The Royal Scots Greys: The regiment that caught the French Eagle.
The image of the Scots Greys charging out of the picture in Lady Elizabeth Butler’s classic painting Scotland Forever! depicts one of the proudest moments in the regiment’s history. The truth, however, is far more remarkable than the portrayal of wild galloping horses in the picture implies.
Having missed the Battle of Quatre Bras on the eve of Waterloo, the Greys were eager to take to the field on the day of the main battle. Stationed on the Allies’ left flank as part of the Earl of Uxbridge’s Union Brigade, the Greys, to their frustration, were kept back in reserve as the rest of the Union and the Household Brigade were ordered to charge in support of the faltering British centre.
As the regiment’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel James Inglis Hamilton, watched the action unfold, he witnessed the Greys’ fellow Scotsmen, the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, beginning to fall back under heavy pressure from the French. Acting on his own initiative, he ordered his men to advance. The horses were forced to walk into the action because of the churned-up ground and the bodies of dead and dying Highlanders that littered the field.
Far from the striking image of the red-coated Scots atop their pale grey horses thundering into the French columns, the Greys fell upon the enemy at little more than a trot. One officer of the 92nd Highlanders later wrote that ‘the Scots Greys actually walked over this column’. Yet even this lacklustre charge had the effect of disrupting the French advance and rallying the Highlanders.
The Eagle of the French 45th Ligne seized by Sergeant Ewart
As the horsemen hacked and slashed their way through the enemy ranks, Sergeant Charles Ewart caught sight of the French imperial eagle of the 45e Rgiment de Ligne, the battle standard and most prized possession of any French regiment. After fighting his way through a ferocious defence and seizing the eagle, Ewart was ordered to remove the standard to the rear to prevent its recapture – it was, after all, one of only two taken during the battle.
This act made a name for both Sergeant Ewart and the regiment. Ewart was made a gentleman with promotion to ensign, while the Scots Greys acquired the nickname of the Bird Catchers. But the proudest moments in war are all too often tainted with grief and disaster – and this was no exception.
After their initial contact with the enemy, the Greys and the rest of the Union and Household brigades found themselves disorganised and advancing towards the main French lines. Their horses exhausted and their leader now killed, the British cavalry was taken unawares by Baron Jaquinot’s 1st Cavalry Division. The Greys retreated back to the British lines as best they could. They reformed, but played little further part in the battle.
At the end of the day, the regiment was left with 104 men dead and 97 wounded as well as losing 228 of their 416 horses. The Greys were battered and bruised, their battle ending in a disorganised retreat. But they had accomplished what few had done before – the capture of a French Imperial eagle.
The charge was far less elegant than Stanley Berkeley's painting suggests
1678: Raised as three troops of Scots Dragoons.
1681: Troops regimented to form The Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons.
1694: Numbered the 4th Dragoons.
1707: Renamed The Royal North British Dragoons. Began to informally be call the Scots Greys.
1713: Renumbered the 2nd Dragoons.
1877: Nickname made o cial with the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys).
1971: Amalgamated with the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales’s Dragoon Guards).
Amalgamated: 1971 with 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales’s Dragoon Guards) forming The Scots Dragoon Guards.
Motto: Nemo me impune lacessit (Nobody touches me with impunity), and Second to None.
Colours: Blue facings, gold lace for o cers and yellow for other ranks.
Marches: Quick: Hielan’ Laddie, Slow: The Garb of Old Gaul.
Battle Honours: Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, Dettingen, Warburg, Willems, Waterloo, Balaclava, Sevastopol, South Africa 1899-1902, Relief of Kimberley, Paardeberg, Retreat from Mons, Marne 1914, Aisne 1914, Ypres 1914, 1915, Arras 1917, Amiens;Somme 1918; Hindenburg Line; Pursuit to Mons; France and Flanders 1914-18. Mons; Messines 1914, Gheluvelt, Neuve Chapelle; St Julien, Bellewaarde; Scarpe 1917, Cambrai 1917, 1918, Lys, Hazebrouck, Albert 1918, Bapaume 1918, St Quentin Canal, Beaurevoir, Hill 112; Falaise; Hochwald; Aller; Bremen, Merjayun; Alam el Halfa, El Alamein; No lia; Salerno, Italy 1943, Caen, Venlo Pocket, North-West Europe 1944-1945, Syria 1941, El Agheila;Advance on Tripoli, North Africa 1942-1943, Battipaglia, Volturno Crossing.