Cape Town Highlanders have various custom and usages that set them apart from other Scottish and non-Scottish regiments. Many of them relate to dress, such as the following:




1.         Background


The Cape Town Highlanders and its members are marked out from the rest of the SANDF by the traditional regimental dress and the use of certain customs, words, phrases, mottos and toasts, which distinguish them from the soldiers of all other units.


Almost every custom and item of uniform has a long and honourable history.  Members of the Cape Town Highlanders, by the mere act of using or associating themselves with the regiment's customs or wearing elements of the uniform, inherit and honour a fighting tradition extending over many centuries. 


2.         The Scottish Connection


It is not strange that there should be a Scottish regiment in Cape Town.  Virtually all countries that were once colonies of the British Empire have Scottish regiments, just as elements of uniform of regiments of the British army show their involvement in the countries thy colonised.  Furthermore, thousands of people who live in Cape Town are of direct or indirect Scottish descent.  The historical link between Cape Town and Scotland; however, dates the existence of the Cape Town Highlanders. 


The Mother City has its own link with the Clan Gordon, whose regimental tartan this regiment wears.  The last commander of the Dutch East India Company’s garrison at the Cape of Good Hope was of Scottish descent - Colonel Robert Jacob Gordon, whose family had served the Princes of Orange f or three generations.


Colonel Gordon’s grandfather left Scotland to take service in the Dutch Navy at the beginning of the 18th Century, and never returned to his native land. His son, Colonel Gordon’s father, spent his entire military career as an officer of the “Scots Brigade - an elite Scottish unit which for two centuries was the personal bodyguard of the Dutch royal family - and retired as a major-general. In turn, Colonel Gordon also served in the “Scots Brigade” till joining the Dutch East India Company’s army.


In addition to being a first-rate soldier he was also a naturalist and geographer.  Shortly before his death in 1795, just after the first British invasion of the Cape, he made several pioneering journeys and was the man who gave the Orange River its name.


The Cape Town Highlanders were formed in 1885 by 166 Capetonians of Scottish decent.  Around the beginning of the 20th Century they formed a bond of friendship with the Gordon Highlanders, which in 1932 was cemented by a formal alliance. The old alliance has endured ever since, and was carried over when the Gordons were amalgamated with the Queen’s Own Highlanders in 1994, to form a new regiment, called simply “The Highlanders”.


A group of Cape Town Highlanders attended the amalgamation ceremony in 1994 and undertook always to keep the spirit of the Gordons alive. This is why we do our best to retain as much of the traditional Gordons and CTH uniform as possible, and why the last toast drunk at every formal dinner of the officers’ mess is “The Gordon Highlanders”.


3.         The CTH - Not Merely A Carbon Copy


The CTH is not merely a carbon copy of the Gordons or any other Scottish regiment.  While honouring the memory of our founding fathers and valuing our alliance with the Gordons and The Highlanders, the CTH is very much a South African regiment, and proud of it.  That is why many Capetonians of non-Scottish ancestry have served happily and well in the CTH in the past, and are doing so today.


Volunteers who join the CTH are not expected to give up their identity or their culture. However, they are expected to accept the regiment’s customs and usages, and honour its traditions and its uniform. This is insisted on, because the CTH tradition is a living thing; if it is not honoured in everything that is done, it will be lost and in the process the Regiment will lose its identity as well.


4.         The Uniform: Its Origins And Meaning


            a.         Badges


A soldier’s badge is what really sets him apart from the rest of the Army. It tells the world who he is and what regiment he belongs to, and also something about where his regiment comes from and what its philosophy is.


The Cape Town Highlanders does have not one but a number of different badges. Generally speaking, which have not changed since 1902, the last time there was a revision of regimental insignia.


         b.         The Headdress Badges


i.       The Balmoral Badge.


Between 1885 and 1902 the CTH wore a large badge or “plate” on the white helmet then issued. Some were made of silver-coloured “white metal”, and consisted of three parts stapled together, while others were stamped out in one piece.


This large and beautiful badge consisted of an eight-pointed star surmounted by a queen’s crown, on which was superimposed the star of the Order of the Thistle and the regimental title, on which in turn was superimposed a circlet with a thistle device.


In 1902 this badge was replaced by a smaller one in brass and white metal. When the Balmoral bonnet replaced the pith helmet and hat as a working headdress around World War I, this badge was transferred to it and has remained unchanged ever since.


There is only one known variation: When the Regiment arrived in Egypt in late 1941, an Egyptian craftsman turned out a number of rather crude Balmoral badges cast in brass. These were never issued, but were bought as souvenirs and are a collector’s item.


ii.         The Glengarry Badge.


Between 1885 and 1902 the CTH wore a glengarry badge almost identical to that of the Scots Guards, except that it bore the name “Cape Town Highlanders”. Presumably this similarity was due to the fact that the Scots Guards was the original regiment of Lieutenant-Colonel John Scott. first OC Cape Town Highlanders.


In 1902 the CTH adopted a new bi-metal glengarry badge which was a smaller version of the new helmet or Balmoral badge described above, and it has been worn ever since by all ranks, with only one exception - Lieutenant-Colonel (later Brigadier) W D Hearn DSO always wore the pre-1902 badge during his tenure as commanding officer between 1928 and 1937.


Through the years there have been certain variations on this badge. At some time (presumably during World War II) the Defence Force made a large number of glengarry badges in blackened brass, but these were never issued; during the l950s or l960s a certain number of these blackened badges were chromed and issued as an economy measure, but these are now very scarce.


iii.        The Springbok Badge.


In its first campaign of World War I, the South West Africa campaign, the CTH wore its Balmoral and glengarry badges, but in 1916 it combined with the Transvaal Scottish to form the immortal 4 SA Infantry (the SA Scottish), which fought at Delville Wood and all the other great battles of World War I.


