“Wha Saw the Forty-Second”


"(Wha saw/Saw ye) the forty-second? Wha saw then gaun away? Wha saw the forty-second Marching to the (Broomielaw)?" The singer describes the equipment (often poor) and the rations assigned to the soldiers of the regiment


The Forty-Second is the famous Black Watch, which fought in the '45 Jacobite Rebellion and the Crimea and beyond.

According to Michael Brander, _The Scottish Highlanders and their Regiments_, and Ian S. Hallows, _Regiments and Corps of the British Army_, six companies were raised in the Highlands in 1729 and designated the Black Watch (Brander, p. 203). In 1739 (Hallows, p. 202) or 1740 (Brander, p. 203), it was raised to regimental strength and numbered the 43rd Infantry. In 1751, this number was changed to the 42nd (Hallows). In 1758 it was designated the Royal Highlanders (Brander).

A second battalion was added in 1780 (Brander, p. 205). This was split off in 1784 and became the 73rd Regiment, though it later rejoined the Black Watch; since 1881, they have been the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) (Hallows).

This recombination and reorganization, part of the Cardwell Reforms of 1881, changed the character of the regiment, which until then had been a Highland force. The Black Watch's recruiting area was now designated as Fife, Forfar, and Perth, with Perth as the headquarters. These shires are almost entirely Lowland. So, while the regiment is still designated a Highland regiment, it isn't really (Brander, p. 199).

The companies which comprised the Black Watch had been raised starting around 1725 (Brander, p. 19); the name itself apparently came from the dark tartan they wore when they were amalgamated and given a common uniform.

Their record was quite impressive. Hallows lists their battle honors, which include (but are not limited to) fighting in the Carribean in the Seven Years War; much service in India; ten battles in the Peninsular Wars against Napoleon; Waterloo; battles in South Africa; awards for Alma and Sebastopol in the Crimean War; Egypt; the Sudan; in the First World War, the Marne, all three battles at Ypres, the Somme, and some troops were in Palestine; there are honors for Tobruk, El Alamein, Sicily, and Burma in the second World War, and beyond.

This may explain why the regiment is listed in the song as marching to various places. It certainly got around a lot! And few regiments were more famous.

I can't help but add that this greatest of British regiments, which held together despite service in the Crimea and the Sudan and so many other failures, has in the early twenty-first century been amalgamated into a "Super Scottish Regiment." The reason? People won't join because they refuse to go to Iraq. - RBW

Cross references


  1. Montgomerie-ScottishNR 98, "(Who saw the Forty-Second)" (1 text)
  2. DT, MARCH42*
  3. Roud #13073
  4. BI, MSNR098


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1964 (Montgomerie)
Found in: Britain(Scotland)