The Ladies From Hell

There’s an important difference between history and tradition. Both are ways of seeing and presenting our collective past, but tradition is not bound to comply with either objectivity or historical accuracy. Nowhere is this creative and imagination spin on the past more prevalent and important than in the annals of the world’s military forces. Tradition and history are both key binding elements that keep groups of otherwise diverse individuals together with a common purpose and sense of continuity. It can be very difficult to separate fact from fiction, especially once a particular meme has been written as regimental history. Tradition also helps soldiers deal with the difficult jobs they have to do; not least, killing other people and not being killed themselves. Fighting men like to be assured that they are both on the side of good, and more than capable of facing whatever hardships lie ahead. Because soldiers very often have more in common with their enemies individually and culturally than it might be healthy for them to admit, the bare bones of objective history won’t always do in the context of regimental and unit history. Which brings me to the subject at hand – nicknames. Specifically, the name “The Ladies From Hell” as applied to the kilted units of the British and Canadian armies in the First World War (another claim for the Canadians can be found here). Clearly this is meant to paint the men in question as something out of the ordinary; soldiers so tough that they can cross-dress and still be shining examples of fighting manhood.


This traditional image, as a feature of the propaganda of Empire, was parodied in the irreverent film Carry On Up The Khyber, released just four years after the rather more “on message” Zulu. Given how rare the variant nickname “Devils in Skirts” is in the literature, I have a feeling (unconfirmed!) that it was the Carry On team who coined that version as a deliberate subversion of “Ladies from Hell”. In any case, today you will find both names in use to describe the Highland soldiers of the past. I say “the past” because the kilt made its last operational appearance at Dunkirk in 1940, though it continues to be worn with more formal uniform and in pipe bands as a symbol of identity, with all the connotations and gallant actions that this recalls. The Highland warrior, as reinvented in the early 18th Century by the British Army, is a truly iconic figure.

So where does this colourful nickname come from? The traditional story, which you can find all over the web, including the official British Army website, goes like this. German troops, respectful and even outright fearful of these strange and fearsome warriors, who paradoxically, by their cultural standard were also transvestites, coined the name as an expression of these feelings. The problem is that, as with other such names that are attributed to an awestruck enemy in or immediately after time of war, is that the historical sources are very one-sided. A German historian, Benjamin Ziemann, asserts that the Germans were no more or less afraid of kilted troops as any other Allied unit, and claims of some official list of “most capable” enemy forces are unfounded. This caused a bit of an indignant reaction from Scots, and they have a point in that Ziemann’s refutation does nothing to address the perceptions of individual German soldiers. So this leaves quite a gap for the “Ladies from Hell” to hide in. Ziemann himself admits that there was commentary upon kilted soldiers that expressed at least curiosity, if not any special measure of respect.

The biggest problem with the whole story is not the outright lack of evidence. There are many sources, and many of these are contemporary, right back to 1917, so this is no latter-day rewriting of history that we’re dealing with. Poems of the day use it, and an entire book (1918) uses the name for a title. Rather, it’s that all of the sources are what students of the urban myth would call “FOAF” or Friend of a Friend. They mostly refer to other Allied soldiers using the term, whereas what we would wish to see as quality (though still anecdotal) evidence, is a claim to have heard this from a captured enemy. Likewise I can find little reference from German sources of this term. There are brief mentions here and here, the latter actually a mocking reference to the skirt-like kilt. Perhaps after the fact, the Germans were understandably reluctant to admit to their respect for the “kilties”? This would be unusual though, because German memoir writers that have been translated into English are not backward about coming forward with such sentiments though. Especially a phrase as ambiguous and potentially ironic as “Ladies from Hell”. It needn’t be read as a compliment. In fact one theory says that it was originally a good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon piss-take, “reclaimed” by the Jocks when they heard about it. So why would German writers hide it? I should point out that John Gibbons’ “Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases 1914-18” gives this explanation;

“..: Highland Regiments. Kilted troops. A name coined in the War by the German newspapers and adopted among the German troops on the Western Front.”

Some sources even claim that the nickname was official, something for which there is no corroborating evidence. “Private 12788” by John Jackson (a soldier’s memoirs of the Great War) that mentions the….

“…devil’s ladies, as the Kaiser himself had named us”.

However, I can find no further leads on either of these suggested German origins. If any German readers can point me to these sources, if indeed they exist, I would be very grateful. Meanwhile, and in the absence of testimony from PoWs, we have to ask how a private soldier would have known that this nickname had been bestowed. Something from the Allied press of the day perhaps? The alternative is that the name was an organic military myth, originating within the ranks. Whatever the case, the idea was propagated by these men during and after the war, but attributed to their enemy.