In accordance with the custom at that time, the SA Scottish wore the then universal South African overseas service badge, depicting a springbok’s head in a round strap bearing the words “Union Is Strength”/”Eendracht Maakt Macht”, but the new unit wore a variation of the CTH’s collar badge (see “Collar Badges”).


The SA Scottish was disbanded after World War I, although it had won such renown that many people felt it should become a Permanent Force unit. So the “bokkie” badge disappeared from our headdress - but the one worn at Delville Wood by a renowned Cape Town Highlander, Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Sumner MC IEI (OC CTH from 1937 to 1941) is displayed in a place of honour in the officers’ mess.


iv.        The FC/CTH Hackle.


During its service in the Western Desert in 1941 and 1942 the CTH wore its normal glengarry and Balmoral badges, but between 1944 and 1945 the CTH was “married up” with the First City Regiment in a composite regiment called the First City/Cape Town Highlanders for service in the Italian Campaign.


At the time of the marrying up, these two proud regiments decided that rather than adopt a new headdress badge, they would wear a simple feather hackle, yellow above and green below - the colours of 6th Armoured Division, their parent formation.


c.         The Collar Badges.


Prior to 1902 the CTH wore a collar badge depicting a thistle; some were made in silver wire to wear in full dress uniform, and others were stamped out of white metal or tin.


In 1902, however, the CTH adopted the “collar dogs” it wears to this day, consisting of a mailed fist holding an arrow, over the lion of Scotland in its shield, both in brass, and superimposed on the St Andrew’s Cross; with a scroll at the bottom containing the words CAPE TOWN HIGHLANDERS.


These badges have a greater significance than might be thought. Firstly, theyecho the heraldic device on the Regimental Colour; secondly (as noted under “TheSpringbok badge” above), they have a direct link to the famed 4 SAl (SAScottish) of World War I.


When the SA Scottish was formed from the CTH and Transvaal Scottish in 1916, it adopted the CTH collar badge, unchanged except that the words “Cape Town Highlanders” were replaced by “Mors Mihi Lucrum” (Death is my Reward), the family motto of the first OC SA Scottish, Lieutenant-Colonel F A Jones 050.


Note: The St Andrew’s Cross and the thistle are constantly recurring themes in CTH badges, and for good reason.


d.         The St Andrew’s Cross


St Andrew, the patron saint and symbol of Scotland, was not a Scot! Like his brother Simon Peter, Andrew was one of the Twelve Apostles. After Christ’s Ascension he became the first Christian missionary to visit Scythia and Russia, and then went on another mission to Greece, where he converted the wife of the Roman governor of the province of Patrae.


This angered the governor so much that he crucified Andrew. According to legend, Andrew died with great courage and humility, asking to be crucified on an X­shaped cross because he felt unworthy of dying on a cross of the same shape as the one on which Jesus had been martyred.


The governor’s wife had remained true to her faith and buried him at Patrae, but

his bones were later re-interred alongside those of St Luke in the Church of the

Martyrs in Constantinople (now Istanbul), only to be transported to Amalfi in

Italy in 1208 AD.


But Scots maintain to this day that only a part of his remains were re-interred at Constantinople. According to legend, the custodian of the holy relics at Patrae - a certain St Rule or St Regulus - was visited by an angel who told him to remove three finger-bones, an arm-bone and a knee-cap from the remains and take them to the western limits of the known world, where he was to establish a city in honour of the Apostle.


This he did, and in due course the town of St Andrews grew up around a church containing the relics. The town became one of the most famous shrines in Europe and the British Isles - although nowadays it is best known as the birth-place of the game of golf.


e.         The Thistle


The pretty but prickly thistle has been the national flower of Scotland for at least a thousand years, according to an ancient legend, which tells that it crept into Scottish hearts when the Scots were fighting the Danish Vikings who were harrying the coast of their homeland.


f.          Balmoral or Tam o’ Shanter.


The Cape Town Highlander’s working headdress, the Balmoral bonnet (known in other regiments as the Tam O’Shanter or “tammie”) is a direct descendant of the large beret-like headdress or “bonaid” commonly worn by Scotsmen from at least the 16th Century onwards.


As Highland regiments’ uniforms became more formalised in the 17th and 18th Centuries, the traditional bonnet underwent a number of changes. A badge was worn on the left side, and the little tuft of fibres on top, left over from the knitting process, developed into the “tourri” of today.


The bonnet developed eventually into a headdress of dark blue with a diced headband (known as the “Balmoral”) and eventually into the sombre-coloured “Tam 0’ Shanter”, which was first worn in its present form in the South African Army in France and Flanders during World War 1, when the Cape Town Highlanders combined with the Transvaal Scottish to form the renowned 4th South African Infantry (The SA Scottish)


The tammie is now almost universally worn by Scottish regiments as a working headdress, with some regiments wearing different-coloured tourris as a unit distinction. We in the CTH, however, wear a same-coloured tourri and still call the tammie by the traditional name of “Balmoral”


There are variations on this theme - in the British Army, for example, Lowland Scottish regiments wear the diced dark blue “Kilmarnock bonnet” (similar to the original Balmoral, but with tail-ribbons and a black cock-feather behind the badge) in place of the glengarry, and the Transvaal Scottish wears a diced dark blue Balmoral (which, however, it calls a “tammie”)


g.         The Glengarry.


            The glengarry is of relatively new origin, dating back only to the mid-l9th Century, but it was derived directly from the much older Kilmarnock. It was evolved by turning up the Kilmarnock on either side, and smoothing the crown so that it fitted closely on the head.


In 1868 it became the standard undress and working dress headgear for the entire British Army and its various overseas offshoots, with many Scottish regiments wearing a diced border on theirs.


The glengarry was worn as a general headdress till 1890, when it was replaced for all non-Scottish units by the Field Service Cap. Thenceforward only some Scottish units wore the glengarry.


