Monday, June 6, 2016
The Royal American Regiment
The principle behind the Royal American Regiment was not a unique one. Having a force that could fight the French-backed Indians using Indian tactics was also the idea behind the famous Rogers’ Rangers from which the current special forces of the U.S. Army claims descent. However, the Rangers were irregular troops and the very nature of their job and how they carried it out ensured that they were a rough, rowdy and undisciplined bunch. With the Royal American Regiment it was hoped that the British army could have a unit that combined some of the backwoods fighting skills of the Rangers with the discipline and reliability of British regulars. Given its background and composition, some have referred to it as a mixture of a colonial regiment and a foreign legion. They were dressed, originally, like any other British regiment save for the fact that they had no lace on their coats, just plain blue turn backs (blue being the traditional color of “royal” regiments). However, they would ultimately look very different in the field than what their original appearance was.
One of the battalion commanders, Henri Bouquet, a Swiss, literally wrote the book on tactics that were later adopted by the whole British army and which remained standard for over a century to come. He and his fellow battalion commanders turned their diverse volunteers, many of whom had less than the best reputation, into true experts at wilderness warfare and the changes to their uniform and their habits reflected that. During the French and Indian War as it carried on, the Royal Americans at first had little opportunity to do what they were best suited for and fought in a number of battles in the traditional style. At that, however, they still did very well and they saw action at the siege of Louisbourg in 1758, the Cape Sable Campaign and the final victory at the battle of Quebec in 1759 as well as the subsequent advance of Montreal. It was at Quebec that their performance earned them the praise of the famous General James Wolfe, from whom they took their official regimental motto “Celer et Audax” (Swift and Bold). However, later, during Pontiac’s Rebellion, they were able to prove themselves as experts at frontier fighting particularly as Bouquet led them to victory at the battle of Bushy Run which culminated in a fearsome charge by the Royal Americans that is still remembered.
To the extent that the old 60th Royal Americans are remembered, I am glad that this is the case and one can see traces of their influence in units of the Canadian army still. However, the habit of merging numerous regiments never passed muster with me. One unit simply cannot truly embody and carry on the traditions of so many others and it seems to be a way for politicians to abolish old and glorious regiments without having to admit that they have, for all intents and purposes, been abolished. The Royal Americans, later the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, is certainly not the only British military unit to suffer this fate, nor was it the last. It seems a shame after so long and so valorous a record of service to Queen and Country but, alas, recent British governments have had other, higher, priorities than national defense. Britons once had to choose between a welfare state and an empire and they chose the welfare state. Since then, the choice seems to have been between maintaining that state and having a military and, unfortunately in my view, the welfare state has been chosen yet again.