So is this just a piece of Allied propaganda? History being written by the victors? There is evidence that, like other unit nicknames, it may well have begun as such. But the culprits are not the armed forces. Then, even more so than today, civilian and soldier alike had limited access to news from the front. For all but the most senior officer and politician, it came from the media; the newspapers. A lack of concrete information, due to censorship and lack of sensational stories, led to some creative licence increasingly being taken, especially where it gave readers what they wanted – made them feel that the war was being won. Military commanders were of course quite happy for this mild form of propaganda to be put out. This was especially true of the American media, whose civilian audience were even more removed from the reality of war than Britons.

And so, two of the earliest references to the “Ladies From Hell” actually comes from an American newspaper – the New York Times, which refers to a visit by the pipe bands of Canadian contingents of the Gordon Highlanders:

“ will be New York’s first glimpse of a really numerous body of Highlanders in uniform, who have earned from the Germans the nickname of “the ladies of hell”.

And from the edition of the following day..

“The Germans already know what they look like, and they call them ‘the ladies of hell'”.

This is significant because the first (or at least, most definitive) appearance of another contemporary military nickname, that of “Devil Dogs” to describe the US Marines, was also in the New York Times (see here). Direct reference is made to the Highlanders;

“Gee, those guys rank us with the ‘ Ladies from Hell,'” declared a grizzled old marine sergeant, swelling with pride when he heard the new title.”

The German origin story for “Devil Dogs”, or “Teufelhunde”, has been debunked, not least by H. L. Mencken as this site relates;

In The American Language (1921) Mencken comments on the Teufelshunde term in a footnote: “This is army slang, but promises to survive. The Germans, during the war, had no opprobrious nicknames for their foes. The French were usually simply die Franzosen, the English were die Engländer, and so on, even when most violently abused. Even der Yankee was rare. Teufelhunde (devil-dogs), for the American marines, was invented by an American correspondent; the Germans never used it.

I think he’s right. Despite a shared cultural history, snappy epithets were not in the German lexicon. They did not even typically differentiate between soldiers of the British nations, using “Englander” as a catch-all. Now, note in the header of original article the anonymous attribution to a “German writer”, and the generally vague nature of the full story. Similar media (in fact, New York Times!) origins can be argued for the other main nickname of this type in the Great War; the French “Blue Devils“. The same anecdotal quality is reflected not just in the paper, but in all mentions of the “Ladies” idea, right down to this recent US attribution that claims it’s a translation from the German. It’s always “as the Germans/Boche/Hun call them”, and never with reference to a German source or anecdote featuring one. To me, this suggests that the press were happy to plant the seeds of catchy new PR-friendly anti-German ideas in the minds of servicemen and those at home. Word of mouth as well as newsprint, would assure the meme a place in history, and victory over the Germans would make its origin unquestionable. The “noble savage” view of the Scottish Highland soldier in other media of the day was certainly bolstered by this idea.

I’d just like to touch again on the possibility of an organic military origin. It’s possible that other units, eyeing the “kilties” with a mixture of awe and amusement, might have conferred the nickname first, with the papers picking it up later and changing the origin for effect. The Indianapolis Star (not free unfortunately) for Wednesday 27th of March 1918 tells us that;

“‘Ladies From Hell’ is the cheerful name given to Scotch soldiers in kilts by their associates at the front”.

Bearing in mind the later date of the piece, this is just as likely to point to a media origin as to the ranks. You be the judge. What we can say is that these three names were almost certainly bestowed by friendlies, not the enemy.

In closing, I’d just like to stress that whatever the source of this classic nickname, this and other military nicknames are not “BS” history. Though by my estimation we are in the realm of tradition and folklore rather than pure history, we can’t have one without the other. The very existence of the name is a fascinating insight into the social history of the Great War and tells us a great deal about concepts of our own military and national identity rather than that of our former enemy. And though these names are not proof of the terrible fighting prowess of the Highlander, the US Marine, or the French Chasseur Alpins, the exploits of those men should, and do, speak for themselves.


74 thoughts on “The Ladies From Hell

  1. Typical revisionist history by you’re standard self important self appointed liberal spokesperson….

    1. Just for once it would be nice if someone could take issue with a specific claim or point I’ve made rather than going straight for the swivel-eyed bile.

      All history is revisionist, and that is no bad thing, as you would know if you’d (sorry, “youd”) actually read any of it.

  2. Whilst the kilt may have last been worn in battle in France in 1940 saying that its last appearance was at Dunkirk shows a lack of knowledge of the role of the Highland Division at that time. They fought in diversionary operations away from Dunkirk and the division was captured en mass at St. Valery over a week after the end of the Dunkirk evacuation.