In today’s Cape Town Highlanders the glengarry is worn by all ranks for ceremonial, mess and walking-out dress, and after Retreat. Officers, warrant-officers, sergeants and drummers wear the traditional dark blue glengarry with red-white-black diced band, and corporals and private men a plain dark blue one.


By ancient custom, pipers wear an all-black glengarry with a red tourri; formerly, they adhered to another ancient custom by wearing black cock-feathers on the left side of their glengarries, but today only the Pipe-Major does so.


h.         The Kilt


When the ban on wearing kilts and tartan was eventually lifted (mainly because the British government discovered it was the only way to recruit Highlanders into the army), the Black Watch’s “Government Tartan”, modified by the addition of different coloured stripes, was authorised for the new Scottish regiments.


One of them was the Gordon Highlanders; when it was raised in 1794 as the 100th

Regiment (later re-numbered to the 92nd), a weaver named Forsyth adapted the

Government Tartan by adding to it a thin stripe of yellow, the facing colour of

the Gordons.


Originally the CTH seems to have used the Government Tartan, but we have worn the Gordon regimental tartan since at least the turn of the 20th Century, marking a long association with the Gordon Highlanders which was officially cemented in 1932.




i.          There is a widely-held belief that Highlanders wear underpants when a Queen is on the throne, but not during a King’s reign.


This is totally incorrect. Highlanders never wear underpants under the kilt - these effete garments were first introduced into Scotland by the English, and to this day Highland soldiers all over the world go without under-garments when wearing the kilt, in tribute to the fierce mountain warriors of olden days.


For a true Highland soldier, going without underpants when wearing the kilt is yet another mark of pride which sets him apart from all other soldiers.


One theory about the origins of the incorrect belief about the underpants mentioned above is that on at least one occasion Highlanders parading before Queen Victoria were ordered to wear underpants in case their kilts blew up and shocked her.


ii.         Many would-be clever fellows like to ask a Cape Town Highland-er: “How can you wear the Gordon tartan if you don’t bear the Gordon name, or some other purely Scottish name?”


The answer is that the Gordon tartan is a regimental tartan, not a clan tartan. You have earned your right by serving in the CTH - one of only two other regiments in the world except the Gordon Highlanders ever to wear this tartan. There is no other way to earn this right. That, too, sets you apart from others who serve or have served in lesser regiments.


iii.        Do women wear the kilt? This is a vexed question. Strictly speaking, the answer is “no”; for a woman to wear a kilt would be the equivalent to a man wearing a female skirt. Times change, however, and the CTH now adheres to the modern usage that in Full Dress or Review Order women will wear the kilt, ceremonial sporran and spats, but otherwise a tartan skirt of similar cut.


The legend tells us that one night a large party of bare-footed Vikings was creeping up on the main Scottish camp when one of them stepped on a thistle and gave such a howl of agony that the Scots woke up, seized their weapons and repulsed the invaders.


i.          Shoulder Titles.


Since the birth of the Regiment, Cape Town Highlanders have worn a title at the bottom of each shoulder-strap, consisting of the initials “CTH”. There are two forms of this title, which are worn according to the order of dress.



i.          The White Metal “CTH”.


            The letters “CTH” in silver-coloured metal (technically known as “white metal”), which is worn on a loop of orange-red cloth in all forms of dress except undress blues, are the latest version of the metal titles adopted at the birth of the Regiment in 1885.


The present shoulder titles have remained unchanged since about

1925, when the last alteration to the pattern was made. The fact

that they have always been in white metal is a mark of the

Regiment’s age - when the then Union Defence Force was formed in

1912, it adopted brass shoulder titles, but pre-1912 units like the

CTH retained their old white-metal titles.


ii.         The Cloth CTH Title.


            The white letters “CTH”, screen-printed on a loop of orange-red cloth, are spiritually descended from the embroidered titles worn on the undress blue jacket in the l890s, but were re-adopted in 1993 as the equivalent of the metal title in certain forms of working dress. The letters are in white to echo the colour of the metal title.


iii.        The “red tab”.


            The red flash or “tab worn under the metal shoulder-title, and as a background to the cloth title. has a very important symbolic significance which recalls some of the proudest moments of the South African National Defence Force.


During World War II no South African soldier crossed the country’s borders except of his own free will, and from 1940 onwards volunteers for external service were authorised to wear the “red tab” to show their willingness to serve anywhere in the world.


The “red tab” was unique to South African soldiers and became their “trademark” all over the world. It was worn with pride throughout the war, and afterwards various regiments continued to wear it to commemorate their voluntary service against fascism, and as a mark of respect for those who had died or been wounded.


In 1952, however, the government ordered the removal of the red tab, and it stayed in limbo till 1993, when the Cape Town High-landers re-introduced it for serving members who had volunteered for further service, and new members who had volunteered for service. It was not considered necessary to require volunteers to undertake a specific foreign-service oath, as the CTH has always served wherever the government of the day has needed it.


Historical note: Although the “red tab” disappeared in 1952, the requirement to volunteer for external service was not abolished till January 1976; the CTH was among the last units to volunteer.


j.          Sporran Badges.


i.          The Lion Badge.


                        The lion-in-a-ring badge worn on officers’ and sergeants’ cere-monial sporrans has been worn by the CTH since 1902, when a new pattern of sporran was introduced with a brass cantle instead of a badger’s head. The lion depicted is the rampant beast from the royal crest of Scotland, symbolizing the CTH’s cultural links.


ii.         The Bydand Badge.


                        This stippled brass shield, depicting a frontal view of a stag’s head arising out of a Scottish crown, with the clan Gordon motto “Bydand”, has been worn on the ceremonial sporran by corporals and below since 1902, and is a direct link with our senior allied regiment, the Gordon Highlanders, which wore an identical badge till after World War II.


NB: When the Gordons were amalgamated in 1994 the Bydand badge fell away -only the CTH now wears it.


k.        The Sam Browne Belt.


