The Royal Review

August 25, 1881

ALL hail to the Empress of India, Great Britain’s Queen–
Long may she live in health, happy and serene–
That came from London, far away,
To review the Scottish Volunteers in grand array:
Most magnificent to be seen,
Near by Salisbury Crags and its pastures green,
Which will long be remembered by our gracious Queen–

And by the Volunteers, that came from far away,
Because it rain’d most of the day.
And with the rain their clothes were wet all through,
On the 25th day of August, at the Royal Review.
And to the Volunteers it was no lark,
Because they were ankle deep in mud in the Queen’s Park,
Which proved to the Queen they were loyal and true,
To ensure such hardships at the Royal Review.

Oh! it was a most beautiful scene
To see the Forfarshire Artillery matching past the Queen:
Her Majesty with their steady marching felt content,
Especially when their arms to her they did present.

And the Inverness Highland Volunteers seemed very gran’,
And marched by steady to a man
Amongst the mud without dismay,
And the rain pouring down on them all the way.
And the bands they did play, God Save the Queen,
Near by Holyrood Palace and the Queen’s Park so green.

Success to our noble Scottish Volunteers!
I hope they will be spared for many long years,
And to Her Majesty always prove loyal and true,
As they have done for the second time at the Royal Review.

To take them in general, they behaved very well,
The more that the rain fell on them pell-mell.
They marched by Her Majesty in very grand array,
Which will be remembered for many a long day,
Bidding defiance to wind and rain,
Which adds the more fame to their name.

And I hope none of them will have cause to rue
The day that they went to the Royal Review.
And I’m sure Her Majesty ought to feel proud,
And in her praise she cannot speak too loud,
Because the more that it did rain they did not mourn,
Which caused Her Majesty’s heart with joy to burn,
Because she knew they were loyal and true
For enduring such hardships at the Royal Review.

The march past, which lasted exactly one hour and a quarter; was performed in a heavy downfall of rain, and within ten minutes the space before the saluting point was literally a slough of mud. Nothing daunted, however, the Volunteers stuck pluckily to their work, and went by, if not with quite the same precision and nicety of step and time as did their English brethren at the recent Windsor Review, yet with a commendable steadiness, determination, and cheerfulness which spoke eloquently for their training as well as for their loyalty, and left little to be desired from a military point of view. One thing, however, seems to have been the subject of general comment, viz., the almost complete absence of great coats, and the great lack of uniformity in the matter of water-bottles and haversacks, all of which are absolutely necessary for even a short campaign in the field. The relentless storm of rain had the effect of driving away the greater number of spectators long before the march past was completed, and as soon as it was over the Royal party drove away towards Holyrood, amid the cheers of the comparatively few spectators.

The hardships endured by the Volunteers did not end with the march past. There was the journey back from the field; and even the few lucky regiments which were provided with shelter in Edinburgh had nothing dry to put on at their rough and ready lodgings. Most of them, however, left Edinburgh at once, and the work of getting them into the trains was for the most part carried through with the same expedition and orderliness which had marked the detraining twelve hours before, and it is gratifying to road of the uniform discipline and good temper exhibited by the men under circumstances of a severely trying character.

The Graphic, 3rd September 1881


Nearly 40,000 men gathered in Edinburgh to mark the twentieth anniversary of the British volunteer forces. First formed in response to a perceived invasion threat from France, the volunteers were responsible for guarding the homeland whilst the regular army was engaged in defending the Empire. The gathering in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Park was reputed to be the largest military assembly in Scotland since the battle of Bannockburn five hundred years earlier.

But Scottish weather can be cruel, even in late August. No sooner had the men assembled in the park than the heavens opened, in a downpour that lasted for the whole day. Pipeclay from the men’s belts mingled with red dye running from their tunics as they stood waiting for their turn to parade in front of the Queen Empress. One of these soldiers was John MacCallum, serving with the 5th Argyle Volunteers. He later wrote an account of the day:

The day before the review, on a lovely morning with the mist lying low on the hills we started off on the first stage, a ten mile drive to Campbeltown. Along with the Campbeltown companies we joined the steamer for Greenock, then the train to Edinburgh. This took us a whole day. We were housed in the bare flat of a large brewery in Edinburgh and next morning we marched to the Queen’s Park where the review was to be held. We were there two hours before the time set for the march past and after a lot of marching and counter marching took up our allotted space on the parade ground. Then the rain started and from forenoon till night fell steadily in a drenching downpour and what otherwise could have been a brilliant spectacle was shorn of most of the glory by the ravages of the weather.

The rain kept steadily and constant so that in a short time we were wet to the skin. Clad only in red tunic, tartan kilt and glengarry headpieces we had but little to protect us, and there we stood for hours in the pelting rain. Had we been on the move, it would not have been so bad, but standing still and letting the rain soak through was torture.

At last the order came to march off and led by the pipers playing “The Campbells are Coming” we went by the saluting point in good order. So many horse, artillery and infantry taking the same road soon made it into a soft bog. The march past lasted two hours and the last regiments had the worst of it – over the boots in mud, water oozing from every stitch of their clothing. They looked a bit bedraggled but their discipline and carriage were excellent. The military authorities said they were agreeably surprised at the discipline and bearing of the troops under such conditions.

Nor was the men’s ordeal over once they had left the sodden field. Away from home, and with no dry clothes to put on, they could do no more than wring out most of the water before re-donning them for the journey home. One particularly unlucky contingent were returning to Fife aboard the Leviathan when she struck a pier and sank! Fortunately all 300 were saved.

Nonetheless the “Wet Review”, as it came to be known, was responsible for a considerable death toll – the result of pneumonia and similar afflictions contracted in the damp conditions. Wags suggested that medals should be awarded to the attendees, and a “Wet Review Veteran’s Association” was still meeting 50 years later. One good result of the fiasco is that the equipment of volunteer regiments was improved, in case the French should invade in less than perfect weather.

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Comments (1) »

  1. Ronnie Orange
    In the year 2013, on the 15th day of June at 5:23 pm

    I have for many years had a large coloured print of a drawing of the “Wet Review” hanging on the wall in our house in Wooler. This was passed down on my wife’s side, since her grandfather took part. Her father, James McLagan became a regular soldier, but her grandfather became a ship’s carpenter.

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