  3. Thanks for catching that bit of rushed oversimplification on my part. You’re quite correct. In my defence, most people are familiar with ‘Dunkirk’, less so with the details of military history. But I could of course simply have said ‘France/1940’. These things will slip through when you have no proofreader, no editor, and no peer-review…

  4. Having served in a unit that was a recipient of such a name, 28th INF DIV “Bloody Bucket”, I enjoyed the article.

    A bit off topic but as a fairly regular kilt-wearer I might have skipped over the cross-dressing bit. But that’s just me.

    Take care.

    1. Rather a late reply here, sorry. I really don’t see how I could have written an article about people calling highlanders ‘ladies from hell’, without – you know – pointing out why they would have called them that. If we assume that the phrase existed, the Germans were clearly implying that THEY THOUGHT the Scots were cross-dressers. Not me, THEM.

  5. It is a fact that the Highland soldiers in the Crimean War were called
    ” the red devils in petticoats” by the Russians-and they did give a good
    account of themselves in that conflict. As to World War 1, in his book
    Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler spoke highly of the Scottish soldiers who would best be distinguished by the kilt. But neither of these stories prove the existence of the nickname in World War 1.

    1. What Hitler is getting at isn’t so much that the Scots were the best fighters, but that his own nation’s propaganda regarding their comic appearance was inaccurate because he and his comrades had encountered ‘Tommies’ and found that “those Scotsmen were not like the ones we had seen described and caricatured in the comic papers and mentioned in the communiqués.” He goes no further than this. As to the ‘petticoats’ comment, I’ve only ever seen this said by our side – like all of these other nicknames. If you have evidence to the contrary, I’d love to see it.

    1. Brian, what is it that the BS Historian has said that would make you angry? I too am a kilt wearer and very much affected by tradition. In fact, I get my “feelings hurt” just a bit when someone points out some tear in the fabric of our beliefs. But to get angry about the truth–the truth until it is verified otherwise–is a little puzzling. Were/are you a kilt wearer of the military kind or just a kilt wearer of a person of Scottish descent? I fall into the latter, though I did serve in the U.S. Army. You? Marine Corps, Army, Navy?

  6. listen here if you dont like scottish kilt,s. ya must be a german.we kike,d there but,s in ww1 ww2. and id like 2 kik there but,z my self. u lost thank god 4 those guy,s were,n kilt,s kike,d yur ass,s back 2 square head,s land. so pog mo thion. and on the 8th day god made scotland on the 9th. he made kilt,s for sir william wallace and robert the bruce.

  7. In a recently discovered letter written by Piper James Richardson VC, in 1915 from the Western Front, he states that the kilted regiments were referred to by the enemy as ‘The Wives of the Devil.’ The letter was written to his father and uses the statement in the context that it was common knowledge that this was an accepted nickname is regular use.

    Much of this material will be made available to the public with the release of our films and various books.

    1. Hi Ian,

      Very interesting, but only goes to show that the nickname was in currency on our own side. I’m perfectly prepared to believe that the Germans did use something like it, but we really need a German source.

      1. Absolutely. The German source is a must. I would think that would be clear to those who come back with such vicious comments about questioning history. Then, when I read those comments for the second time it becomes clear to me that the writers have little or no attachment to history and seem to care very little about getting it right. Then I might toss in our language as something else they have little regard for. And yes, the “for” is in the right place.

  8. I have only just come on this site. I find the hostility of some posters baffling but perhaps they haven’t read what you write with sufficient care.

    The subject of self-generated myths in the military context is fascinating. In the British army the process seems to really have got under way in the years after the Napoleonic Wars, which is where the origin of a number of cherished regimental stories and emblems seem to lie- at least in the forms that circulated for the following 180-odd years, some still surviving in the diminished regiments of 2012.

    Quite a few famous emblems are said to have originated fifty years, previously in events of the American War of Independence (for which no battle honours were awarded) and for which there is no contemporary evidence and little or no evidence in the intervening years.

    Many of these ‘traditions’ are ill-founded in fact if not inherently improbable and it takes little investigation for that to become apparent. However, because the story conveys an image of the soldier that is appealing, it circulates unquestioned down the ages.

    To explore the origins of such traditions and point out that they are may only be folklore is not an act of disrespect. To tell such stories is a profoundly human instinct. Without it we would have no Iliad, no Beowulf, no Morte d’Arthur. To question is also a positive human instinct, too!

    For, lazy cut-and-pasters,however, I have less respect….