The Sam Browne belt worn today by officers and warrant-officers of the Cape Town Highlanders in ceremonial and service dress was invented around 1860 by a famous hero of the Indian Army, Sir Samuel Browne VC, who designed it because he had lost an arm in battle and needed a belt of a type which would enable him to draw and use his sword and revolver with less difficulty.


The Sam Browne belt proved so useful, even for soldiers with both arms intact, that it spread rapidly through the British and dominion armies, and indeed throughout the world.


Around 1914 swords were abolished as infantry fighting weapons, but the Sam Browne stayed on, both as a mark of leader status and also for use when the sword was worn for ceremonial duties; and for generations the proudest day in a CTH staff-sergeant’s career has been when he “gets his belt” by being made a warrant-officer.


An attempt was made to abolish the Sam Browne belt in the SADF in 1976, but the Cape Town Highlanders were excused from the abolition order because a former Minister of Defence, Mr J J Fouche - who by then had become the State President - had been so fond of them that he had guaranteed they would always be allowed to wear their traditional uniform. About 20 other long-established units were subsequently also given exemption.


Note: Because no weapons are worn in the mess, an officer or warrant-officer will always remove his Sam Browne when entering (even if he is not wearing his claymore), or if this is impossible for some reason he will at least “break’ it i.e. he will unbutton the front end of his cross-strap and let it hang free to symbolise the removal of the belt.


l.          The Regimental Waist belt


The white leather belt with ring-and-tongue or “locket” regimental belt-buckle still worn today is an item of uniform which dates back to the Regiment’s earliest days. In one version or another it has been worn since the CTH was founded in 1885.


m.        Brogues and Black Boots


Officers and warrant-officers of the Cape Town Highlanders are expected to wear privately purchased black brogues instead of ordinary shoes, and other ranks are free to do so if they wish.


i.          The Brogues.


Today’s black brogues with their decorated toe- and heel-caps, and extra-thick soles, are lineally descended from the original brogues, which were very heavy, sturdy buckled shoes issued from the late 18th Century onwards to all Highland recruits to replace the light leather footwear customary in the Scottish mountains. The brogue also sets Highland soldiers apart from other men, since it is the only shoe worn in the Army which does not have a smooth toe and heel.


In full Mess Dress, shoe-buckles are still worn by various ranks to commemorate those brogues of the early days.


ii.          Black Boots


. Why do Highlanders wear black boots when the rest of the South African Army wears brown? The reasons are lost in the mists of time - but in spite of all difficulties the Highlanders still maintain this custom to distinguish them from ordinary soldiers. (It is said to date back to Britain's Peninsular campaigns (1807 to 1811) in Spain against the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Major-General Sir John Moore, Commander of the Highland Brigade, was killed in the famous fighting retreat from La Coruna, and it is said that Highland regiments throughout the world wear black boots as a perpetual mark of mourning for this greatest of all Scottish soldiers.)


n.         Diced Hose and Hose-tops


The correct traditional dress for the Cape Town Highlander includes red-and-black diced hose or hose-tops, depending on the occasion and the rank of the wearer - thereby rendering tribute to an ancient Highland tradition.


Diced hose (“caddis” in the Gaelic, meaning “striped”) have been an item of Highland dress for many centuries. Today diced hose and hose-tops are woven of wool, but up to the end of the 18th Century they were made of cloth; because they did not fit as tightly as woollen garments, they were tied in at the top with garter-tapes whose ends hung down on the outside of the leg.


The garters, with their two red swallow-tails which protrude from under the flap, commemorate the old garter-tapes which held up the diced hose up to the end of the 18th Century.


o.         Other Headdress


Cape Town Highlanders, like most other Scottish regiments world-wide, are fortunate in having the smartest and most distinctive forms of headgear in the South African or any other army.


The Feather Bonnet. For at least two centuries the tall, imposing feather bonnet with its diced head-band was the Highland soldier’s traditional headdress, striking fear into his enemies on battlefields in all parts of the known world.


From the 19th Century onwards, however, it became more and more a ceremonial headdress, but it is still worn by the Drum-Major and bandsmen of the present-day CTH pipe band to honour its ancient tradition. Today’s feather bonnets, while still made according to the precise design of the original model, are manufactured with ostrich feathers from the Karoo.





i.          Dicing and tail-ribbons. The red, white and black dicing on glengarries and feather bonnets commemorates an ancient feature of Scottish dress. Hundreds of years ago the Scot made sure his bonnet fitted by cutting slits in the brim, threading in a ribbon of different colour and tying a bow at the back. As the centuries passed, this became purely decorative, and in today’s glengarry the tradition is honoured by the dicing and the two tail-ribbons.


ii.         The rosette. The black satin rosette on the glengarry, on which the badge is affixed, is also the last remnant of an ancient item of uniform in most armies: the cockade (typically in national or regimental colours) which appeared on the cocked hat in place of a badge.


p.         Jackets and Doublets.


            i.          The Doublet. When the Regiment was founded in 1885, it followed the example of other Scottish units of the period and wore special doublets, or short jackets, of traditional Scottish pattern, in a dark green shade known as “Piper Green”.


In 1895, for unknown reasons, the CTH switched to scarlet doublets (except for pipers), although for field dress it wore Highland pattern khaki drill jackets. The scarlet doublets remained the regiment’s Full Dress wear till the outbreak of World War I, but after the war were worn only by the Drum-Major and drummers, while pipers continued to wear green doublets.


In June 1994, after almost 100 years, it was decided to revert to the original 1885 uniform, and all bandsmen were re-uniformed in Piper Green doublets of the traditional pattern, but of lighter cloth which was better suited to the local climate.


ii.          The Patrol Jacket (“Undress Blues”).


On some formal and semi­formal occasions officers and warrant-officers of the CTH wear what is known as “undress blues” - dark blue “patrol jackets” of distinctive Highland cut, together with trews. Sergeants also wear patrol jackets, but with kilts.


