Scottish WW2 Royal Scots Field Officer's Broadsword of Lt Col. Hamish Forsyth MID, CBE, West African Frontier Force, with Regimental Hilt
Straight spear-pointed blade with double fullers 32¾ inches in length, 1.1 inches wide at the forte, the sword 39 inches overall. Pierced steel guard with foliate ‘honeysuckle’ decoration also incorporating thistles, and the emblem of the Royal Scots: a figure of St Andrew, holding a crux decussata (a.k.a. the saltire, or St Andrew’s cross, also seen on the Scottish flag). Patron saint of Scotland, St. Andrew was said in medieval tradition to have requested to be crucified on such a cross, as he felt unworthy to be executed in the same manner as Jesus. White blancoed leather washer. Fabric hilt liner with red exterior, white interior, blue edging and blue ribbon ties. Brown leather field scabbard with non-ferrous throat piece and steel chape piece with ball finial, brown leather belt frog. Hilt and scabbard parts have been nickel-plated.
Separate and included are the sword’s red fringe (which would be used with the basket hilt, not included) the original Mention In Dispatches certificate for Major Forsyth, still in its opened envelope as it arrived from the War Office, delivered to his family’s home in Bournemouth, and his leather travelling vanity case including brushes etc, made by Mappin & Webb of London and marked ‘H.W.F.’ to its front panel.
The blade is etched at the ricasso on one side with the royal coat of arms above the maker’s mark ‘Wilkinson Sword Co Ltd London’ with crossed swords emblem. At the ricasso on the other side is a hexagonal brass proof slug set within an etched six-pointed star - the hexagonal proof slug was used from 1905 onwards to denote Wilkinson’s best quality blades. The spine of the blade at the ricasso is stamped with the serial number ‘61449’, indicating production in 1928.
The blade is further etched with thistle motifs, the crown and cypher of King George V, and ‘The Royal Scots’ enclosing two badges connected to the regiment: first, the star emblem of the Order of the Thistle, also used by the Scots Guards, and second, a sphinx sitting atop a cartouche with ‘Egypt’ – this badge was conferred along with the battle honour ‘Egypt’ for service with the expeditionary force which defeated the French occupation force there in 1801.
Hamish William Forsyth was born in 1910. He joined the Royal Scots as a 2nd Lieutenant in August 1930, his service number being 47567. He was promoted to Lieutenant in August 1933. In September 1936 he was attached to the Gold Coast Regiment.
The Gold Coast Regiment was formed in 1879 in what is now Ghana as the Gold Coast Constabulary, becoming a military regiment in 1901 at the foundation of the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF). The RWAFF was an umbrella for all British forces in West Africa, co-ordinating the four garrison regiments of the British colonies Nigeria, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and the Gambia.
Like other such colonial units the Gold Coast Regiment’s regular soldiers were local recruits, while its officers were British, all drawn from other units. Formally, therefore, Hamish remained an officer in the Royal Scots throughout his attachment to the GCR. In June 1938 he married Joan Kingdon, daughter of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, and he was promoted to Captain in August.
Hamish would have been one of the few British officers already stationed in Africa at the outbreak of the Second World War. The RWAFF expanded dramatically during the conflict from 5 battalions to 28, the GCR specifically growing from 2 battalions to 9. Fresh officers were hard to find, and more had to be drafted in from Britain, including a contingent of evacuee Polish officers. Hamish was promoted to temporary Major in December 1939. The Gold Coast Regiment fought at the northern border of Kenya in 1940, then in the East African campaign of 1940-1 against Italian troops in Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland, and finally in Burma from 1943-5.
His wife Joan appears to have gone to the UK during the war, where she served as an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) volunteer ambulance driver in London. She was killed on duty in an air raid on Westminster Bridge Road in April 1941, aged 25. In 1942 Hamish was Mentioned in Dispatches.
Hamish remarried in 1943 – his new wife Priscilla was also recently bereaved, the widow of RAF Squadron Leader G J Bush. Their son was born in August 1944 in Bangalore, India, suggesting Hamish was indeed deployed to Burma in the later stages of the war. He was made a substantive Major while retaining the rank of Captain. He remained with the Army after the war, and was promoted to full Major in 1946.
From 1951 he served as the Colonel A/Q of Aldershot District (holding the rank of temporary Colonel to do so). For his administrative work in this position he was recommended for the award of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), which was announced in the 1953 New Year’s Honours List. He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in March 1953. Hamish retired in 1955 and was given the rank of honorary Brigadier in retirement. The Gold Coast became independent in 1957, its Regiment becoming the modern Ghana Regiment. Hamish died in 1969.
The traditionally-styled Scottish broadsword was carried only by Highland infantry regiments until 1881, when the Lowland regiments also adopted Scottish dress and the broadsword along with it (with the exception of the Cameronians). The use of an interchangeable hilt may date back to the 1860s, but is first officially mentioned in the Dress Regulations of 1883, which authorized the Highland Light Infantry to use the basket hilt for full-dress occasions and the cross-bar hilt for all other occasions. Field Officers and other mounted officers were entitled to use a third hilt, the form of which varied by regiment: this design, a symmetrical basket hilt with thistle designs and the regimental badge, was used by the Royal Scots, Royal Scots Fusiliers, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, Gordon Highlanders and Highland Light infantry. See plate 178 on page 186 of Swords of the British Army by Robson for another example of the Royal Scots model. The hilt could be changed by unscrewing the pommel nut, removing the pommel, grip and guard, then replacing each with the other version.
Some light patination to the blade, with only a few tiny spots affecting the crisp custom etching. No edge damage. The beautiful regimental hilt is undamaged and retains almost all of its bright nickel plating, with wear only at the edges exposing steel. The shagreen of the grip is all present with light handling wear and no scale losses, the grip wires are all present with only fractional movement. The backstrap can shift slightly side to side, but the interchangeable hilt is otherwise tight. One patch of flaking wear to the nickel plating of the chape, revealing patinated steel. The leather pieces are in very good condition with no particular scuffing or denting. The fabric of the hilt liner retains bright colours, particularly the red showing through the pierced guard, with some flaking to the blue silk edging. The fringe is good with no fraying of its cords.
Light foxing to the MID certificate. The leather vanity case has some edge bumps and scuffing, its dual catches are fully functional. I cannot comment on the completeness, originality or condition of its contents, which include a brush, comb metal cases and a rectangular glass bottle.