    1. Superbly put, thank you for articulating what it is that I’m trying to do when I tackle these subjects. I have a great deal of respect for the military – in fact, I’ve worked with many of them.

  9. Perhaps you can settle an argument for me? I was told by a family member that the desciption “ladies from hell” was also used by the Afghan tribesmen in reference to the Scottish regiments long before wwi .
    I am of Afghan descent as you can see by my name.
    I enjoyed the article by the way!.

    1. Hi Paul,

      I wish that I could, but it’s a new one on me! Thank you for reporting another interesting usage of that phrase though. You don’t have the original (Pashtu?) form, do you?



  10. I like the way you took this one one. We love names to define ourselves in a positive light, and I–of Scottish descent–have always loved the “Ladies from Hell” designation. I never believed, however, that its origin was German. I lived in Germany for several years. I often engaged German acquaintances in conversations about WW I and WW II. Being proud of my Scottish origins I used “Ladies from Hell” to describe the Scots. No German I talked to had ever heard of it. They simply referred to the Scots as Schottische Soldaten. And “Devil Dogs.” We know that the Marines hired publicists during WW I, and I’m surprised that they could not come up with a designation more terrifying than that.

  11. I have already commented and I did not identify myself as a kilt wearer. I am though, just not regularly–as every day. I wanted to add to my earlier comment something about some of those replying to your blog. What set some of them off, I could ask. When truth is viewed as an insult, I want to know why. One of my best friends was a soldier of the Black Watch (he passed on 18 years ago) who served in India, and Mesopotamia back between 1920 and 1925. He would not have been insulted if someone told him that the “Ladies from Hell” appellation did not come from the Germans. A real soldier from the Highland Division would not worry about it. He is comfortable in his role as a defender of his nation.

    1. Completely agree. I think those secure in their heritage have no reason to flinch from the truth.

  12. Nice historical account, I appreciate you taking the time to post this for others to stumble upon. I’m a little torn though…on the one hand its always nice to know the truth behind the history but at the same time its a little sad to have these relatively harmless pieces of myth debunked. Before the written word became popular this is the kind of thing that would have been told and re-told around the fire and passed down through the generations. Not a precise or accurate mechanism to be sure and certainly prone to hyperbole, but definitely more romantic and exciting. As you note, the old saying of ‘history written by the victors’.

    1. I understand and sympathise, but as Coireall says, the truth should not be viewed as an insult – unless it is intended as one. As someone of Scottish descent myself, who has lived and worked there helping to preserve its heritage, trust me when I say there is no such intent here.

  13. Whether their foes ever called the Scottish troops “Ladies from Hell,” I’m sure they wouldn’t argue with the term after encountering the ferocity, tenacity and fighting spirit of the Highland regiments, whether it was the French and Indian War or World War Two.

  14. I came to the site from a Google search, as I was looking for an unbiased account of the origin of the term “Ladies from Hell.” You provided that by presenting objective, verifiable evidence, which I appreciate.

    My only issue with the article is, as someone else has pointed out, the use of the terms ‘cross-dressing’ and ‘transvestite’ when describing men wearing kilts. Both terms are defines as a person of one gender wearing clothing that is traditionally worn by the other gender. This term does not apply to the kilt, as it has traditionally been worn by men not only in Scotland for centuries, but also, according to archaeological record, by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, and other Mesopotamian peoples.

    I certainly hope that the use of the term was not meant to be inflammatory or derogatory, but it does somewhat spoil the objectivity that is the theme of the article.

    With respect.

    1. I don’t see how you can read these words in context and think that I’m expressing them as my own opinion;

      ‘Clearly this is meant to paint the men in question as something out of the ordinary; soldiers so tough that they can cross-dress and still be shining examples of fighting manhood.’


      ‘by their cultural standard were also transvestites’.

      Note the phrases ‘meant to paint’ and ‘by their cultural standard’.

      I could have used scare quotes around ‘cross-dress’ in the first sentence, but I think it’s pretty clear. The second sentence is fully qualified and frankly couldn’t be clearer.

      I’m well aware that men have worn skirt-like garments (there being no actual connection between Highland Scots and, say, ancient Egyptian ‘kilts’) for thousands of years, and that the kilt itself is a different garment than the modern female skirt. Had you read this, you might not have assumed malice on my part.

  15. My father, an American veteran of WWII, told me that the kilted soldiers from the British Isles were referred to by German soldiers as the “Ladies from Hell.” As you have argued, this may only be a repetition of the myth passed on from other American or Allied soldiers. In addition he claimed that Irish or Scottish regiments played the bagpipes on the field of battle. The story appealed to us possibly because of our Scottish and Irish descent.