Why “undress”? Well, this is a very old term indicating simple, inexpensive, comfortable and durable uniforms worn for work and walking out, in other words, the opposite of “full dress”.


The blue patrol jacket, which has remained almost unchanged in cut for at least a century, is descended from the greatcoats worn by officers of the British Army as far back as the 18th Century.


This grew shorter and lighter during the Napoleonic Wars, turning into a frock coat (i.e. a long-skirted tunic reaching down to mid­thigh length), and grew extremely popular. Officers of English regiments wore the blue frock with blue or white trousers, but officers of Highland regiments wore it with trews in the regimental tartan.


After 1815 several attempts were made to abolish the blue frock in the British Army, but it was so popular that it survived and eventually was accepted. In the ensuing years it underwent many changes, eventually becoming the short jacket of today.


In most of the older South African regiments it is worn with dark blue trousers, but officers and warrant-officers of Highland officers have retained the old custom of wearing it with trews of the regimental tartan. It is also more traditional, since it isshorter in the skirts than the blue tunics worn by non-Scottish regiments today.


iii.        The Highland Pattern or Service Dress Jacket.


The open-necked olive drab Service Dress Jackets worn by officers, warrant-officers and sergeants have remained basically unchanged since they were adopted around the start of World War I, superseding the closed-neck jacket. While basically similar to the SD Jacket worn by the rest of the Army, there are certain significant differences which lend Highland soldiers such a smart appearance:


(1).       Cuffs.


The cuffs are of a turn-back type traditional to Scottish regiments, although in olive drab.


         (2).       Skirts.


         The skirts are cut away in front in traditional Scottish pattern.


(3).       Vents.


The rear skirts have two vents, one over each buttock, instead of one central vent.


(4).       Lower Pockets.


The jackets have pockets on the skirts, each rounded off to conform to the line of the skirts.


(5).       Belt-books.


The jackets have brass belt-hooks to ensure a correct hang for the Sam Browne and other belts.


(6).       Different Length.


The jacket’s skirts are shorter, in that their lower edge extends no further downwards than the beginning of the downward curve of the buttocks. This is to allow for the fall of the kilt.


Note: For reasons of cost, many of the jackets now worn in the Cape Town Highlanders are now normal SANDF Service Dress jackets which have been modified by shortening and rounding of f the skirts, and adding belt-hooks.


q.         The Battledress Top (“bunny-jacket”).


The Cape Town Highlanders is now virtually the only regiment in the SANDF to wear the olive drab “bunny-jacket”. This garment is of fairly recent origin but has an honourable history.


A jacket of almost identical cut but of rough olive drab serge material was adopted as part of a suit of “battledress” by the Commonwealth armies in 1937, setting a world fashion which lasted for many years after World War II, during which the CTH fought many of its greatest battles wearing this dress.


In the 1960s the original battledress was replaced by a uniform of similar cut but improved appearance and material. When the so-called “smooth battledress” was phased out in the late l970s, the CTH acquired a large number of the tops to wear as standard service dress.


r.         The Kilt.


The kilt is worn only by the Highland soldier. It is not worn by Lowland Scottish regiments, who traditionally wear tartan trews or ordinary trousers of some type.


It is the most important and characteristic garment of the High-land soldier. It marks him as the heir to one of the finest fighting traditions in the world; during World War I Kaiser Wilhelm’s Prussian troops - themselves among the best soldiers on the face of the earth - gave their Highland enemies the respect-ful nickname “the Ladies from Hell”, which endures to this day.


The kilt has many practical virtues. it is warm in winter and cool in summer, and it is possibly the most dashing of all military garments. A soldier cannot help but swagger a little when he wears his kilt, and other soldiers cannot help but envy him; as the famed author H V Morton wrote once, “at all times it gives (the wearer) an air of nobility”.


The original kilt formed part of the “belted plaid”, consisting of 12 yards of tartan, which the Highlander of olden times draped over his body from shoulder to knee-cap as a combination basic garment and cloak, the method of wearing it depending on the temperature and how free he wanted his sword-arm to be.


In approximately 1730 the “little kilt” (“feilidh beg” in the Gaelic) was evolved for wear on occasions when the full belted plaid was not needed. The little kilt” speedily became popular throughout the Highlands and is universally worn today, very little changed from the original models.


The original belted plaid has vanished altogether, but a smaller plaid is worn to this day by at least some members of Highland regiments in Full Dress and Review Order all over the world. In the Cape Town Highlanders, small plaids are still worn by some members of the Drums and Pipes.


The Cape Town Highlanders kilt is made of tartan (“tarsuin” in the Gaelic), the patterned woven woolen cloth which Scotsmen have worn since at least 400 BC. The “sett”, or characteristic pattern of squares and lines, is that of the Gordon regiment tartan worn by our senior allied regiment, the Gordon Highlanders -broad dark green, blue and black stripes, with a thin yellow line superimposed.


Contrary to popular belief, this is not the tartan of the Gordon clan, but came about as the result of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, when an attempt by Prince Charles Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) to claim the throne of Scotland was put down in such a savage and bloody fashion by the English that evil memories of ‘the Forty-Five” linger to this day.


One of the English reprisals was to ban the wearing of almost all tartans for three decades, the main exception being the sombre “Government Tartan” worn by the Black Watch (the Royal Highland Regiment), which fought for the English during the “Forty-Five”.


s.          The Spats


The white spats - a contraction of the ancient term “spatterdash” - worn by today’s Cape Town Highlander for ceremonial occasions is the latest version of a traditional military item of dress which goes back many centuries.


Spats originally came up past the knee, and served to protect the soldier’s legs. Starting about half-way through the 18th Century, however, they were shortened to their present length.


Spats were worn for both ceremonial and field dress till World War I, during which they were replaced in the field by cloth puttees, and since then have been worn for ceremonial purposes only.


