The 1st Battalion Royal Scots sailed as corps troops, and when Sir William F Gatacre's division was taken to Natal, the Royal Scots, along with the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, and part of the Berkshire Regiment, were put under his command in the Queenstown district. General Gatacre was never strong enough to do anything effective, and his attempt at Stormberg (see 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers) ended in one of the most severe defeats received by the British during the war. The Royal Scots were not actually engaged that day. Part of the battalion held the detraining-point at Molteno Station, and it has been suggested that they should have been allowed to go out to the assistance of their sorely-pressed comrades in their retreat. It is to the credit of the Royal Scots that they did ask leave to go out.
At Cyphergat on 3rd January, and subsequently at various times in the Molteno-Dordrecht district, the Royal Scots saw some fighting, and thus got invaluable training for heavier work. After the occupation of Bloemfontein the IIIrd Division had another mishap at Reddersburg, when 500 of the Royal Irish Rifles were cut off and surrendered after a stand which cannot be characterised as heroic. The general had then to demit his office, and the division, such as it was, passed to General Chermside. When Wepener was besieged the garrison included the Mounted Infantry company of the Royal Scots, which had been doing good work under General Brabant; and among the relieving forces were the IIIrd Division, which included the 1st Royal Scots. The battalion was in action about Wakkerstroom, in the Dewetsdorp neighbourhood (22nd and 24th April 1900), but this was the only fighting they were to see for a long time. Wepener was relieved on the 24th April 1900, after a defence which is one of the brightest pieces of work in the history of the campaign. After the relief of Wepener the battalion marched there, and for some months remained in the south-east of the Orange River Colony. Pretoria had been long occupied, and the IIIrd Division was still in the colony; but when the final advance eastwards from Pretoria was begun the Royal Scots were given a place.
On 25th August 1900 the battalion, about 1250 strong, was concentrated at Belfast. They arrived in time to be of some assistance in the fighting which preceded the battle of Bergendal on the 27th (see 2nd Rifle Brigade).
When General Buller found the way to Lydenburg too difficult, a force under General Ian Hamilton, which included an infantry brigade under Smith-Dorrien, was ordered to march northwards from the railway on Buller's left flank, and so turn the worst positions.
The infantry brigade was made up of the Royal Scots, 1st Royal Irish Regiment, and 1st Gordons of Dargai and Florida fame.
On 3rd September the force commenced its northward march through very mountainous country. The enemy had to be cleared from a strong position, and this was done. On the evening of the 5th the Royal Scots were selected to seize during the night the mountain called Zwaggershoch, five miles from the bivouac. The task was successfully accomplished, and this gave Ian Hamilton control of an important pass and enabled him to help General Buller. On the 8th September the forces of Buller and Hamilton attacked the enemy's main position near Lydenburg. The Royal Scots did well, and won the praises of the generals.
On the 9th Ian Hamilton's force started on the return journey to Belfast; thence they marched to Koomati Poort over many lofty mountains. Koomati Poort was reached at 10.30 pm on 24th September, and at that place and Barberton the Royal Scots remained some time.
Thirteen officers and 16 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Lord Roberts' final despatch.
From the autumn of 1900 to the close of the war the battalion operated in the Eastern Transvaal, some portion generally doing garrison work and some companies trekking. During part of 1901 Colonel Douglas had command of a column which included 700 men of the Royal Scots. The column operated in the neighbourhood of the Delagoa line. On 16th May 1901 the Boers were found to be holding a strong position at Bermondsey which had to be taken. Their flanks were protected by precipices, but a company of the Royal Scots with great difficulty eventually got round the Boer right, and the position was then captured.
Early in 1902 some companies were with Colonel Park in a column which made some useful captures. At the close of the campaign the battalion was doing garrison work about Balmoral and Middelburg.
If in the earlier stages of the war this fine old regiment did not get much chance to distinguish itself, it is at least satisfactory to know that for over two years it did good, if not very showy, work, making no mistakes, and keeping out of all 'regrettable incidents'. At Lydenburg and Bermondsey the officers and men engaged showed that the regiment is worthy of its past.
In Lord Kitchener's despatch of 8th July 1901, 3 officers and 4 men were commended for gallantry at Bermondsey, Lieutenant Price being recommended for the VC. Several other mentions were gained by the regiment during the latter phase of the war; some of these went to the Mounted Infantry companies, which continued to do fine work throughout. In Lord Kitchener's final despatch 4 officers and 6 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned.