Thursday, August 25, 2005

Due South
By Mark Entwistle
The Southern Reporter
Selkirk, The Borders

Might be last Edinburgh Military Tattoo

This week I am sitting writing my Due South column from home near Kelso, where I am enjoying a week’s holiday.

My wife, Ally, has also managed to get the week off - which is unusual since she works for the local tourist authority and August is one of the busiest months of the year in tourism here.

Many visitors to the Borders at the moment will be planning to include a visit to the world-famous Edinburgh Festival and Fringe.

This is the world’s biggest arts festival, featuring hundreds of shows at hundreds of venues scattered around central Edinburgh which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the world.

Thousands of performers ranging from schoolchildren and complete amateurs right up to professional actors, musicians and dancers are taking part.

With the Scottish Borders being just an hour’s travelling time south of the Scottish capital, many of my fellow Borderers will be making the short journey to see something at the Festival.

For those not familiar with it, the Festival proper consists of professional performances of music, theatre and dance, while the ‘Fringe’ - so called because it developed around the Festival - is where the real buzz is.

The Fringe has everything from stand-up comedians to street acts such as mime artists, jugglers and fire-eaters on every corner.

One of the major highlights of the whole three-week long programme is the famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Held on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle every night for three weeks, the Tattoo sells out its thousands of tickets as early as March or April and by the time of the Festival, tickets are like gold dust.

This week my wife and I are taking her parents and friends to the Tattoo and by the time you guys read this we will have enjoyed one of the truly spectacular sights to be seen in Scotland.

The Tattoo comprises mainly performances from military bands and display teams, and what everyone comes to see is the massed pipes and drums of the Scottish infantry regiments of the British Army.

Despite having seen the Tattoo a number of times - hardly surprising for someone who learned to love the skirl o’ the pipes at the knee of his army bagpiper grandfather - this year will be particularly poignant.

In its wisdom the British Government has decided that a number of infantry divisions in the British Army need to be re-organized.

One of these is the Scottish Division, which includes six infantry regiments. The reasons given are various including recruiting difficulties and the need for a different way in which soldiers serve in postings.

There has been a huge outcry over the plan here in the Borders and the rest of Scotland. What it will mean is that in the spring of next year, the famous and historic regiments of The Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Royal Highland Fusiliers, The Highlanders, Royal Scots and The King’s Own Scottish Borderers will lose their status as individual regiments and be merged to become five battalions of a new ‘super regiment’ to be called The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

It will mean a common uniform of kilts and a new cap badge. The Southern Reporter has been backing the campaign to save the regiments from the London-based government’s unwelcome plan for this enforced shotgun wedding.

Although Scotland has devolved government - similar to the state government of Mississippi - matters such as defence and the running of our army, navy and air force is the preserve of the national British government.

It is now looking increasingly unlikely that we will be able to save these regiments in their present form.

There may be some valid military reasons for the plan but what the government has failed to appreciate it is that Scotland’s army regiments are more than just military units.

They are repositories of a vast amount of our history, culture and tradition and we will not let them disappear without a fight.

At this year’s Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the pipes and drums band of each of the six threatened regiments have joined together possibly for the last time in what is proving an emotional occasion.

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