    I won’t say that this adds much to the discussion, just an anecdote.

  16. I thought you might be interested to read these entries from an anonymous Journal kept by a British officer during the unsuccessful campaign to prevent the French occupation of Holland in 1794-95, when the expeditionary force commanded by the Duke of York suffered abysmal mismanagement, being to prolonged sub zero temperatures without sufficient food, clothing or shelter.

    “29th June 1794

    It afforded great entertainment to the Army, to see with what surprize the Country people surveyed our Highlanders (the 42nd Regiment,) on account of their kelts, or short petticoats, and they could hardly be persuaded that they were but Women; especially as they only of all our Army, wore bonnets full of feathers; the Inhabitants absolutely gave them the name of the English frows, (Women,) which name they kept ever after.

    14th December 1794

    The highlanders, at this time, from the severity of the weather, were under the necessity of leaving off wearing their kelts, or short petticoats, and were furnished with pantaloons or close trousers which were much more comfortable for them; The French had distinguished them by the name of “Vrai Sans-Culottes.”

    Curiously, when Colonel David Stewart, prolific historian and impassioned promoter of the Highland culture, as he saw it, wrote his account of this campaign in 1822, he made a point of saying that it was the healthiness and toughness of the Highland lifestyle, as exemplified by the kilt, that contributed to the three Highland regiments in Holland suffering so few losses to disease and exposure. Stewart, who served with the Black Watch in that campaign, clearly decided to forget the shameful resort to ‘pantaloons’- (in fact, combat trousers of the day)

    By coincidence, the Dutch campaign was the alleged origin of the famed ‘red hackle’ which the Black Watch still sport in their headgear today having worn it for at least the last 200 years.

    The story of the red feather being won in battle at the Dutch village of Geldermalsen has now also been more or less discarded from the Regimental tradition as old soldiers’ tales. Curiously, Stewart, for reasons too complicated to go into here, chose to ignore the subject almost completely.

    1. Absolutely fascinating, thank you! Who knows, perhaps at some point a similar reference will be found in a German account?

  17. Glad it was of interest. I should have said that in Holland the Scots were once again serving alongside Hessian contract troops as well as with contingents from King George’s ‘other’ kingdom, Hanover. After Hanover was occupied by the French, exiles went to serve with the British in the King’s German Legion. Add to that the Prussian alliance in 1815 and one might speculate whether the “vrow/frau” epithet endured in Germany for the next hundred years.
    Then again, one might not. However, I suspect the “from Hell” epithet maybe the more important.

  18. I remember my grandfather telling me in the late 1970s that American troops referred to the Scottish as the ladies from hell as a nickname based on their fighting ferocity versus their appearance. It was out of respect, and supports the fact that military sources may have borrowed the name and attributed it to the Germans to bolster pride. As a red-headed American boy with Scottish blood lines, I was proud of that nickname.

    1. I remember hearing a similar tale from an uncle who would have been about 10-15 years old during the Great War. While still in his teens, he signed on with the local cavalry regiment (in NY) so he would have been in a position to hear it from men who actually fought in WWI. My grandmother was the daughter of Scottish immigrants (even some of her siblings had been born in Glasgow) so the soubriquet was a source of pride for a Brooklyn boy.

  19. What a very interesting article. I share your scepticism about nicknames (especially if the word “dubbed” is used). The Belgian Rattlesnake, the Devil’s Chariots, and others owe their existence to journalists, not to the soldiers at the Front. Their nicknames for friend and foe tend to be short, pithy, and, often, derogatory.

    Here’s one to add. It is said that in 1914 the Belgian Carabinier Cyclists fought with such ferocity at the Battle of Haelen that the Germans, er, “dubbed” them “The Black Devils”. The Regiment carries on its badge, to this day, a figure of a black devil and a bicycle wheel. Yet at the time the Cyclists’ uniform comprised: hunting green tunic and cap, with yellow piping, and light grey trousers. Nothing black at all, and no primary evidence in German accounts. Yet the name is cited in numerous articles on the subject.

  20. I thought you might be interested in another pre-1914 reference to the ladies epithet- this time from the American Frontier-

    “Upon each side of which a number of stakes, with the bark peeled off, were stuck into the earth, and upon each stake was fixed the head and kilt of a Highlander who had been killed or taken prisoner at Grant’s defeat… as soon as the Highlanders came in sight of the remains of their countrymen, a slight buzz was heard in their ranks, which rapidly swelled and grew louder and louder. Exasperated not only by the barbarous outrages upon the persons of their unfortunate fellow soldiers who had fallen only a few days before, but maddened by the insult which was conveyed by the exhibition of their kilts, and which they well understood, as they had long been nicknamed the ‘petticoat warriors’ by the Indians, their wrath knew no bounds.’

