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Thursday, 21 November 1912


Senator McCOLL (Victoria) .- I move -

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the National Regiments connected with the Defence Force should not be abolished, but arrangements should be made to continue them as part of the Defence system.

I do not think that when the idea of proposing a new Defence Force for Australia was first mooted it entered the mind of any person that it meant doing away with national regiments, which have been in existence for so many years, and of which the people are so proud. I may mention here that I have received from the Minister of Defence a courteous note, in which he states that he has to be away from the chamber for a* little time, in order to keep an engagement. While my main object is to try to retain, if we can, the Scottish Regiments, I do not wish to speak for only those regiments, but also for the other regiments of which. I shall give a list. The object in forming these regiments was a truly patriotic one. They were formed at considerable expense, and men have devoted a great deal of time and money towards keeping them up. I believe that the various States in which they exist are very justly proud of them. These men desire, while forming regiments which would be of value in protecting Australia, from invasion, to have associated with those regiments the traditions of the lands from which they themselves and their fathers have come. I shall now enumerate the national regiments which we have at present. In New South Wales the first battalion of the Irish Rifle Regiment had an establishment of 520 all ranks; the strength on the 30th June last was 358 all ranks; on the rst July last they were merged into the 33rd Infantry, with an establishment of 1,120 all ranks. In New South Wales the first battalion of St. George's English Rifle Regiment had an establishment of 250 all ranks ; the strength on the 30th June last was 453 all ranks; on. the 1st July three companies were merged into the 31st Infantry, with an establishment of 586 all ranks. The first battalion of Australian Rifle Regiment in New South Wales had an establishment of 520 all ranks; the strength on the 30th June last was 428 all ranks ; on the 1st July six companies were merged into the 29th Infantry, with an establishment of 710 all ranks. In NewSouth Wales the Scottish Regiment, with an establishment on the 30th June last of 29 officers and 419 others, is now merged into the 25th Infantry, with an establishment of 29 officers and 1,034 others. In Victoria, the Scottish Regiment, with aa establishment on 30th June of 21 officers and 369 others, is now merged into the 52nd Infantry, with an establishment of 25 officers and 519 others. In South Australia the Scottish Regiment, with an establishment, on the 30th June last, of 6 officers and 114 others, is now merged into the 76th Infantry, with an establishment of 15 officers and 476 others. These, it will be seen, are a very considerable number of men who have been in the Forces for a long time, and are thoroughly well-trained. In bringing forward this motion, I have no desire to weaken or disturb the existing system, but I claim that the abolition of these national regiments must tend to weaken that system. A great majority of the men, who have been keeping up the regiments largely at their own expense, will pass out of the ranks, at a time when well-trained men are really required to educate and train a number of younger men who are coming into the service. I hold that this is not a matter which any Minister, or even the Government, ought to decide off-hand without reference to Parliament. Now, Parliament represents the people, and as this is really a people's question it should be referred, I think, to Parliament to be settled one way or the other, and that is why I am submitting this motion to-night. It is not for any Government, or Minister, or Board of Officers to say whether we shall have these regiments or not. The feeling in their favour is so strong that I feel sure that if the Government should determine to abolish the regiments, the matter will be made somewhat of a test question at the coming elections. To deal more particularly with the Scottish Regiments, in Australia we have over 100,000 Scottish-born citizens, and I suppose that their families comprise from 200,000 to 300,000 persons of Scottish blood. Nothing that has ever happened in Australia before has disturbed Scottish feeling and blood so much as has the proposed abolition of these regiments. Scots have contributed very largely to keep up the regiments, and they look upon their abolition somewhat as a slight upon their race, and as an insult. These people have brought from their land a love of Scotland and its institutions, and that feeling is as strong in the native-born here as it is in their parents. There is no other nationality that has so many associations connected with it as have the Scottish people in Australia. There are some hundreds of Highland