This article by Malcolm Lobban, a long-serving member of the Territorial Army, first appeared in the TAVR Magazine in November 1970. It not only provides a brief history of the TA in Dumbarton and in Renton, it also conveys a strong impression of the various cuts and changes to which the Territorial Army Voluntary Reserve was being subjected in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
SONS OF THE ROCK
The Evolution of 3 (Argyll 1 Sutherland Highlanders)
Coy. of the 51st Highland Volunteers
By Malcolm Lobban
Almost since the first inhabitants huddled together in the shadow of Dumbarton Rock, there have been soldiers in Dumbarton.
This fort of the ancient Britons, ancient capital of the old Kingdom of Strathclyde, historic seaport, cradle of the Clyde’s shipbuilding industry, and Royal Burgh, has invariably figured throughout the long history of Scotland and Great Britain.
The Romans knew it as Alcluid (rock of the Clyde), and it is believed likely that it formed the western flank of the Antonine Wall, which cut across the central belt of Scotland, dividing the Roman-occupied south from the barbaric Picts and Caledons of the Highlands.
In the Middle Ages, Dumbarton Castle was a powerful garrison, serving generations of monarchs. Its twin peaks, besides giving it a commanding appearance, made it one of the few really impregnable forts in Scotland, an asset that was to involve it with all the political and military intrigues throughout Scotland's turbulent history. For generations, the gallant “Sons of the Rock '' have served their country in all its major conflicts. Like so many other communities, the men from the burgh and the landward area of Dunbartonshire have stepped forward in times of need. And the “volunteer '' spirit has never needed prompting.
From the days of the old Militia to present-day TAVR, society has never had cause to complain against the Dumbarton volunteers. Today that same spirit is being upheld by the men of 3 (Argyll and Sutherland Highlander) Company Highland Volunteers.
The unique geographical position of Dunbartonshire (spelt with an “n”' as opposed to “m “ in Dumbarton, an oddity of spelling that has puzzled lots of Sassenachs and, one might think, some Scots) has often caused it to be described as “Scotland in miniature '' - having highlands to the north and low country to the south. And the county has been, since the constitution of the Territorial Army, part of the recruiting area of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
The 1st Administrative Battalion Dunbartonshire Rifle Volunteers was formed in May, 1860, with 14 companies of Volunteers. In 1880, the battalion was consolidated under the title of the 1st Dunbartonshire RVC and in 1887 sanction was given for the battalion to adopt the Scarlet Doublet with Yellow Facings and the other items of dress of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
So prolific was the volunteer spirit in those days that the battalion boasted a strength of 50 officers and 1,271 men formed into 14 companies. During the South African War the battalion contributed over 100 men to the three Volunteer Service Companies of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and in addition, well over 100 joined the Regular Army and Militia to serve in the War.
During World War I, as the 9th Bn. A & SH, the county men cut glory from the bitter fighting in the Ypres Salient, which reduced the battalion to company strength, two officers and 85 men, who were embodied with the 8th Argylls for the remainder of the war.
Transferred to RA
In 1920 the “ Auld Ninth '' was reorganised into the Territorial Army, and in 1939 it was transferred to the Royal Artillery, becoming the 54th Light Anti-Aircraft Regt. Thus, with the outbreak of World War II, the newly-formed “ Argyll Gunners '', who still sported the red and white dice on their bonnets and the A & SH badge, sailed for France. They were actively involved during the retreat to Dunkirk against low-flying aircraft. And in 1944, after serving in static defence roles at home, the regiment returned to France, Belgium and Holland, where it was heavily involved in action - this time in an advancing situation.
ln 1946 the regiment was disbanded, but two years later, with the re-formation of the TA it was revived, under the impressive title 554th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment Royal Artillery (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders).
Dumbarton and the county's long association with the A & SH is zealously nurtured by those of us who, in this age of permissiveness and general apathy, still regard the Reserve Army as an integral part of modern life. Man has not yet reached that golden age of super-enlightenment, where the sword may be yet moulded into the ploughshare. And the very idea of turning the other cheek, or laying bare the soft under-belly of our indigenous culture to the greedy fangs of other, less scrupulous nations, is forever the height of folly.
