Raising the Camerons
Extract from Return to St. Valéry by Lieutenant General Sir Derek Lang. Lieutenant General Lang was Adjutant of 4th Camerons in 1939 when the decision was made to double the size of the TA.
"I was in Lochmaddy in North Uist when I first received news of Hore-Belisha's call to arms and, there being no telephones on the islands in those days, I telegraphed to Evan Baillie for instructions. If I had expected a curt military reply I could not have been more mistaken. Nor could the postmistress at Bayhead Post Office in the west of the island to which his reply was directed two hours later. The only two telegraph forms available were soon exhausted; the backs of envelopes were called into service, and, finally, in desperation, a toilet roll was requisitioned as the message ran on and on. I was to find new recruiting centres on the islands, open up territories like Harris which had been untouched for years and, in short, raise a "fiery cross" from end to end of the Hebrides.
Our Islands Company Commander, Viscount "Dubby" Fincastle, whose family had long territorial associations with Harris, came to join me and the local Permanent Staff Instructor; whose name, not surprisingly, was Macdonald. We set up our base at Leverburgh, the site of the late Lord Leverhulme's ill-fated attempt to improve the economy of the island, and soon Dubby's men started to roll in. It was not everywhere, however, that we met with such success. When we landed on the little island of Berneray, the fisherman population hid from us either among the rocks or behind their locked croft doors, no doubt remembering tales of the old press gangs.
In South Uist I received the greatest help from a formidable figure, Finlay Mackenzie, who treated me like his own son when I was in his domain. Finlay was the proprietor of the Lochboisdale Hotel and many regarded him as the real laird of the area. Finlay had led an extraordinary career which included service with the Canadian Mounties and he had been a 4th Cameron in the twenties. The great of those days came frequently and felt privileged to stay with Finlay to catch fish, shoot snipe and enjoy his hospitality. Woe betide them if they could not drink dram for dram with him. Many who couldn't were not welcomed back. He put his two old Rolls-Royces (the only cars on South Uist) at my service and himself stumped from end to end of the island, exhorting and cajoling the crofters into joining. The great-hearted Finlay was in his sixties but his dearest ambition was to lead his own men into battle. When this was refused him because of his years, he was inconsolable.
This pattern of exhortation and natural patriotism proved effective all over our area. I believe that the London Scottish were the first to reach their target figure but the Camerons were not far behind. In June, 1939, we mustered in camp near Dundee, sixty officers and twelve hundred men strong. They came in every form of dress and from every walk of life. They were not only crofters and fishermen, but bank clerks, lawyers and accountants, and even two forty-year old stockbrokers from London.
I well remember our first church parade when we were to show ourselves off before the British Legionaires at an open air drumhead service. I had been told to find a choir and in time-honoured fashion had deputed the task to the Regimental Sergeant-Major. When the great day came I found that there was no choir and asked the R.S.M. what had happened. "Quite forgot it, Sir," he confessed, "but don't worry." Marching down the front rank: of assembled men, he laid his staff on the shoulder of the twelfth man and shouted, "Here to the right, right turn-Choir!" We were back in business.
When war was finally declared in September our dispersed forces were mobilized in Inverness. Picture what was involved collecting over a thousand men together from the vast expanses of Inverness-shire and Nairnshire by sea and road. There were no ships or lorries that could be requisitioned and we had to rely on. the infrequent public transport services. I had the temerity to demand naval escorts from the Admiralty to protect our contingents crossing the Minch and got the outraged refusal I deserved. However, the redoubtable Finlay rose to the occasion again and in the absence of our own officers, who could not get to the outer isles in time, brought the Uist boys across safely like a hen with her chicks. The sight of him marching in at the head of his own men, wearing his civilian kilt in a last vain hope of being able to join us, will ever be remembered by those of us who saw it.
To our dismay Evan Baillie was passed unfit for active service and his command was taken by Earl Cawdor, third in command a few months earlier; the second in command, Alec Cattanach, now being faced with the task of organizing from scratch the 5th Camerons, formed as a result of doubling the 4th. Alec's right-hand man as Adjutant was Jock Maitland Makgill Crichton, who had come to my rescue as Assistant on the order to double the T.A.
Tradition distant and recent was maintained. Lochiel's Camerons from Lochaber had had rallied to Prince Charlie in the ?45 and the 25th Lochiel had raised and commanded the 5th Camerons in the 1914-18 war. Now his youngest son, barely out of school, joined this newly formed 5th Battalion, which again included the men of Lochaber.
With only rifles and old Lewis guns our home-spun army, full of esprit de corps but sadly lacking in military training, was sent down to Aldershot in October where we spent most of our time drawing vehicles and other equipment and trying to fit all the pieces together. Three months later we were on active service in France and by the early spring of 1940 in contact with the Germans, the most highly trained army in the world, in the Saar."