Well-travelled beyond Great Britain's borders
The storied history of the 78th Highland Regiment began during Britain's wars with revolutionary France and later led to involvement in worldwide military activities in countries such as India, Egypt and South Africa. Learn about the fascinating and challenging expeditions the 78th participated in.
The initial activities of the 78th were associated with Britain's wars with revolutionary France. For example, just a year after they were formed, the 78th found itself at the defence of Nimjegen in Holland. Another year later, the 78th attacked the Cape of Good Hope (the Dutch having become revolutionary allies of the French) and forced the surrender of Cape Town and Wynberg in South Africa.
In 1797, the now merged 1st and 2nd battalions were sent to Calcutta to spend seven years of garrison duty at a variety of Indian posts.
However, the 78th were dispatched to Poona to contain the marauding North Mahrattas in 1803. In September of that year, the 78th took part in the famous engagement at Assaye under the overall command of Sir Arthur Wellesly (later the Duke of Wellington), occupying the crucial left flank of the leading attackers. The 78th was the first infantry to reach the Mahrattas and was instrumental in capturing the enemy guns and routing their infantry.
Shortly after the Battle of Assaye, the 78th were sent in pursuit of fleeing Mahrattas at Argam. Later in the year, they besieged the Fortress of Gawilghur to help finish the job they had commenced at Assaye.
As a token of esteem, the 78th was allowed to bear the symbol of an elephant with the word "ASSAYE" inscribed below. It was one of three regiments presented by the East India Company with a third, or honorary colour. This badge of honour continued to appear upon the colours and amongst the uniform regalia of the regiment during its period of service in Halifax.
In 1804, a new second battalion was raised and was trained under Sir John Moore (the hero of Corunna). It was sent to Gibraltar in 1805. The following year, it formed part of the British forces invading Sicily where despite overwhelming French troop numbers, they secured a brilliant victory.
Also in 1806, the 78th found themselves in Egypt in the successful occupation at Alexandria. However, three companies of the 78th were surrounded by Turkish cavalry and captured the following year. One hundred sixty-three men and officers were killed, including the Commanding Officer Lt-Col. MacLeod. The remainder of the 78th's 2nd battalion withdrew to Alexandria and returned to Sicily. Early in 1808, they were recalled to England.
In 1811, the 1st battalion was in Bombay. From there they were sent to repel a French force occupying the old Dutch colony of Java. The British lost 154 men in bitter fighting, including the 78th acting C.O., Brevet Lt-Col. William Campbell. However, the French sustained over 10,000 dead, wounded and captured.
The 78th stayed on the island until 1816. During that period, the battalion lost over 500 men to disease.
On their return to India in November 1816, the regiment was wrecked and marooned on the lonely island of Preparis for nearly a month. The regiment suffered further losses when six companies were shipwrecked off the Andamans. When the survivors eventually went home to Britain, the regiment had been on overseas service for more than 20 years.
In 1817, the now badly under strength 2nd battalion was merged with the 1st battalion. Later that year at Aberdeen, the combined regiment was sent to Ireland for almost a decade of relatively quiet service. In 1826, they were sent to Ceylon (losing 300 to disease), but returned to Ireland in 1838.
In 1842, the 78th were back in India because of the Afghan uprisings. While at Sukkar Sind, the regiment suffered its greatest losses. In 1844, cholera wiped out 535 officers and more than 200 members of their families.
In 1845, they limped back to Bombay where as a result of home recruiting of primarily non-Scottish recruits, they were restored to strength. The 78th remained in Bombay until 1849 when they were shipped to Aden. Five years later, they were in Persia leading the attack at the famous battle of Koosh-Ab and Mohomrah.
The outbreak of the Indian Mutiny urgently required the recall of the 78th back to Bombay. They were then dispatched to Calcutta to put down a rising at Barrackpore. The regiment was instrumental in the recapture of the garrison town of Cawnpore in July.
"...At last the enemy caught sight, and opened a very heavy and well-directed fire on us, which we had to pass till we got to the turning-point. Then we moved down in line upon them, and opened fire on their guns, which were in a very strong position in a village. We silenced two with our artillery, but all we could do we couldn't get at the third heavy gun, it was so well masked. The 78th were ordered to charge and take the gun. I never saw anything so fine. The men went on, with sloped arms, like a wall; till within a hundred yards not a shot was fired. At the word 'Charge', they broke just like a eager pack of hounds, and the village was taken in a instant..." Major-General Sir Henry Havelock Cawnpore, Indian Mutiny, July 17, 1857.
Following the battle at Cawnpore, the 78th proceeded to Lucknow where the British garrison was besieged by 60,000 mutineers. The battle weary 78th arrived on September 25 and burst into the residency. The lead troops were the 78th Highlanders and in their furious push into the residency, they bayoneted a few loyal sepoys by mistake.
Under the joint command of Sir Henry Havelock and Sir James Outram, the 78th had fought a gruelling campaign up from Cawnpore. Unfortunately, there were only a 1,000 men and no sooner had the residency gates closed behind them did the siege continue. Now reinforced, the odds of the mutineers exploiting a breach in the wall had been considerably reduced, but the added troops placed a heavy burden on the dwindling supplies.
The situation seemed dim as the mutineers continued their artillery bombardment and the supplies started to run out. The doctors didn't have any more medicine to give to the sick and wounded and the rations became fewer every day. Once again, eyes and ears were strained for signs of relief.
Throughout it all, the Union Jack flew from the residency roof and was never taken down, as custom dictated it should be each evening. Day and night, the symbol of British defiance hung limply from the flagpole. The 78th fiercely defended the residency for six weeks until it was finally relieved by Sir Colin Campbell's forces on the November 17.
For their defense of Lucknow and gallantry in the Indian Mutiny, men of the 78th Highland Regiment were awarded eight Victoria Crosses (V.C.), including one awarded to the regiment as a whole.
In 1858, the 78th found themselves part of the Rohilkand Field Force, in company with the Highland Brigade. They marched northwest, capturing the town of Bareilly in March. The 78th garrisoned the town until ordered back to Britain in 1859.