‘Hey Johnnie Cope’

 

Nowadays, in my old age, I’m accustomed to waking up in the ordinary way, with a slightly fuzzy feeling, in a vague discontent, and my old broken shoulder aching, and twinges in my calves and ankles. And sometimes, if my thoughts turn that way, I can think smugly that one of the compensations nowadays is that there are no tables to scrub, or men of ill-will hitting the coal bunker with the poker, or hounding me out into the ablutions through the snow – and then I feel sad, because never again will I hear ‘ Johnnie Cope’ in the morning. – George MacDonald Fraser.

Whether it is Johnny Cope, or Johnnie Cope it all refers to the battle of Prestonpans in 1745. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highlanders defeated Sir John Cope’s Redcoats. The song’s lyrics has some myth in it, but the truth is that the Highlander’s charge defeated Sir John Cope, and his troops were overrun in about 15 minutes.

To prevent a surprise attack during the night, Cope kept fires burning in front of his position and posted no fewer than 200 dragoons and 300 infantry as pickets. A company of Loudon’s Highlanders under Macpherson of Cluny had deserted a few days before; the remaining three companies were detailed to guard the baggage park in Cockenzie, while some 100 volunteers were dismissed until the next morning and missed the battle. Warned by his pickets of the Jacobite movement, Cope had enough time to wheel his army to face east and reposition his cannon. As the Highlanders began their charge, his artillerymen fled, leaving the guns to be fired by their officers.

As at Killiecrankie in 1689, the government infantry was over-run by the Highland charge.

The two dragoon regiments on the flanks panicked and rode off, leaving Gardiner mortally wounded on the battlefield and exposing the infantry in the centre. Attacked on three sides, they were over-run in less than 15 minutes, with their retreat blocked by the park walls to their rear; some escaped when the Highlanders stopped to loot the baggage train. Government losses were from 300 to 500 killed or wounded and 500 to 600 taken prisoner, many later paroled to save the expense of holding them; the Jacobite’s estimated their own casualties as 35 to 40 dead and 70 to 80 wounded.

To this day ‘Hey Johnnie Cope’ as played on bagpipes of the Highland Regiments is reveille for the soldiers of Highland Regiments, and was also played by pipers of the 51st (Highland) Division as the soldiers of the 51st disembarked from their landing craft onto Juno Beach in Normandy on D-Day.

Cope sent a challenge from Dunbar saying:
“Charlie, meet me if you dare,
And I’ll teach you what the art of war really means
If you’ll come to the coals in the morning.”
 
Hey, Johnny Cope, are you awake yet?
Or are your drums beating yet?
If you were awake I’d wait
To go to the coals in the morning.
 
When Charlie looked at the letter
He drew his sword from the scabbard:
Saying, “Follow me, my merry men,
And we’ll meet Johnny Cope in the morning.”
 
“Come on now Johnny, be as good and your word;
And meet me there with fire and sword;
And don’t fly away like a frightened bird,
That’s scared from its nest in the morning.”
 
When Jonny Cope heard of this,
He thought it wouldn’t be remiss
To have a horse in readiness,
To flee from the skulls in the morning.
 
Come on now, Johnny, get up and run;
For the Highland bagpipes make their noise;
It’s best to sleep safe in your own skin,
It will be a bloody morning.
 
When Johnny Cope came to Dunbar,
They questioned him, “Where’s all your men?”
“The Devil confound me, I don’t know,
I left them all in the morning.”
 
“Faith,” said Johnny, “I got so scared
With the big claymore and the kilt;
If I face them again, Devil break my legs!
So I wish you all good morning.”
 
“Truth now, Johnny, you’re not so stupid
As to come with news of your own defeat,
And to leave your men in such a state
So early in the morning.

Published in History
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There are 6 comments.

  1. Arahant Member

    Seems a bit cheeky to play that in regiments who are serving the Hanoverian line.

    • #1
    • August 22, 2019, at 9:07 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Percival Thatcher

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Seems a bit cheeky to play that in regiments who are serving the Hanoverian line.

    “Cheeky” was assaulting the Atlantic Wall. Anything else would be a cherry on top.

    • #2
    • August 22, 2019, at 9:38 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  3. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt Post author

    George MacDonald Fraser is better known in the States as the author of the ‘Flashman’ series. He served in the enlisted ranks in Burma during WWII, and was offered a commission in the Gordon Highlanders. He wrote the screenplay for Richard Lester’s films The Three Musketeers, and The Four Musketeers.

    His book the “Complete McAuslan” is semi-biographical book based upon his experiences in a Highland Regiment. He appears in the book as Dand McNeill, an officer in a Highland Regiment.

    The most disastrous soldier to ever serve in the British Army, Private McAuslan, J., the dirtiest soldier in the world (alias the tartan Caliban, or the Highland Division’s answer to the Peking man), first demonstrated his unfitness for service in “The General Danced at Dawn.” He continued his disorderly advance, losing, soiling, and destroying his equipment, through the pages of “McAuslan in the Rough.” The final story, “The Sheikh and the Dustbin,” pursues the career of the great incompetent as he shambles across North Africa and Scotland, swinging his right arm in time with his right leg and tripping over his untied laces. Whatever he does and wherever he goes, Private McAuslan’s admirers know him as court-martial defendant, ghost catcher, star-crossed lover, and golf-caddie extraordinaire.

    • #3
    • August 22, 2019, at 9:50 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. colleenb Member

    @dougwatt: As you are obviously knowledgeble about Highlands Regiments, how do you think the British military would do without the Scots as part of Great Britain (Brexit and all that)? It seems like such a great history to throw away. Cheers. 

    • #4
    • August 23, 2019, at 11:17 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt Post author

    colleenb (View Comment):

    @dougwatt: As you are obviously knowledgeble about Highlands Regiments, how do you think the British military would do without the Scots as part of Great Britain (Brexit and all that)? It seems like such a great history to throw away. Cheers.

    @colleenb, that’s a great question. The Brits allowed the Highland Regiments some autonomy when they were absorbed into Great Britain’s armed forces. Not at the beginning, after the battle of Culloden, when the kilt, pipes, and Gaelic were forbidden. There were mutinies in the Highland Regiments when they first came under British control.

    Scotland now has its’ own parliament, courts, and police forces that are not controlled by the Home Office in London. Although most Scots wish to remain in the EU if Britain leaves their chances of doing so are slim to none. The EU has no desire to admit Scotland due to the fact if it does so it would have to admit Catalan as well. Spain would veto Scotland’s entry, as well France, and Germany.

    • #5
    • August 23, 2019, at 9:43 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Kay of MT Member

    Ah, the Scots are a wonderful group of folks, especially if they concentrate on their own country and needs instead of trying to appease everybody in the world. I have heritage of a number of Scottish clans; Stuart, McKenzie, Maxwell, McDonald, Campbell, and have tartans for all of them. Not allowed membership in the Maxwell clan as my last name isn’t Maxwell. My favorite. YouTube

    • #6
    • August 24, 2019, at 8:44 AM PDT
    • 1 like