The Cock O’ The North…

Throughout All Else is Folly, the bumbling Captain Augustus Rump refers to Alec Falcon as “young Cock O’ the North” (63, US edition).

Cock O’ the North is a traditional nickname for the head of Clan Gordon, going back to Alexander Gordon, the 4th Duke of Gordon, who raised the 92nd Gordon Highlanders in 1794 to fight Napoleon.

If you’re familiar with the epic 1970 film Waterloo starring Rod Steiger, you’ll probably recall a scene that is historically inaccurate, but that features the 4th Duke of Gordon (played by Rupert Davies) displaying the tact and patience for which the Scots are legendary:

Duke of Wellington:  Bylandt’s brigade has broken. Plug the gap, if you please.
General Sir Thomas Picton: Gordon, get your bastards up on to the crest. I’ll bring up the rest of the brigade.
Lord Gordon: Don’t hurry yourself, Pic. My lads will hold them, aye, ’til you come.
General Sir Thomas Picton:  Get forward, damn your eyes!

On observing the advance of the Gordon Highlanders, Napoleon says, “Has Wellington nothing to offer me but these Amazons?”  It’s bloody marvellous really.  The only problem is that Lord Gordon wasn’t at Waterloo.  Wellington had an Aide-de-Camp named Alexander Gordon who was killed in the battle, but the Cock o’ the North himself wasn’t there.  Regardless, one little historical inaccuracy won’t prevent nearly every Highlander you’ve ever met from quoting the lines above at one time or another.

As an allusion in All Else is Folly, I figured “Cock O’ the North” merely gestured toward the Napoleonic wars and a famous Highland regiment, but I came across this bit of sheet music today doing some research on Toronto’s 48th Highlanders.

In 1896, John Slatter became the conductor of the newly formed 48th Highlanders Regimental Band, a post he would occupy until 1944.  During the First World War, Slatter commanded all of the Canadian army’s bands, and trained many of the other unit’s conductors.

As I understand it, Slatter orchestrated the traditional bagpipe march ‘Cock O’ The North’ for a full military band, and toured Canada with some fanfare.  It would appear then that Rump’s referring to Falcon as ‘Cock O’ the North’ serves double duty as an allusion, gesturing towards not only famous Highland regiments is other wars, but also to Acland’s own regiment, the 48th Highlanders.

This sheet music was published in 1909 and is quite rare: there is only a microfilm copy in Library and Archives Canada.  If you’re keen to own it, a really first rate bookseller, Antiquarius Books in Falkland, B.C. (I’m a frequent customer) has a copy for $50.oo.  His website is here.

More about Slater can be found in Jack Kopstein & Ian Pearson’s excellent book, The Heritage of Canadian Military Music.  There are several copies on Abe for less than five dollars.

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