Societies, Thistle Clubs, Robert Burns' Clubs, and St. Andrew's Societies scattered throughout the length and breadth of Australia, showing how strong is the feeling of affection for the Old Land, its traditions, and its dress. It is hardly necessary to mention that all over the world the kilt and the soldiers who wear it are famous. Its wearers have done great deeds, and assisted to make the Empire both feared and respected wherever they have gone forward. I know that the English, the Welsh, and the Trish have done just the same as the Scottish have .done, but their deeds and their work have not been so closely associated with a characteristic dress as have those of the Scottish folk. The dress, which it is proposed to abolish from the ranks of our soldiers, has become an outward and visible sign of an inward love and reverence for their home, their country, their traditions, and their race. The Scottish people have carried that feeling to all the lands to which they have gone and settled, and where they have been a potent influence for good. In Canada, India, Africa, and the United States of America we find these regiments in large numbers ; most of the large cities have their Highland Regiment, with kilts and pipes, and there is no talk of abolishing them. They work in with the ordinary system; there is no clashing, and when the time comes to do their duty and fight for the land, they are found at the front, just as they have been found in other places. The idea of abolishing the kilt from the British Army has been once or twice mooted. On one occasion it was very seriously attempted, but the feeling of sentiment in the minds of not only the Scottish, but the British, people was too strong, and the attempt was given up, and so the wearing of the kilt has been allowed to continue. When we find that the kilt has taken root, and is firmly planted in all these other lands, and that an attempt to abolish it in the Old Land could not succeed, shall we, of all the English-speaking peoples, be the first to abolish it? I am sure that the Scottish men and women who have done so much for this land will feel it as a very grievous slight, and take it as a deep stain upon the national character, if they are subjected to that affront, because the kilt is not only attractive to Scottish people, but the rest of the community take a delight in seeing these regiments, and are just as proud of them, probably, as are their Scottish friends. There is no need to recount to-night the deeds which have been done by the wearers of the kilt in all lands. A literary gentleman connected with Parliament has kindly sent to me a number of copies of a small book by himself, which have been distributed round the chamber, and for which I tender my thanks to him. It contains many stirring accounts of brave deeds done, which honorable senators can read at their leisure if they desire. I need not further labour that side of the question. It may be said that this is a pure matter of sentiment, but we know very, well that the world is ruled in that way. Sentiment is the strongest feeling in the human race, which makes people dare to do brave deeds. This is a national sentiment, strong in character, that springs from the highest motive, and that is an intense patriotism. It may be said by some honorable senators, " We desire to encourage an Australian sentiment, and do not desire to encourage the sentiment of the Old Land." Now, the encouraging of the Australian sentiment is all very good. I quite hold with the idea of encouraging Australian sentiment, but why should we destroy one noble sentiment in order to build up another ? Why should we not allow the two to go hand in hand, each one a strength and a support to the other, making them strong in the time when strength is needed. The whole history of Scotland has been one of a struggle for liberty and independence. Every one who knows its history for hundreds of years knows that it 'has been one continuous struggle for liberty, independence, and freedom.. That struggle has always been associated with the wearing of the national dress, which our regiments are wearing here to-day. Some day we shall need to fight here; there is nothing surer than that. Will these men fight any the less worthily or bravely because they are associated with traditions of which they themselves and their fathers are so proud ? I believe they will be all the better for the association, and will do their duty more bravely and well in this country because of their regard for the traditions of the past. This is not merely a Victorian protest. While I am a Victorian, I am protesting, not only in the name of the Scottish folk of this State, but in the name of Scottish folk all over Australia. This is a protest which comes from all over this continent. I have here a letter which was addressed to the Minister of Defence in June last from the Highland Society of New South Wales, representing the feeling ofScottish people there. At a meeting held there there were two or three resolutions passed -

