GENERAL REID AND "THE GARB OF OLD GAUL" - 1762
by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot
The tune is a patriotic march and song about Highland soldiers during the Seven Years War. The words have traditionally been attributed to Sir Harry Erskine and first appeared in print in Herd's Collection of 1769. The music was written by General John Reid (1721-1807) while he was serving as a Major in the 42nd Regiment of Foot, more commonly known as the ‘Black Watch'. The music is also known as the 42nd's Regimental Slow March.
John Robertson (Reid) was born in 1721 to Alexander Robertson of Straloch and educated at Edinburgh University. His father took an active part in resisting the Jacobite rising of 1745 due to his protestant faith, despite his chief's adherence to the Jacobite cause. Reid began his military career on June 8, 1745 with a lieutenant's commission in Lord Loudon's 64th Regiment of Foot. James Campbell, Earl of Loudon was the colonel of the regiment. After his father's death, he changed his name to Reid on inheriting the Straloch estate.
One month earlier (May 1745) the British/Hanoverian army, led by Prince William Duke of Cumberland, had been defeated by the French at the battle of Fontenoy. The British army's subsequent withdrawal of troops to deal with the Jacobite rising in Scotland allowed the French to capture several key ports along the French coast and put in danger the English supply lines to its remaining troops in France.
Lieutenant Reid served in Loudon's regiment at the battle of Prestonpans in September 1745 where they were defeated by the Jacobites. Reid and part of the regiment were involved in the capture of the French ship ‘Le Prince Charles' on March 25, 1746 near Inverness along with 160 French and Spanish troops, arms and 12,000 pounds in gold for the Jacobite army. Thus neither Reid nor Ensign Alexander Maclagan were at the battle of Culloden in April 1746. Both officers received 700 pounds as their share of the captured money. Interestingly, Duncan Robertson of Drumachuine, later our 14th chief, also served as a lieutenant in Loudon's regiment, but was "out" with the Jacobites during the Rising. Loudon's regiment was disbanded in 1748.
Reid served in Flanders in 1747-1748 and after peace was declared with France his regiment was reduced in strength and he purchased a commission as captain-lieutenant in the 42nd regiment in June 1751 and was promoted to Major in August 1759. In January 1762 Reid was in command of the first battalion of the 42nd regiment against French Martinique and then at the siege of Havana. In October 1762 the regiment was transferred to British North America during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). In 1777 Reid was promoted to Colonel and in 1781 to Major-General. In November 1794 he was made colonel of the 88th Foot known as the Connaught Rangers. In 1798 he became a full general.
Prior to General Reid's death, he wanted a professorship of music to be established at the University of Edinburgh and funded from his estate. His will directed that on the anniversary of his birthday on February 13th, a concert be held annually with a full military band to show the style of music that prevailed during the middle of the 18th century. On his daughter's death, the proceeds of his estate (nearly 80,000 pounds) became available to endow the Chair of Music.
The lyrics of the first stanza:
"In the garb of old Gaul with the fire of old Rome,
From the heath-covered mountains of Scotia we come;
When the Romans endeavored our country to gain,
Our ancestors fought, and they fought not in vain."
Mackay, Angus, "The Book of Mackay", 1906, pp. 190-191.
Paterson's Publications Ltd., "Scots Guards Standard Setting of Pipe Music", Vol. 1, 1965, pp. 1
Reid, J. Robertson, "A Short History of Clan Robertson", Stirling, 1933, pp. 74-81.
Robertson, James, "Chiefs of Clan Donnachaidh 1275-1749", Perth, 1929, pp. 61-62.
Simpson, Peter, "The Independent Highland Companies, 1603-1760", 1996, p. 135.