Uniforms and Weapons
On this page you will find details of the uniform that we wear, the equipment and weapons we carry. The uniform worn by the 79th Cameron Highlanders dates from the early 1800's through to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The soldiers of the era wore the Redcoat, as did the whole of the British Army from the time of Cromwell right up to the Boer Wars. The 79th regiment was denoted by the colour of our facing on our collar and cuffs, which is green and our lacing which is square set with yellow and red stripes on a white background.
The 79th wore the highland bonnet, which is a derivative of the traditional squat bonnet worn by the highlanders. The army in its wisdom added dicing to match the hose and half a dozen black ostrich feathers, and a hackle to denote the company. Our unit wears the white over red hackle, displaying that we are a centre or line company; we also wear a sphinx badge for the battle honours earned during the Egyptian campaign.
The most significant part of our uniform is undoubtedly the kilts. The tartan is Cameron of Erracht, traditionally said to have been invented by the mother of our founding Colonel, Cameron of Erracht in 1793. Our kilts are the original 5.5yards, which makes them much lighter than the modern equivalent, which is generally 8-9 yards.
The kilt has always been a source of great interest for the ladies, even as far back as the Napoleonic Wars. During the occupation of Paris in 1815, some very interesting postcards appeared, depicting highlanders in very embarrassing situations, due to such things as tripping and strong winds. However the most curious person of all was Tsar Alexander of Russia, who lifted the kilt of a 79th sergeant to the navel, to see what was or was not underneath. Sadly we can not show you pictures of this event.
Hose and Gaiters
Wearing the kilt, can cause some pain and discomfort when walking through brambles and nettles, so the highlanders wear grey cloth gaiters (spats). These gaiters also afford some protection to the ankles, as boots are not worn. The Hose which are red and white dicing, are traditional highland dress, and again help with the protection of the legs as well as keeping the soldiers warm and snug.
The Soldiers wear 2 white leather cross straps, secured across the chest with a brass breast plate, engraved with the regimental badge. On the left side is secured a bayonet; it is triangular in shape for easy extraction and is 17 inches long.
On the right side is secured a cartouche (a French word for a cartridge box), which is made of black leather; and it is capable of carrying about sixty rounds enough to last 20 minutes in severe fighting.
On the left hand side the highlanders also wear a blue water canteen, which was vital in the heat of Portugal and Spain, but is still used by the soldiers on hot days on the battle field or on a long march. Water however was and still is vital when firing the musket, as often the soldiers get a mouthful of powder whenever they fire.
The Highlanders final piece of kit is their bread bag. A white linen bag, this item is vital for carrying all the important things a soldier in Wellingtons Army needs. Food, plate, utensils, tobacco and bread of course.
The drummers in the 79th, as in the rest of the army up to 1812 wear reverse colours. That is to say, the tunic is in the facing colour, and the facings are in red. The lacing is far more elaborate than the common soldier, with Chevrons running the full length of the arms and lacing across the back of the tunic. The drummers wear a water bottle and bread bag, like the regular soldiers, but in place of the cross straps they wear a single white leather drum sling.
The drum is 16 inches deep with a 14 inch diameter. The heads are made of calf skin, and tensioned using ropes. A small cat gut snare provides some pitch, although traditionally the drums were very deep, much like today's tenor drums in pipe bands. This was to allow the sound of the drums to carry across the battlefield, and be heard over the terrible din of battle.
The Brown Bess Musket
The muskets that are used by the 79th are the India Pattern Brown Bess. It was developed and adopted by the forces of the East India Company (hence the name) in 1795 and was accepted by the Board of Ordnance of the British Army in 1797, and over 3 million of these muskets were built. With so many being made, examples of this weapon were still in use by the British Army and the militia in 1850. The soldiers were constantly drilled in formation firing and tactical movements but only fired their weapons a few times a year. The range and accuracy of the musket, as with all muskets, was not very far at all. Given the limited range and accuracy, firing tended to be in formation, where a volley of musket balls would be unleashed upon a target in the hope of inflicting major casualties. The 14in (35.56 cm) bayonet was used in close quarter fighting and was, most of the time, the deciding factor in any battle. The Ammunition for the musket was carried in a cartouche, and came in the form of rolled paper cartridges containing six to eight drams of powder (a dram is 1/16 oz) and a one ounce lead ball. Each end was sealed with pack thread, so when loading, the rear end was bitten off, some powder placed as a priming charge in the pan with the remaining powder poured into the barrel followed by the ball. The paper was then used as wadding and packed down the barrel with the ramrod. If after loading the musket was not to be fired immediately, it would be carried half-cocked for safety, however if the soldier suddenly had a fight on his hands, he will have had to fully cock the weapon, otherwise it would not fire (hence the term 'going off half-cocked'). The musket often misfired due to the design (hence the term 'a flash in the pan' if only the priming charge ignited), especially if the powder was damp or the flint was worn. Soldiers had to regularly “knap” the flints, especially if they could not afford to buy new ones, by chipping (Knapping), or skinning the flint (hence the term 'a skin flint'). The 79th load their muskets just as the British Napoleonic army would have, with the exception of loading a lead ball, and normally we also do not use the paper for wadding; when fired the muskets make a loud noise and produce a great deal of smoke and give a good representation of what it would have been like in the Napoleonic era battle.
The Scottish Basket Hilted Sword
The famous Scottish Basket Hilted Sword were carried by Officer's and N.C.O'S only and were worn by officer's right up to the First World War. These swords have been in British Army's Highland Regiments from around 1740. The basket of steel bars does an excellent job of protecting the hand, yet does not add a great amount of weight. Well balanced, this is an excellent cut and thrust weapon, and was used to great effect on the battlefield.