The spats worn today by the Cape Town Highlanders are almost exactly the same as the original shortened models of the 18th Century. There are two varieties:

Officers wear spats with 10 black buttons each, while other ranks’ spats have eight buttons.


The reason for this has been lost in the mists of time; however, the reason why the CTH wears black buttons on the spats is well-known, namely, to mark a famous and tragic incident in Highland military history.


General Sir John Moore, regarded as one of the most famous Scottish soldiers of all time, commanded Lord Wellington’s Highland Brigade in Spain in 1808 while fighting against the Emperor Napoleon of France.


In the face of overwhelming odds, Sir John Moore’s small army - which included seven different Scottish regiments, including the Gordons - conducted a successful 200-mile fighting retreat from Salamanca to the port of La Coruna; a feat which remains famous to this day because of the fighting spirit and iron discipline exhibited by his force,


On arriving at La Coruna, Moore turned his tired, ragged, hungry soldiers on the pursuing Frenchmen and gave them such a thrashing that his force was able to embark and sail away that night with-out hindrance. But the valiant Sir John Moore did not sail with them; he had been killed in action, and was buried in the dark by the dim light of a lantern.


As a mark of perpetual mourning for Sir John Moore - and a commemoration of their famous exploit - the Gordon Highlanders undertook henceforth to wear black buttons on their spats. Our right to do so derives from our long alliance with the Gordons.


t.          The Sporran


Since a kilt has no pockets, some sort of wallet or pouch is always worn with it; “sporran” comes from the Gaelic “sporain”. meaning “purse”. In the CTH three types are authorised:


i.          The ceremonial Sporran.


Commonly referred to as a “hair sporran”, this consists of a brass rim or cantle, and a leather body to which are attached lengths of white horse-hair and two tassels of black horse-hair.


The hair sporran is descended from the original Highland pouch, which was made of sheepskin or goatskin with the hair left on; however, eventually it became purely a ceremonial item of dress.


ii.         The Pattern 2 Ceremonial Sporran.


The Pattern 2 sporran was adopted in 2001 for wear by sergeants and below as an economy measure, the hair sporran having become too expensive. It is made of sheepskin or goatskin like the original Highland sporrans, and has the same brass cantle and tassel-cones as the hair sporran.


iii.        The Hunting Sporran.


 Colloquially known in the CTH as the “pooch”, this is a small brown leather pouch which is an actual wallet and in which personal items such as keys, cigarettes etc can be stored.


NOTE: In the days when Highland soldiers still wore the kilt on campaign, the hunting sporran was not worn in the field; the front of the kilt was covered by a khaki apron with a large pocket on the front which took the place of the hunting sporran. However, aprons have not been worn by the CTH since 1940 ... although we still have them in stock in the Regimental Store.


u.         The Trews


In some orders of dress, officers and warrant-officers of the Cape Town Highlanders wear trews of the Gordon regimental tartan.


Trews have been worn on occasion by both officers and men of Highland regiments for several centuries, and up to the beginning of the 20th Century this was the custom in the CTH as well. Nowadays, however, the custom in Highland regiments worldwide is that only officers and warrant-officers; in Lowland regiments all ranks wear the trews instead of the kilt.


In this connection, it is a little-known fact that by tradition, CTH officers of field rank (i.e. major and up) are entitled to wear tartan breeches and riding boots, or spurs with their trews, in some orders of dress. This derived from the days when field officers of infantry regiments were mounted, but the useage has fallen away since the Defence Force was mechanised in the 1930s.


5.         The Regimental Grace


When Cape Town Highlanders sit down to a meal, they always say a special regimental grace called “The Selkirk Grace”, reputedly composed in the 18th Century by Robert Burns, the most famous Scottish poet of all time. The words are as follows:


Some hae meat and cannot eat,

And some would eat, but want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

So may the Lord be thankit.



Since the grace is in Scottish dialect, some people do not always fully understand it, but its meaning is very simple and straight-forward, like all Burns’s poems:


Some people have food, but cannot eat it;

Some people would like to eat, but have no food;

But we have food, and we can eat,

So may the Lord be thanked.


Every good Cape Town Highander should know this grace by heart and use it - not only in the Regiment, but outside it as well.


a.         The Haughs  0’ Cromdale.


This tune is used for two very different purposes, for each of which it is played in a different time.


Firstly, played in strathspey time, it is the “Charge”.


Secondly, played in march time, it is the “Last Post”, sounded not only at funerals and services but also to signal “lights out” at 20h00 when in camp.


b.         The Pibroch of Donald Dubh.


 In the CTH, the “Fall In” can be the standard SANDF bugle call, but by tradition the “fall in” is the rousing tune “The Pibroch of Donald Dubh”. This tune commemorates one of the most famous pipers of all time, Donull (or Donald) MacCrimmon. For hundreds of years the MacCrimmons were the hereditary pipers of the chief of the MacLeod clan, and eventually founded a famous college of piping. The last of these hereditary professors of pipe music, Donull Dubh (“Black Donald”), died in 1822, aged 91.


c.         Bonnie Dundee.


This rousing march tune - which is also a CTH company tune -perpetuates the memory of the famed John Graham, Duke of Montrose, whose nickname was “Bonnie Dundee”.



In 1688-89 the First Jacobite War took place, and King James VII of Scotland, who was also James II of England, was forced into exile by the forces of William of Orange. Montrose raised an army of kingsmen which he led to victory against William’s forces at Killiecrankie in 1689; in the process Montrose was killed at the moment of victory by (so legend has it) a silver bullet specially cast for the purpose.


d.         The Flowers of the Forest. T


his famous lament, played at all CTH funerals and memorial services, commemorates one of Scotland’s greatest tragedies, the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, when a Scottish force led by King James IV clashed with an English army.


