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Abolition of the Kilt
Glasgow Highland Societies' Protest Against War Office Decision
from The Scotsman
December 15, 1939

The War Office decision to discontinue the use of the kilt is the subject of a protest by Glasgow Highland Societies, and an appeal to have the question further investigated is supported by a number of well-known Scotsmen and distinguished soldiers.  A circular on the matter is being sent to Highland societies outside Glasgow requesting support, and to Scottish M.P.s asking their help to enable the Societies to place the question before the Scottish Grand Committee.

On behalf of the Committee of Glasgow Highland Societies a statement points out that some societies and others seem to be under the impression that the War Office intends to withdraw the kilt only from units on active service in France, but this is not the case.  The orders now issued, it is added, withdraw the kilt from all units both at home and abroad.  A promise of reissue had been made regarding other ' withdrawn articles of dress at the beginning of the last war, but which had never been reissued, the Government, at the end of the war, regretting that owing to financial stringency they could not afford the reissue.  The same argument was likely to hold good at the end of this war.

The supplying of tartan is largely a Scottish industry, the statement continues, and the withdrawal of the kilt would mean more work going to English firms making uniforms, and resulting in people in Scotland losing employment.


"At the beginning of the last war the War Office decided to do away with the kilt," states the circular.  "They were defeated in this largely by the opposition of the Highland Societies, and the war proved that the Societies were right.  Again the War Office has decided, for practically the same reasons as in 1914, to abolish the kilt.  It is up to the Highland Societies and Scotsmen again to have that decision reversed.

"The ordinary Englishman cannot understand the sentimentalism and clannishness of the Scot, and is apt to . sneer at it.  But it is that sentimental love of the tartan and clannish spirit which have largely made the Highland regiments the dour fighters they are, and for which they are renowned."

Dealing with the authorities' reasons for the decision, the circular states: "There is no difficulty of supply.

"It can be easily proved that it is not the case that the kilt is unhealthy.  In the South African War the.medical authorities admitted that the kilt, by keeping the vital organs warm, prevented sickness.  Kilted units in Palestine, during the last war, had the same experience, and there is every reason to believe that the health of the kilted units in France was as good, if not better, than those in trousers. 

"Admittedly a wet kilt is uncomfortable, but not so uncomfortable as wet trousers.  It is further claimed, from experience, that the kilt has many advantages over trousers.  For instance, when going into the line, men had often to wade through water in the long communication trenches.  The Highlander, without difficulty, tucked up his kilt or carried it over his shoulder.  The result was that he reached the front line comparatively dry, while the man in trousers was wet well up his legs with the water slowly creeping up the cloth, and would remain wet for the three or four days he was in the line.  The kilted units were often sorry for them as there is nothing worse than being wet.  Other: instances, could be given where the kilt proved superior to trousers in trench warfare.

In the last war kilted battalions did not suffer more severely from the effects of gas than trousered units.  It is admitted by gas experts that there is no clothing (either trousers or kilts) that it cannot penetrate - therefore trousers are no safer than kilts."


It is contended that, so far, no sound reason has been given for abolishing the kilt, unless it is to save a little trouble in connection with the distribution.

"If it is intended to retain the kilt as a peace-time dress, why should it be withdrawn from regiments in Egypt, India, and China, which are practically on a peacetime footing, and are unaffected by the war in France." asks the circular.  "In these countries the kilt has been worn with distinction for generations and is now to be substituted by khaki shorts - a definitely less healthy dress in climate with hot days and cold nights. 

"Scotsmen must realise that if the kilt is once abolished for active service, it will disappear for ever.  At the conclusion of this war - as in the past - there will be a strong demand for stern economy, and it would be hard to resist the plea that if the kilt is to be regarded as merely a ceremonial dress its retention would not be justified. 

"We must, therefore, insist that the kilt be neither withdrawn nor abolished until the whole question has been examined by a Select Committee, largely composed of Scotsmen, as it is one which directly affects Scotland. 

It is added that, if necessary, they must appeal to His Majesty the King.

The circular is signed on behalf of the Glasgow Highland Societies by:-

Col. Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel, Col. Sir Iain Colquhoun, Bt., of Luss; Col. Sir Colin W. MacRae of Feoirlinn, Col. Sir Robert C. Mackenzie, Col. A. K. Reid, Lieut.-Col. W.D. Macrae, Lieut.-Col. Norman MacLeod, Capt, Campbell (the Highlanders Institute), Capt. Wm. MacLean (the Clan MacLean), Mr M. F. Matheson (Gairloch and Loch Broom, Ross-shire) Mr Robert Bain (Ross and Cromarty Association), Mr Thomas Cameron (the Clan Cameron.)

The following support the appeal against the withdrawal of the kilt until the question has been fully investigated:-

The Duke of Argyll, the Duke of Sutherland, the Marquess of Ailsa, .the Earl of Airlie, the Earl of Elgin, the Earl of Home, Earl of Mar and Kellie, Lord Lovat, Lord Glentanar, Sir Godfrey Macdonald of the Isles, Sir John Lome Macleod, Maclachlan of Maclachlan, General Sir John Burnet-Stuart, General Sir Frederick Campbell, General Sir Ian Hamilton, General Sir Torquhil Matheson, Lieut-General Sir F. W. N. M'Cracken, Major General John Campbell, Major-General Sir Gerald C. Kitson, Major-General Sir Colin.Mackenzie, Major-General Sir Henry F. Thuillier, Brig.-General W. H. L, Allgood, Brig.-General Sir Norman Orr Ewing, Brig.-General J.L.R. Gordon, Brig.-General Patrick W. Hendry, Brig.-General Ian Stewart, Brig.-General M. Grant Wilkinson, Col. H. T. Baillie, Col. Thomas Fraser, Col. Sir Victor A. F. Mackenzie, Col. L. Mackinnon, Col. William Robertson, Col. Sir George Stirling, Lieut.-Col. D. Campbell of Inverneill, Lieut.-Col Lord Dudley Gordon, Lieut.-Colonel Colin M. Mackenzie, Lieut.-Col. W. M. Stewart; Lieut.-Col. J. A. Symon, Lieut.-Col T. G. Taylor. Lieut.-Col. E. W. Watt.

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