That this meeting of members of the Highland Society of New South Wales -

1.   Records an emphatic protest against the abolition of the kilt in the Scottish Regiments of the Commonwealth Defence Forces.

2.   Resolves that the Minister of Defence be approached with the earnest request that provisions be made which, while meeting all the necessities of modern warfare, will permit, as in the Forces of the United Kingdom, and in those of other British Dominions, of its retention.

3.   Considers that the desire to live up to the high traditions of those who have worn it on the battlefields of history is the strongest incentive to the production of the best and bravest soldierly qualities in the wearers of to-day.

The letter concludes with- this paragraph -

As the substance of all that could be expressed in favour of the retention of these regiments, under existing conditions, and, above all, of the retention of their historic uniform, the kilt, which, I take leave to claim, is symbolic of the loyalty and patriotism towards the Empire of Scotsmen and their descendents throughout the world, is so concisely embodied in the terms of the resolutions, it is unnecessary to pursue the subject further in this letter, beyond directing your attention to an article on page 253 of the June number of the Scottish Australasian, a copy of which is transmitted herewith.

That protest came from Sydney, but away, in the Coolamon district there was a meeting called specially to protest against this change -

To join in the protest being made by Scotsmen all over Australia against the proposals of the Commonwealth Government to suppress the identity of the Scottish Regiments in the Commonwealth Defence Forces, and abolish their distinctive and historic uniforms, a large and enthusiastic meeting of the members of the Coolamon and District Caledonian Society and sympathisers was held in the School of Arts on Wednesday, 20th June. The president, Mr. Neil MacCallum, in briefly referring to the object of the meeting, said he was sure the suggestion to abolish the kilt, surrounded as it was by sentiments dear to their heart, and traditions of which every Scotsman was justly proud, had only to be mentioned to bring forth a vigorous protest. He also stated that the proposal to wipe out the identity of the Scottish Regiments must also apply to the Irish Regiments.

The following resolution was put before the meeting and unanimously carried : - " We, the members of the Coolamon and District Caledonian Society, join most strongly in the protest of our fellow-countrymen and sympathisers against the proposed abolition of the kilt in the Scottish Regiments of the Commonwealth Defence Forces. We submit that, though the wearing of the kilt may be considered merely a matter of sentiment, it is a national sentiment, and one that has led the wearers to victory against overwhelming odds in many battlefields for centuries past. And we consider that provision can be made, as in the forces of the United Kingdom, and those of the other Dominions, for the retention of the kilt, and suiting it to the requirements of modern warfare. We therefore add our most earnest support to the appeal to the Minister for Defence, the Federal member for the district, and to the Highland Society of N.S.W."

On the 15th August we had a deputation to the Minister of Defence, who, I am sure, will remember the earnestness of the appeal which was then made to him. It was a large deputation, representing not only

Victoria, but the other States as well. I Iknow that he was visibly touched by the strength of the appeal ; he was deeply impressed. In reply to the deputation he said that he took upon himself the whole responsibility for the change. It was good of him to do that, but I will repeat here what I said in his absence this evening. I do not think that a grave change, which touches hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens, ought to be made by any Minister, or Board, or even by the Government; it ought to be made only by the Parliament, which represents the people. The Minister stated that he had taken Lord Kitchener's report as his chart and compass. He stated that he was basing the administration of the Department on the report, and claimed that it said nothing about national regiments, and, therefore, as Lord Kitchener had not made any reference to them, it was evident that he desired that they should be abolished. I do not hold with that view at all. I think that Lord Kitchener left it to the local people to find out a way by which they could be incorporated in the new system without being abolished. The Minister wound up his speech that day with the statement that there wastime for further consideration, and that it was to be discussed in Parliament. I am very glad to have this opportunity of initiating a discussion. It is somewhat difficult to find out the real reason for abolishing these regiments. It does not seem to me a necessary thing. We can carry on our Defence Force without altogether abolishing the regiments. Some persons say, " Well, we must have all Australians." I do not think that we shall lose anything by associating Australians with these Imperial regiments. He who is an Imperialist Australian is the best Australian of all. There may be some degenerate Imperialists, who would favour the abolition of these regiments, and who would affect a fervid Australian sentiment, not so much because they believe in it as because they would endeavour to use it as a cloak to wipe out reference to the Old Land, its customs, and its military regiments. It may be objected that it would interfere with the system as laid down by Lord Kitchener, in the matter of the uniformity of Australian dress. Why should we have one dull colour and pattern in our uniforms? Why should we not brighten the appearance of our military parades by hav ing other uniforms? If it be urged that it is not possible to engraft the Scottish regiments on to our new military system, how is it that the matter came "to be discussed at the Military Conference which met a few days ago in Melbourne?