The Scots were defeated, and King James perished, along with numerous members of all the great families in Scotland; the Flowers of the Forest was written to mourn this disaster, and in the centuries since has become the most famous of all laments.


e.         Lament for the Children.


Although rarely played in the CTH, this famous lament deserves mention because it also derives from the famous MacCrimmon piping family.


In the middle of the 17th Century Patrick MacCrimmon, also known as “Patrick Mhor”, had eight grown-up sons, of whom he was very proud; then in one disastrous 12-month period, seven of them died in one way or another.


Heartbroken, Patrick Mhor consoled himself in typical highland fashion by composing the pibroch “Cumhadh na Cloinne”, better known in its English translation of “Lament For The Children”.


6.         Regimental Mottos


The Cape Town Highlanders have two regimental mottos:


a.         “Nemo Me Inipune Lacessit”.


            This is the motto of the old Scottish kings, and is borne by most Scottish regiments. Translated from the Latin, it means “No man challenges me with impunity” (or, as one corporal once put it, “don’t bugger around with a Highlander’).


b.         “Bydand”.


            This motto is that of the Gordon clan, and our right to it derives from our old alliance with the Gordon Highlanders. Believed to be of ancient Norman French origin, it means “Steadfast” or “Watchful”. The CTH adheres to “Steadfast”, which the modern Cape Town Highlander says is merely the fancy form of the South African soldier’s favourite word, “Vasbyt!”.


7.         Music


A regiment’s music is usually linked to its history and culture, and the CTH’s regimental music is particularly rich in this respect. The following are a few examples:


a.         “Cock 0’ The North”.


            The regimental quick march is the ‘Cock 0’ The North”, the traditional ancient nickname of the very powerful Dukes of Gordon - one of whom raised the Gordon Highlanders in 1792; it is said that each recruit received a golden guinea and a kiss from the beautiful Jean, Duchess of Gordon.


“Cock 0’ The North” is linked to one of the greatest feats of heroism in the history of the Gordon Highlanders. During one of the northern frontier wars in India in 1892 the Gordons were ordered to capture the mountain of Dargai after several other regiments had failed to do so.


The Gordons fixed bayonets, stormed Dargai through a hail of fire

and captured it, a heroic piper named Findlater playing the “Cock 0’

The North”, as he lay badly wounded in both legs. Piper (later Pipe-

Sergeant) Findlater was decorated with the Victoria Cross.


Although always much loved by the Gordons, it did not become their (and our) regimental quick march till 1932, when it was accorded this status in belated honour of the valiant Findlater.


b.         St Andrew’s Cross.


The regimental slow march is the same as that of the Gordon Highlanders, “St Andrew’s Cross”, one of the most famous slow marches used by Scottish regiments.


c.         Hey, Johnnie Cope, Are Ye Wakin’ Yet?


“Hey, Johnnie Cope, Are Ye Wakin’ Yet?” or simply “Hey, Johnnie Cope” is the regimental reveille. It commemorates a famous incident in Scottish history -the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745, when a force of Highlanders demolished an English brigade under Major-General Sir John Cope in a fierce dawn attack. In true Highland fashion, a special tune was then composed to mark the occasion .. and mock the unfortunate English general.


8. Toasts.


Various traditional regimental toasts are proposed and drunk by Cape Town Highlanders on appropriate occasions. These include:


a.         The Regimental Toast.


The traditional regimental toast drunk at regimental dinners by the Commanding Officer and Pipe-Major is usually said in Gaelic, but can also be said in English: “Here’s health and strength forever to the lads of the Marquis of Huntley” -a tribute to the son of the Duke of Gordon who raised the Gordon Highlanders, a valiant Scottish fighting soldier. The reply to the toast is “slainte mhor” (good health)


b.         “The Gordon Highlanders”.


This toast is drunk by the officers at the end of each annual regimental birthday dinner in memory of their old ally, the Gordon Highlanders, whose name disappeared in 1994 when the Gordons were amalgamated with the Queen’s Own Highlanders.


c.         Informal Toasts.


In the Cape Town Highlanders, a common informal toast is the traditional “slainte mhor”.


d.         Breaking of Glasses.


The Cape Town Highlanders adhere to the old custom of breaking a glass from which an important toast has been drunk, so that no lesser toast may ever be drunk from it. This amazes and impresses Sassenachs of all descriptions, who have no such equivalent practice. This may be drunk with both feet on the floor, or in a full “Highland Toast”, in which a toast-drinker stands with one foot on his chair and the other on the table.


9.         War-Cries


Being a true South African regiment of bush-fighters, the CTH has no specific battle-cry of its own, but as in so many other things it has a legitimate one if it ever needs it.


The traditional war-cry of the Gordon clan is “A Gordon! A Gordon!” The Gordon

Highlanders also used another war-cry during a famous incident at the battle of

Waterloo in 1815, the French Emperor Napoleon I’s final defeat.


At a crucial moment in the battle the Scots Greys, a regiment of dragoons (heavy cavalry) charged through the Gordon Highlanders’ ranks to attack the French. The Gordons’ blood was up, and many of them grabbed the Scots Greys’ stirrup-straps and joined in their charge, shouting an ancient and terrifying battle-cry that echoes over the centuries: “Scotland forever!”


And there is the motto we inherited from the Gordons, and which is now worn by only the CTH in the entire world: “Bydand!”


10.       Weapons


Today’s Highland soldier, depending on his rank, carries certain weapons which are unique to Scottish regiments.


a.         The Claymore.


 The straight-bladed infantry sword carried by officers and WOI's of the Cape Town Highlanders is called the “claymore”. It differs from the normal pattern of military sword by virtue of a distinctive double-edged blade with “fullers” or blood-grooves, a “wig” of scarlet thread at the top of the hilt, held in place by a silver- or chrome-plated pommel or finial; and a leather or metal scabbard with a 15cm-long nickel-plated metal boot which culminates in a round ball finial.