The re-formation of the TA after World War II saw Dunbartonshire's first association with the 8th (Argyllshire) Bn and the establishment of a “Support'' Company in Renton, Vale of Leven. Meanwhile, in Latta Street Drill Hall, Dumbarton, a battery of artillery served the burgh. Later still, due to an economical reshuffle of the artillery, R Battery became R Company of the 8th Argylls, and the old A & SH allegiance was restored to the whole district. Many of the gunners, who donned the kilt - some of them for the first time - admitted to a secret longing for the opportunity to become infantry soldiers, and with their county regiment. And many “old sweats” were no strangers to the Garb of Gaul, having served with other Highland battalions, including the Argylls, during the war years
“Terriers '' throughout the land do not need reminding of the frequent changes that have taken place within the organisation in the past few years. Time and again the political knife has cut deep into the very souls of the Volunteers. The more recent demise of the old TA spread like a dark cloud through the whole British military scene. The awful uncertainty of what lay ahead hung like a damp hoary mist over every drill hall in the country. Even the higher echelon of the organisation could not predict which way the Government was likely to turn in its defence policy.
ln his address to all Territorial Soldiers the Duke of Norfolk stated: “All of us are suffering from frustration and uncertainty which is likely to increase as the present lack of definite information continues. You are an exception if you do not sometimes wonder whether it is really worth going on.“
In March, 1967, with its Colours safely stowed away in Inverary Castle, the gallant “Eighth” marched into the ranks of the redundant heroes. “Support”' Company left Renton to amalgamate with R Coy, under the banner of Army Volunteer Reserve Class III, and as a company of the re-born 3rd Bn. A & SH - shades of the old Militia.
Out of remembrance of the old “Ninth '' the company adopted the title “9” Company. But TAVR III was never the liveliest of organisations. The modicum of equipment and the frugal financial allowance meant that if the company was really to survive, then some scheme would have to be devised to bolster the meagre establishment.
To this end the credit must be laid squarely on the shoulders of those stalwarts - many from the old TA - who, diligently, refused to let the Dumbarton banner fall in the mud of apathy. And particular credit must go to the CO, Maj. M. A. Wedgwood, who somehow managed to hold everything together in those uncertain days.
I suspect that, somewhere in the background, in the higher halls of the Regiment, there must have been a liberal amount of string-pulling and determined support on the part of our Regimental fathers. I suspect that Maj.-Gen. F. C. C. Graham, Colonel of the Regiment – affectionately known as “Uncle Freddy'' - had something to do with the ultimate decision to upgrade the company to TAVR II on the demise of TAVR III. Gen. Graham is well known for his stand in the political battle over the 1st Bn. And he has often made it clear that, should the regulars have to go, the only surviving Argylls in the country could be the two Volunteer companies within the 51 Highland Vols.
Today, after two years of high-pressure soldiering in the multi-tartaned ranks of 51 Hld. Vol., our company seems to have a future at last. Recruiting is favourable, and the quality of manpower is as good, if not better, than it was in the days of the TA. The older members, who still recall many “cushier'' camps with the TA are finding out that the Bounty is not just acquired by camp attendance, but that were is much more of that something called “ work '' in between! And, of course, that's how it should be.
Our old ties with the 8th Bn. and Argyllshire are not completely severed. The company has a platoon in Campbeltown and an up-and-coming section in Dunoon (once the HQ of the 8th). Company Training is generally carried out at Lochgilphead, since it's the half-way point between our two extremes.
As I have said, the future looks good and allowing for any change in the political climate, there seems every likelihood that the Dumbarton volunteers will prosper.
The OC's policy is one of expansion, and to strive for the maximum potential from the youth of the county. His aim is to keep the name of the company to the forefront of the local population. Already it has taken part in various civic enterprises, giving demonstrations and displays to the general public.
Someone once said that one Volunteer is worth ten pressed men - or words to that effect. While I do not comment on the accuracy of this statement, I am not blind to the grain of truth therein: and this being the case, then we have the makings of a battalion among our few, gallant “Sons of the Rock ''!