    An historical account of the settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America prior to the peace of 1783 : together with notices of Highland regiments and biographical sketches”
    MacLean, J. P. (John Patterson), 1848-1939 Published 1900

    Mush more tosh of this kind here|:

    1. Excellent, thank you for that! That’s a really important reference that shows how old this ‘meme’ is. Given Native American reliance upon oral tradition, it also means we’re unlikely to ever get to the bottom of who first came up with the idea (my post focuses on the ‘ladies from hell’ in particular).

  21. Just found the site looking into the past of the 15th Scottish Division. Interesting to note that just like other forum trolls you chose anonymity and a pseudonym for cover. You would not make it into the 15th Scottish.

    If you read the absolute classic WW1 German book Storm of Steel, it specifically refers to the Scots in the most favourable and brave terms . At one point Ernst Junger declares his admiration as “they swarm into our ranks oblivious to our fire, these are real men we are fighting!”. (He fought almost every Allied nation and reveres only the Aussies and the Scots)

    I would suppose that when a reputation is formed it would be based on the perception of your enemy that when ever they fight specific troops they lose or suffer particularly high casualties. Time and again in both world wars Scottish Divisions smashed the front lines of the Germans only for those on the flanks and following divisions to falter making their position untenable . Loos being a particular example.

    In the battle of Passendale a spear head Scottish Division smashed its way through 3 successive German defence lines of trenches, to the verge of the countryside behind, only to have to fight its way, all the way back, as the reinforcement troops behind stalled, on small points of defence bypassed in the initial assault , suffering terrible casualty figures all over again.

    The 15th Scottish Div in Normandy and thereafter ,took objectives in nearly every battle it undertook ,suffering nearly 20000 casualties (100% turnover)

    In both world wars this spirit and courage cost the Scots dear. They lost (dead) 12% of their participants to the others nations 6%. This was due to High Command putting the Jocks into the front line where success was most needed. In the Normandy battles the Staff officers were heard to remark, in dismay, of some divisions “why don’t they get out of their holes and fight”?

    Not the 15th Scottish who took their objectives with distinction or suffered horrendously trying, mauling the 9th SS to near extinction.

    In Richard Holmes, War Walks one Historian brands The Scots as the first Shock troops of WW1.

    My fascination with war is fundamentally that of awe at the the courage, im sure I dont possess, that others do, to get up out of that hole and walk forward, into Blistering machine guns. Far easier to be a keyboard warrior, eh?

    1. I agree with everything you’ve said. But you’ve presented no evidence of the claim at hand. Try again.

      As for my anonymity, that is based upon two things;

      1. The propensity for purveyors of BS to threaten legal action when queried. I have, in fact, received two such threats over the years.

      2. Attack the argument, not the person. Who I am is not important.

      1. I do not need your identify to enjoy your articles. Their content is the issue. I might add to the comments being made about the bravery of the Highlanders in combat, but I need not do that. Their military history lays a firm foundation for all the stories about their heroics. What we are missing here is that German units who fought against other allied forces during the Great War and WW II were just as complimentary about their military prowess as they were of the Highlanders’. Just expand your military reading to include other combat units. They all have nicknames of one kind are another, all denoting bravery under fire. And they were all earned, though one would be hard pressed to find those descriptions in press reports from the other side. No, the names breathe the light of day on our side. The soldier under duress does not lie around thinking about the cool descriptions he can give to the other side. “Bastards,” “sons-of-bitches,” are two of the terms that often come to mind. All sides in combat could wear those words–and others like the–with destinction.

    2. Glad Storm of Steel was mentioned, as I was going to bring that up- a classic “must read” that praises the highlanders (as well as other British units) and mentions their kilts. No doubt that Scots and Highlanders in particular have been praised for their hard fighting spirit in various conflicts, but I always figured the Devils in Kilts thing was simply military myth. I agree with your theory that it was probably either internally generated or given by soldiers/units they were serving along side with. There are other similar BS military myths- like the 82nd Airborne claiming that the Germans called them “Devils in Baggy Pants” in WWII. Having been in the Army myself, I can easily imagine how these stories could be made up and propagated over the years.

    3. Well said Kirk! My mother told me of how bravely my grand uncle, John Alec Angus fought as a member of the Black Watch. He died in Mont Casino Italy during WWII. Even when I was six years of age, back in 1971; I remember my mother telling me of how Hitler called the Black Watch ” The Ladies from Hell “. Although I cant prove it, the anonymous author can no more disprove it. Just to clarify, the Black Watch last wore kilts during the first year of world war II. My grand uncle hailed from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Thank you Kirk for your fascinating accounts of the Black Watch and their incredible heroics!

