Category Archives: History

Artist in Residence

The very talented Eve Montgomerie is our Artist in Residence at Ballindalloch Castle. Her studio is based in Lady Macpherson-Grant Hall, close to our Distillery and Golf Course.

Eve, a painter, originally from Somerset but now living with her husband and young family in Knockando, graduated from the prestigious Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen in 2016 with a First Class Honours Degree. She is now studying for a postgraduate degree at Gray’s, as well as fulfilling her role as chair of the Armed Forces Art Society (AFAS).

We shall soon be displaying some of Eve’s paintings at the Castle, but if you would like to see her work in the meantime, or would like to commission a painting, she will be happy to welcome you to her studio, by appointment only (telephone 07949 483134).

You can see some of Eve’s work on her website, www.evemontgomerie.co.uk.

Or follow her on;

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/evemontgomerie.artist/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/evemontgomerieart/

Some of Eve’s work. Please click on a thumbnail to see the larger picture.

The Biggles Story

Best known by the sobriquet Captain W.E. Johns, William Earle Johns was the creator of one of the best loved characters in English literature – Biggles. Drawing upon his time as an RAF pilot during the Great War, Johns penned over one hundred Biggles stories, charting the rip-roaring adventures of his eponymous fighter-pilot ace. He was also the author of over sixty other novels and factual works, as well as scores of magazine articles and short stories, and the brave new world of aviation remained his passion throughout his prolific writing career.

Captain W E Jones

Captain W E Johns

What is perhaps less well known is that Captain W.E. Johns wrote many of his Biggles stories here at Ballindalloch. In September 1944 Johns became the tenant of the 5th Baronet, Sir George Macpherson-Grant, when he took up the lease on Pitchroy Lodge. His attempts at re-joining the RAF had been thwarted (at 46 he was too old) and Johns had spent the period of the Blitz serving with his local ARP (Air Raids Precaution) unit in Reigate Heath, Surrey. For the majority of the war he had worked for the Air Ministry, helping with the recruitment and training of RAF and WAAF personnel.

His reasons for seeking refuge in the Highlands lie in the complexities of his private life. Unhappily married and with his wife refusing him a divorce, Johns wished to make a home with his long-term partner Doris Leigh, but without prejudicing his standing as a children’s author. So he chose Ballindalloch, far off the radar of polite London society. William and Doris were to make Pitchroy House their home for the next nine years.

Pitchroy Lodge Ballindalloch

Pitchroy Lodge Ballindalloch

Whilst staying here in Ballindalloch the ‘Captain’s’ output was prestigious and many of Biggles’s best known adventures – Biggles in the Orient (1945), Biggles Takes a Holiday (1949) and Biggles Takes the Case (1952) to name a few – were penned as his creator sat in his study looking out across the River Spey. In Biggles Delivers the Goods (April 1946) Captain W.E. Johns has his hero deliver the following soliloquy:

“While men are decent to me I try to be decent to them, regardless of race, colour, politics, creed, or anything else…I’ve travelled a bit, and taking the world by and large, it’s my experience that with a few exceptions there’s nothing wrong with the people on it, if only they were left alone to live as they want to live.”

It does not seem too much of a stretch of the imagination to conclude that Captain W. E. Johns found a place he could be ‘left alone to live how he wanted to live’ here at Ballindalloch.

Biggles fans regularly come to Speyside to soak up the scenery that inspired the author; apparently, if one is very observant it can even be recognised in passages of his books.

 

The Black Watch

The dark green, blue and black tartan and red heckles of the Black Watch, oldest of the Highland regiments, has become part of the iconography of Scotland and the history of the Am Freiceadan Dubh is interwoven with the history of Ballindalloch Castle.

Soldier of the Black Watch c.1740

Soldier of the Black Watch c.1740

Though today Badenoch and Strathspey is a haven for tourists, there was a time, four centuries past, when this part of the Highlands was a haven for rebellious clansmen and lawless bandits. Throughout the turbulent years of the English and Scottish Civil Wars the loyalties of the major Highland Clans were always volatile and at various times both royalists and republicans had found willing help in the mountains beyond Perth. The year 1645, for instance, had seen the flag of the Covenanters flying above Ballindalloch Castle, leading to its sacking by Royalist forces under the command of the Marquis of Montrose, who himself had sided with the Covenanters only a few months before.