Senator Pearce - It was discussed at each conference that has been held, and also at the central conference in Melbourne.


Senator McCOLL - There was, I think, a conference in October.


Senator Pearce - There was a conference in each State, and a separate conference in Melbourne. In fact, there were two conferences in Melbourne. One was a State conference, and the other was a Commonwealth conference.


Senator McCOLL - Earlier in the year I addressed some questions on this subject to the Minister of Defence, and, from the replies which I received, I had hopes that the Highland regiments would be allowed to continue in existence. My first questions were -

1.   What position does the Highland Regiment hold at present in the Defence Force of the country ?

2.   Has its status been altered from that which it previously occupied? If so, in what manner?

3.   Is it still permitted to wear the uniform it has previously worn, that of a Highland Regiment ?

4.   If so, on what conditions does it continue to wear it?

The Minister's answer to those questions was -

No alteration has yet been made in the conditions of service or uniform.

My fifth question was -

Is it to be permitted to wear the uniform of a 'Highland Regiment?

The Minister's answer was -

Members of existing Scottish units will be permitted, on certain occasions, to wear their present uniforms.

The other questions were -

Have any orders been given to have the uniform changed ?

If so, what was their purport, and what has been the result of such orders, if any?

The Minister's answer was -

The uniform to be issued in future to all members of the Australian Defence Force will be of a uniform type, known as. the Commonwealth pattern. All ordinary training will be performed in this uniform.

I understood from those replies, and from other information, that the Highland Regiment would be allowed to continue to wear the kilt. I see, from the report published in the Argus of 20th November, that the

Military Conference in Melbourne discussed this subject. The officers present were Lieutenant-Colonel Chauvel, AdjutantGeneral ; Lieutenant-Colonel Grant ; Lieutenant-Colonel Paton ; LieutenantColonel Monash; Major W. L. Raws; Lieutenant-Colonel Collett; Major R. P. Smith ; and Captain T. H. Dodds. Certain other officers were present for consultation purposes. No less than twenty-two matters were discussed. The fact that all these subjects were brought forward shows that our military system is not yet perfect, and that changes are to be introduced. Amongst the matters discussed was that of the retention of national regiments. The information published in the Argus on that point is as follows -

Four members of the Conference are against the principle of establishing national regiments. Two members (representatives of Second and Sixth Military Districts) are in favour of retention of those that existed on June 20 last, as efficient battalions of not less than six companies, provided that they can be maintained without extra cost to the Government, and by annual allotment of those liable for service under the Act.

The mere fact that that matter was discussed, and that two of the important representatives of the Military Forces at the Conference were in favour of retaining the kilt, shows that there is a way out if the Government choose to take advantage of it. It has been said that the cost of the Highland uniform is greater than that of the ordinary uniform. That statement is disputed. It is held that, on the whole, the Highland dress will last much longer and not be dearer than the ordinary service uniform. It is not disputed by any one that, for marching and parade purposes, it is the more suitable dress. I do not see any reason why an Australian tartan should not be adopted if the Government choose, and all unnecessary trimmings could be removed.


