Why does Burns Night matter to the military?

The work of Scotland's national poet Robert Burns is celebrated by the military and civilians every year on his birthday.

Many of the traditional Burns Suppers – of Haggis, neeps and tatties – have been cancelled this year, but the songs and poetry of the 18th Century bard will still be performed in Scotland and throughout the world.

The occasion is especially marked by Scottish units of the Armed Forces, like the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Captain Alan McEwen, of 7 SCOTS, has performed many recitals at suppers throughout his career in the Army, but it wasn't until he joined up that he fully appreciated the works of Robert Burns.

He said: "I didn't get into Burns until I was with the Black Watch.

"I joined the Black Watch in 1979 and it's a very important part of the social entertainment and historical aspects of being a soldier in a Scottish regiment.

"He is known across the world for the work he has done on his songs, poetry, and indeed his letters.

"His use of the Scottish tongue and the Scottish language clearly resonates through life with the Scottish people and indeed the British Army in Scotland."

The song 'Auld Lang Syne' and poem 'Tam o'Shanter' are the best-known works by Robert Burns.

But his work included many songs and poems with a strong military connection such as 'The Soldier's Return', the 'Battle of Sheriffmuir' and 'Killiecrankie' – which commemorates the Battle of Killiecrankie between Government and Jacobite forces in 1689.

Captain McEwen said: "It was a Jacobite song that was written recounting the story of the battle.

Captain Alan McEwen spoke about the impact Robert Burns continues to have on the British Army in Scotland today.
Captain Alan McEwen spoke about the impact Robert Burns continues to have on the British Army in Scotland today.

"Burns picked up this story and reworked it into what is known in his tongue as Killiecrankie."

Burns died at the age of 37 in 1796 and was part of the Royal Dumfries Volunteers during the last months of his life.

Despite his relatively early death, his works have provided a strong legacy that endures to this day.

And his works are celebrated every year on his birthday by the military to help that legacy carry on.

Captain McEwen said: "How do we continue his story how do we keep that legacy alive?

"It relies on us to have the conversation with our children and indeed in education – in our schools and colleges – to maintain the knowledge and take his stories forward."

Related topics

Join Our Newsletter


Amazing view from RAF Voyager supporting Typhoons from XI Squadron

Gurkha recruits face chemical attack test in most arduous training to date

Veterans wear long-awaited Nuclear Test Medals in public for first time