Today’s claymore is descended from the original “great sword’ (claidheamh-mohr in the Gaelic), a large, heavy weapon with a double-edged blade four feet or more in length, a cross-hilt sloping down at either end, a simple haft and a round pommel.


The claidheamh-mohr was born in the early Middle Ages, when the Scots fought repeatedly against marauding Vikings. The Scots liked the Viking battle-sword, adopted their own version of it and for centuries thereafter used it as one of the most devastating battlefield weapons ever seen in the British Isles.


In the hands of the fierce Highland warriors the claidheamh-mohr was a greatly feared weapon due to the Highlanders’s favourite tactic of launching a ferocious charge at the range of 50 metres or less, literally hacking their opponents apart. The claidheamh-mohr saw extensive use till well into the 18th Century.


The nature of warfare was changing, however, and the “great sword” gave way to the smaller and lighter broadsword (or claybeg in the Gaelic) which could be used one-handed while the other hand held the “targe” or small round Highland shield.


The broadsword was distinguished by its double-edged blade (it was a

slashing weapon, whereas the blades of stabbing weapons have a

single edge to stiffen them) and its elaborate steel basket-hilt,

with a scarlet liner and short scarlet “half-wig” secured by a

pommel of traditional pattern.


It has been claimed that this basket-hilt was a copy of the “Schiavona” type first produced by the famed sword-makers of Venice, but other historians reject this suggestion. Whatever the truth of the matter, it was universally adopted by the Scottish soldiers world-wide in the ensuing centuries.


In the late 19th Century it became the custom for Scottish regiments’ officers to wear their broadswords or claymores in different configurations, according to the occasion. For ceremonial purposes the weapon would have the basket-hilt and a steel scabbard, while for field service it would have a leather scabbard and a simple bright steel cross-hilt.


The claymore used by today’s Cape Town Highlanders is very similar to the original claybeg, although ways of wearing it have changed to some extent.


b.         The Dirk.


The dirk is worn today by the Colonel of the Regiment, the Commanding Officer, the Second-in-Command, all majors, the Adjutant and the Regimental Sergeant-Major, when in full dress, mess dress and undress blue uniform, and by the Pipe-Major in full dress.


Once worn by all Highlanders, the dirk later became the distinguishing mark of the Highland gentleman, and for hundreds of years has been a very elaborate and beautiful weapon. It was never used for common or everyday purposes but was regarded as a mystical and almost sacred weapon, so much so that according to tradition a Highlander of old taking a most solemn oath would seal it by kissing the blade of his dirk.


c.         The Sgian Dubh.


The sgian dubh is worn by officers and warrant-officers of the Cape Town Highlanders in the right stocking in all orders of dress involving the kilt.


The sgian dubh was originally the Highlander’s utility knife, being used for such purposes as “gralloching” or gutting the red deer killed on hunting expeditions.


“Sgian dubh” is Gaelic for “black knife”, but this does not refer to the traditional black colour of its hilt and sheath. After the English victory in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, Scots were forbidden to carry any weapons, but they were not that easily subdued and carried knives hidden in their clothing - thus “black knife”, “black” meaning “secret” or “concealed”. It was not till the beginning of the 19th Century that Highlanders reverted to carrying the sgian dubh in open sight in the top of their hose.


Now that the dirk is no longer so widely worn, the sgian dubh has taken on some of its symbolism and significance; it is the only weapon which may be worn in the mess, and by long-standing custom blood must be drawn if it is unsheathed - if only by the wearer pricking the ball of his thumb. This is not a theoretical custom ... as various horrified non-Highlanders have discovered!


11.       Words


The Cape Town Highlanders use various words, terms and forms of address, some common to most Scottish regiments and others unique to the CTH. Members of the CTH should make a point of continuing to use such expressions as part of maintaining the regimental traditions. They include the following:


a.         A word once widely used was “Sassenach” - derived from the Gaelic “sassannach” (Saxon)- which was originally used by the Scots and Irish to denote Englishmen in particular; in time it came to be used for all non-Highlanders.


b.         In the Cape Town Highlanders the traditional military term “subaltern” is still used as a generic term for all lieutenants.


c.         The small leather hunting sporran worn with the kilt is called a “pooch”, or pouch, in traditional fashion.


d.         Collar badges are referred to as “collar dogs”, an ancient idiomatic Army term, which has now died out in other regiments.


e.         The Cape Town Highlanders still adhere to the old custom of addressing subalterns and the RSM as “Mister” on the appropriate occasions.




a.         Ties.


A Cape Town Highlander may wear one of a variety of regimental ties with his civilian clothes, depending on his rank and other factors.


b.         The Regimental Tie.


This tie, consisting of broad diagonal stripes in the Regiment’s tartan colours - black, green, yellow and blue -is customarily worn by all ranks, both serving men and retired members. It is also worn in certain forms orders of uniform.


By long-standing custom, this tie is worn on Fridays - although a Cape Town Highlander is free to wear it on any other day of the week as well!


c.         The Officers’ Mess Tie.


This tie, consisting of a blue field with small reproductions of the left collar-badge, is worn only by serving and retired officers.


d.         The Sergeants’ Mess Tie.


This tie, consisting of a blue field with one large reproduction of the left collar-badge, may be worn only by warrant officers and sergeants, whether serving or on the reserve, and honorary members of that mess.


e.         The Centenary Tie.


This tie, which has diagonal stripes in the tartan colours in different widths, with the device from the Regimental Colour on the front, was brought out in 1985 to commemorate our centenary, and may be worn only by members who were serving at that time, or people presented with it for rendering assistance to the CTH. 


e.         The Bow-tie.

In evening dress, Cape Town Highlanders customarily wear a bow tie of ordinary type, except that it is in the regimental tartan colours instead of the customary black. It is NOT worn in mess dress, however, which features an ordinary black bow tie.