      1. I don’t have to disprove it. That’s not how historical research works. If you want to believe it, you’re free to do so.

  22. I am still bewildered that indviduals, like Kirk Gemmil above, who read BsH’s enquiry into the origins of the ‘Ladies From Hell’ epithet, and take his healthy scepticism as a slur on the battlefield prowess of the Highland (note) regiments in WW1, or rejection of the possibility that there were soldiers on the opposite side who held them in great respect.

    “Forum trolls”?

    More water with it, pal

  23. As a child and all of the years maturing, I remember my WWII U.S.Army Veteran Father and many other former solders, talking about the Scots. One thing was that when he was doing a tour as a P.O.W. camp guard for German prisoners, he talked to a lot of them over time. And many had a lot to say about ‘THE DEVILS IN SKIRTS” and ” THE LADIES FROM HELL”, plus some that are better not listed. They were both terrified of them as well as respectful of their bravery. Dad fought along side many of the Scots many times, through many fronts and battles and both saw and heard all of it first hand. Good enough for me. The same comments/view points/testimonies have come from too many vastly wide spread sources from both sides who were the regular soldier and not part of the upper ranks and who never knew each other for it to be a myth.

    1. Very interesting Lee, thank you. This would have to be coming from WW1 veterans, because the Germans hadn’t faced Highland troops in kilts since 1918.

      1. Not hardly, Dad and his Veteran buddies were most definitely WWII as were the many Scots relatives, Uncles, Cousins etc , that served in the the various Scots regiments.True Officially they were forbidden to wear the kilt into battle. And “officially” they supposedly did not BUT being typical hard headed, stubborn, proud of being Scot and clan proud, they bucked the order and wore them anyway. Got busted for it then turned around and did it again. In war time there is “official” then there is the unofficial. Many a German saw a screaming maniac in his “unofficial”, banned clan kilt/plaid. Just like they saw the “Mad Piper of D-Day” Bill Millin, walk up and down the beach for hours piping “Highland Laddie” and wearing his kilt/plaid. And as a Veteran of many years service just a different war/conflict and era, I know how the “unofficial” goes. I have lived it. All anyone needs to do to see a lot of the “unofficial” of war, the ignored stuff is watch the many live battlefield films from any war, any theater, any era. They are full of the “unofficial”. Nearly all of those old Warriors are gone now, many buried in their plaids. They knew what was really what and what they did in spite of orders. Their bravery unquestionable. You are free to believe what ever you like. What happened, happened and not even you in all your pitiful smug arrogance can change it. TAPS.

  24. Maybe not officially but from what i garnered from the guys who were there [unlike you or I] there were quite a few that were typical stubborn, hard headed Scots and wore them anyway, battle and all. And I do mean WW II vets which Dad and his many buddies all were. Many things happen “unofficially” during wartime and THAT I am in a position to say being a veteran of many years myself just a different era.. All anyone needs to do to see the “unofficially whatever” is to watch the many thousands of battlefield film clips from all conflict. Petty spite, hatred and sarcasm benefits no one.

  25. Dad and his many military buddies were definitely WW II as were our many Scots Highland Regiment relatives…Uncles and cousins etc., all of whom being typical stubborn hard headed Scots, wore their kilts/plaids anyway. Apparently got chewed out for it then turned around and did it again. Unofficially of course but there is a lot of “unofficial’ in wars and conflicts. And I AM definitely on a position to be able to say that being a Veteran of many years service just a different era/battlefield. All anyone needs to do to see the many “unofficial/unacknowledged” ‘s is watch the many thousand film clips that were actually made during live action through out both theaters and every conflict/”war” since. In war “official” and “reality” are frequently opposites. Most of the crusty old Warriors are gone now and some were buried in their kilts/plaids that you deny. They knew exactly what they did and their bravery cannot be denied so it does not matter a bit what you so narrowly want to believe.

    1. Of course, the kilt made it’s appearance in World War 2. On campaign, it was seen mainly on pipers and some senior officers. We are told that one 1st Airborne Division officer at Arnhem jumped in his kilt. At least one Commando officer wore the kilt at St Nazaire. However, these were not soldiers in ‘line’ Highland regiments. The suggestion that, when they chose, individual soldiers in Highland regiments regularly wore the kilt in the field, contrary to regulations, is a romantic image for which it would be interesting to see evidence. Can you point to written accounts, photos or film footage that shows this?

