantry (South African Scottish) Battalion, part of the 1st South African Brigade. (The South African Scottish, like various similar units, was formed by the South African government since a clause in the Defence Act of that time prohibited existing units from serving so far outside the country's borders.) After fighting in the Senussi Campaign in North Africa the brigade was shipped to France, where it took part in many battles between 1916 and 1918, including the famous Battle of Delville Wood.

The title was changed again, in 1932, to Cape Town Highlanders (Duke of Connaught and Strathearn's Own).

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939 the regiment was again mobilized. However, it did not fight in the first campaign of the South African Army in the war, the Abyssinian Campaign of 1940 to 1941. However, in mid-1941, the regiment was briefly sent to Egypt to escort thousands of Italian prisoners of war to internment camps in South Africa; it returned to Egypt in late June of the same year to join the newly arrived South African 1st Infantry Division in the Western Desert.

The Cape Town Highlanders fought in all of the major battles of the Western Desert Campaign, including the Battle of El Alamein. Indeed, the regiment is one of only three in the world (all of them South African) to have not only the usual two Alamein battle honours - "Alamein Defence" and "El Alamein" - but a third, "Alamein Box", which resulted from a separate action during the initial defence. This action played a significant role in halting Rommel’s advance on the tired and depleted British Eighth Army.

During the regiment's subsequent deployment to Italy, the regiment was temporarily combined with South Africa’s senior Scottish unit, the First City Regiment, to form the First City/Cape Town Highlanders. This combined unit fought from Battle of Monte Cassino to the Alps, culminating in the heroic capture at bayonet-point of the strategic peak of Monte Sole as part of the South African 6th Armoured Division.

In 1947, Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) was appointed colonel-in-chief, and from 1948 until South Africa became a republic in 1961, the regiment was the Queen's Own Cape Town Highlanders.

The first significant post-war action of the Cape Town Highlanders took place in January 1976, during Operation Savannah. This was the first large-scale incursion by the South African forces into Angola during the 23-year-long "Border War" in South West Africa (now Namibia). During the following years the regiment was mobilized several times, the last mobilization occurring in October 1988.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, South Africa's National Party government became increasingly concerned that the Regiment, whose rank and file were seen to be politically liberal and opposed to Apartheid, would not be prepared to suppress anti-Apartheid unrest internally in South Africa amongst local non-white township populations and white protestor groups in the Cape Town area. In order to gain control of the Regiment, the government flooded the unit's ranks with Afrikaners and other National Party supporters from outside of the main recruitment pool area (Cape Peninsula), generally with the rank of NCO or above. This ethnic and political re-engineering of the unit totally altered the tone and culture of the Regiment which had formerly been based on English-speaking South Africans of Scottish or UK descent.

The regiment was also mobilized in April 1994 as part of the efforts by the South African military to ensure a peaceful first fully democratic election.

As a result of the subsequent abolition of conscription and the transformation of the South African Army, the Cape Town Highlanders Regiment returned to its original form of a volunteer regiment.

In 2000 a contingent of the Cape Town Highlanders Regiment attended the Queen Mother's 100th birthday and paraded the regiment's Colour on Horse Guards Parade. The Drums and Pipes participated in a special parade centenary for the Queen Mother in Edinburgh, and carried on to participate in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. With the death of the Queen Mother in 2002, the regiment sent a contingent to participate in her funeral procession. The Drums and Pipes have since performed regularly at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009). In 2006, they were invited, together with the Queensland Police Pipe Band and 4 bands from the new Royal Regiment of Scotland to perform at Balmoral Castle for the Royal Family. The Band has also participated in the Basel Tattoo, Jinhae (South Korea) and at the Cape Town Tattoo, held in the Castle of Good Hope.

The Regiment is currently a mechanised infantry regiment in the SANDF and has sent members as part of the Peace keeping contingent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi.

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