The ‘pacification’ of the Highlands in the 1650s by government forces and subsequent Restoration of King Charles II encouraged the establishment of a permanent force to ‘watch over’ the region. Independent companies of loyal Highlanders were formed under the overall command of the Earl of Atholl. Alongside the clans Argyll, Murray, Menzies, Fraser and Munro, the Clan Grant offered its fealty to the newly restored Stuart monarchy by raising its own company of Highland troops to ‘watch over’ the territories of Badenoch and Strathspey.

Following the failed Jacobite Rebellions of 1689 and 1715, and the split loyalties once again evident amongst the Highland Clans, the independent regiments were disbanded, only to be revived again in the 1720s. At the request of Major-General George Wade – famous (or perhaps infamous) for overseeing the second ‘pacification’ of the Highlands in the aftermath of the 1715 uprising – six companies, each comprised of one hundred men, were to be raised and commanded by clan leaders loyal to the Crown. In Wade’s own words, these men were to be “employed in disarming the Highlanders, preventing depredations, bringing criminals to justice, and hinder rebels and attainted persons from inhabiting that part of the kingdom.”

Black Watch recruits being reviewed on Glasgow Green, c.1758

Black Watch recruits being reviewed on Glasgow Green, c.1758

One of these independent companies was formed under the command of Colonel William Grant, the 9th Laird of Ballindalloch who, like his forefathers, took on the responsibility of ‘watching over’ Badenoch and Strathspey.

To set themselves apart from the existing regiments of the British Army, and to drum home their ‘independent’ identity, the soldiers of the Highlands eschewed the traditional red coat of the British soldier and donned the now famous dark green, blue and black tartan. This idiosyncratic uniform, when combined with the force’s primary role of ‘watching over’ the Highlands, gave rise to the Gaelic epithet Am Freiceadan Dubh: and the name ‘Black Watch’ was to stick.

In 1739 the independent Highland companies were brought together to become a ‘regiment of the line’ – the 43rd, or Highland Regiment of Foot. Seven years later the 43rds passed their first significant test of loyalty to the Crown, helping to put down (what proved to be) the final Jacobite Rebellion.

Details from Black Watch recruits being reviewed on Glasgow Green, c.1758

Details from Black Watch recruits being reviewed on Glasgow Green, c.1758

Records suggest that a significant number of the Black Watch serving in 1746 had relatives fighting alongside Bonny Prince Charlie. It may have helped that the regiment itself was stationed upon the Kent coast to repel any possible invasion from France. Nevertheless, companies of the Black Watch were involved in the bloody security operations that followed Culloden and carried out their duties without wavering.

Despite their indisputable loyalty, from the regiment’s inception and beyond, men of the Black Watch saw themselves as something apart from the British Army. Writing in 1822, one of their commanders, Major-General Sir David Stewart of Garth, wrote of his men that they were:

[O]f a higher station in society than that from which soldiers in general were raised; cadets of gentlemen’s families, sons of gentlemen farmers…men who felt themselves responsible for their conduct to high-minded and honourable families, as well as to a country for which they cherished a devoted affection. [cited in Trevor Royle, The Black Watch: A Concise History (2006) p.20]

This devotion to the Highlands would help sustain the morale of the Black Watch throughout the following centuries; fighting far from home upon the battlefields of Fallujah, Waterloo, the Somme, Ypres and Alamein, to name but a few. Today the proud military traditions of the Highland soldier are upheld by the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, or the ‘Black Watch’ as they still prefer to be known.


Photos:
Header Image: Black Watch at Fontenoy, 1745 William Skeoch Cumming (1864-1929)
Soldier of the Black Watch. Engraving of Samuel MacPherson of the 43rd Regiment of Foot, National Army Museum, London
Black Watch recruits being reviewed on Glasgow Green, c.1758 Artist Unknown