      All that aside, even if, after 1940 when the Cameron Highlanders last wore the kilt in action (contrary to regulations), German soldiers had encountered Highland troops wearing the kilt in action do you have the evidence for German use of the phrase ‘Ladies form Hell’- which after all is the point of BS Historian’s article?

      At no point does he cast aspersions on the reputation or bravery of Highland troops in either world war, or any other time, as he has stated clearly several times. He simply questions whether there was ever a phrase comparable to ‘Ladies from Hell’ that originated on the German side of the hill.

      Where on earth do you see petty spite, hatred or sarcasm- unless the latter is directed towards bogus journalists and historians?

  26. Watching a 2014 BBC Scotland documentary “Pipers of the Trenches”-
    at about 12 minutes in there is an interesting reference to a German medal (purpose not stated) showing a Scottish military piper as the skeletal figure of Death, the inference being that for those facing them on the battlefield, the pipers at the head of Scottish battalions were seen harbingers of death (It is suggested in the programme that pipers were deemed to be so important to morale that the Germans targetted them in the same way that officers were targetted; not difficult, given how conspicuous they were).

  27. Quite a storm here. The ‘Western Mail’ 13 March 1915 carries a statement offering the German term ‘Hollenweiber’, but adds ‘I suppose; it was told me in English’. ‘Devils in skirts’ was much less common, though documented in the British press in 1917.

    My hypothesis: the absence of German documentation compared to the large amount of documentation in English in newspapers and memoirs argues that this term was projected onto the Germans by Allied kilted troops, and enthusiastically disseminated in the press as a great journalists’ story. Where it came from originally matters less than that it explicitly projected onto someone else the responsibility for raising any gendered aspect of the clothing (‘ladies’), while it retained the potential for Allied troops and journalists to comment on it; and what they commented on was not the ‘ladies’ aspect, but the ‘from hell’ aspect (as is the case with many of your comment-writers). There was obvious enjoyment of the term by Allied kilted troops (witness its re-use in the Second World War). It allowed two things: a) a challenge to masculinity, in ‘ladies’, and b) a successful counter-challenge, in ‘from hell’. The phonetic rhythm of both phrases aided their continued use.

    Enjoyed the article, and I applaud your responses to ill-thought out comments.

  28. Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.”

    ― Winston S. Churchill

  29. He’s brave as brave can be;
    He wad rather fa’ than flee;
    But his life is dear to me,
    Send him hame, send him hame.

    Your love ne’er learnt to flee
    But he fell in Germanie
    Fighting brave for loyaltie:
    Mournfu’ dame, mournfu’ dame!

    Or in another place:

    Oh, woe unto these cruell wars
    That ever they began!

    For they have reft my native isle
    Of many a pretty man.

    First they took my brothers twain
    Then wiled my love frae me:
    Oh, woe unto these cruell wars
    In low Germanie!

  30. On the front line

    Men usually only spent a few days at the front line before being sent back to reserve trenches, then back to rest and recovery positions.
    However, soldiers often spent much longer at the front. For instance, the Black Watch, a famous Scottish regiment, once served for 48 days without a break. Soldiers had to endure harsh conditions:
    After about 14 days behind the lines troops knew that soon they would return to the front-line, itching from lice bites, sharing trenches with rats and living with the constant fear of imminent death.
    Boredom was a major factor, but soldiers also had to cope with the possibility of sudden painful death or wounding, either by sniper fire, artillery fire or going ‘over the top’ into battle.
    The kilt worn by many Scottish soldiers had severe disadvantages in these conditions as it harboured lice in the folds.
    The often wet and muddy conditions meant many soldiers suffered from Trench foot. This was caused by the feet being continually submerged in water. For many soldiers this could lead to amputation.

  31. Does ‘The Red Devils’ – the nickname for the Parachute Regiment reportedly coined by German troops in Tunisia (‘Rote Teufel’?) – fall into the same category?

  32. Good article.! you have obviously studied the subject more than most .! There has been little doubt about the fighting prowess of the highland and lowland regiments over the last few hundred years.! So the name fits even if you named yourselves the ladies from more likely the name was born in the 1715/1745 rebellions.!

  33. studied being the obvious as an exScottish soldier who served in an exScottish regiment I have personaly spoken to Germans ( when I was based there ) and I have been told stories that came from ordinary German soldiers passed to their children and grandchildren about the devils in skirts and the respect ordinary German soldiers had for us and I was seriously asked if we realy strangled cats as we went into battle as that was what his grandfather who had served on the front lines had told him. so there maybe very little in literature but amongst ordinary everyday people the stories are there if you care to listen.

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