Senator de Largie - An Australian tartan ? What nonsense 1


Senator McCOLL - The honorable senator is a Scotsman himself, and I do not think this is a matter to scoff at. There are certain other arguments., which are worthy the consideration of the Government. Lord Kitchener's scheme was a broad one. It allowed, for variations, and was necessarily subject to modification and amendment. Many alterations have already been made. As to recruiting for national regiments, I may say that, in Victoria, there are twenty battalion areas which come within the metropolitan dis trict, and, of these, seventeen are sufficiently central to allow of those being: trained for military service in them to hedrawn as recruits for the Scottish Regi-ment. The full strength of a battalion- - that is, its war strength - is, roughly,. 1,020 of all ranks. Allowing for wastage,, this would mean an annual quota for the regiment of 150, or an average of nine recruits only from each of the seventeen areas. In order to avoid any possibility of the retention of these regiments upsetting or interfering with the working of the Kitchener scheme, it could be made a condition that only those regiments should be retained that the Military Board recommends. If it is thought that there isdanger of pressure being brought to bear to form new national regiments, the same condition could be made, namely, that nosuch new unit should be formed except or* the recommendation of the Military Board,, which is responsible for the efficiency of the working of the Defence Act and of the Defence Forces. It is not suggested* that such regiments should be formed all' over the Commonwealth, but only in the larger capital cities, where they can bemaintained without interfering with theworking of the Kitchener scheme. It i* suggested that the abolition of these regiments means the destruction of some of the most efficient regiments at a most critical period, and at a time when there is not, and, for a considerable period, cannot be,, anything to replace them ; at a time, moreover, when their existence acts as an example and a stimulus to the rest of the Forces. It is also held that the Scottish uniform is not only not more expensivethan the ordinary uniform, but that it isless expensive. It is certainly quite asserviceable, and it is more healthy, 1 trust that the Government will take thismatter into their careful consideration. 1 hope that the Senate will carry the motion* unanimously. There is undoubtedly gravedissatisfaction all over the Commonwealth! on account of the suggested abolition of the Scottish Regiments. Our defence system is not as popular as it might be, and' we should do nothing that would tend tomake it more unpopular. I am certain that if it ' could be left to the peopleto decide whether these regiments should be allowed to continue or not, they.would be almost unanimously in favour.of their retention. I trust that, if the motion is carried, it will be taken by the? Government as an intimation that they should give effect to the wishes of a very large number of people in Australia, and ;save these national regiments from abolition.

Motion (by Senator Pearce) proposed -

That the debate be adjourned.


Senator Walker - May I ask the Minister to withdraw his motion for the adjournment of the debate. I should be sorry to lose the opportunity of supporting Senator McColl's motion, and I am afraid that, under medical advice, I shall not be -able to be present next week.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Senator WALKER(New South Wales) 58.30]. - In the first place, I must express ,my appreciation of Senator McColl's action :.in this matter. Personally, I have every reason to speak well of the advantage of having a Scottish Regiment. In i860, I had the honour of joining the London Scottish in England. We found that one of the great advantages of having the Scotirish Regiment was that it formed a bond for young Scotsmen who had no relatives in London. It brought them together, and induced a patriotic spirit to spring up amongst them. I believe that the fact of (having national regiments in Australia will have .a good effect in attracting immigrants, because when persons at Home know that young men can be taken in hand by those of their own nationality it will he an additional inducement for them to come to Australia. In Queensland, in days ;gone by, one of the very best elements amongst immigrants was brought to the country by the system of nominating friends or relations at Home. It is largely due to that cause alone that we have a very large proportion of Scottish people in Queensland. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the sight of the kilt has a great influence upon the feelings of very many people. We do not object to people from England, Ireland, and Wales forming their own national regiments. There is, for instance, a regiment an Sydney known as the St. George's Rifles. The late Senator Neild instituted that regiment, and he was its first colonel. No one who reads the military history of Great Britain can fail to be aware that -no regiments have done better work than those raised in Scotland and Ireland. The Scottish regiments have made a name for themselves wherever there has been fighting to be done. It is considered to be an honour to belong to one of them. I knew -a young man who was a Volunteer officer in .Queensland, and who went to India on purpose to join the Gordon Highlanders. He fought with them on the heights of Dargai, and distinguished himself there. There is a large Scottish element in Australia who like to keep in touch with the traditions of their country. I remember that in December, 1861, I travelled from Dunkeld to Inverness, on a four-horse coach, along the old .Highland-road. We covered 100 miles in eight hours, and changed horses every twelve miles. When we came to the Pass of Killiecrankie, the school was coming out, and, to my great surprise and pleasure, every mother's son wore a kilt. There were about forty boys coming out of school. I never before, or since, saw a school where every boy wore a kilt.


Senator Stewart - The honorable senator never will again.







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