Day 1: We are really here!
Getting off the plane in Scotland with The Hellcats was almost surreal- we were really there! All that we needed to prove this wasn’t just a wonderful dream was someone playing the bagpipes. Then we walked to baggage claim and there was Pipe Major Richard Grisdale welcoming us on bagpipes. From there we got into a mini-bus and drove three hours north to Fort George.
At Fort George we were set up in our barracks and given time to eat lunch before meeting with General Monro, who was happy to welcome us to the site of the First Annual Highland Military Tattoo. Fort George is a beautiful post surrounded by the Moray Firth, and if you look at the right time you can see dolphins jumping out of the water. During the day the public can walk around the post, soaking in the history, and lucky us, we had a whole week to explore!
After our briefings a few Hellcats and I decided to walk about a mile and a half off post to a local restaurant for dinner, which gave us the chance to soak in the beauty of where we were, and pass one of many pastures of sheep. We made it to “The Gun Lodge,” a restaurant with about 10 tables in it, and a friendly staff. All of the food looked, sounded, and smelled amazing. Best yet- everything reminded me of my favorite time of year- Christmas! My family is from England, and the menu was full of food I’m only treated to on Christmas Day, and the waitress was kind enough to sneak me a Yorkshire Pud with my dinner. (This was a very big deal; at Christmas Yorkshire Pud’s are the most sought after food. Everyone asks for thirds, fourths, and fifths!)
Day 2: Rehearsal Time
The second morning started bright and early with The Hellcats first rehearsal with The Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and a performance for the BBC and a few local news outlets. Since I was working on social media while we were there I was ecstatic that the band was sounding Reveille in Scotland for the BBC at the same time that it was being sounded back home! It was fun being able to post The Hellcats wake up call for everyone back home that would be following our trip via Facebook and Twitter over the next week.
The afternoon and early evening was filled with our first rehearsals in the arena with some of the performing groups, and Cruachan III, the Royal Regiment of Scotland Shetland pony mascot who joined The Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland as they marched through all of the participants during the finale.
Day 3: Good Morning Bagpipes and Canon!
It’s dress rehearsal day and there was no need for an alarm! There was no need for an alarm because as the groups performing in the tattoo began arriving the bagpipers warmed up outside our window, and the re-enactors rehearsed with their canons. What a perfectly Scottish way to wake up! The post was buzzing with excitement for the evening dress rehearsal: the whole town was invited.
That evening’s rehearsal began with a military fly over and ended with fireworks. It was the first time that I saw the entire tattoo. It focused on Highland music and culture, as well as the heritage of the military tattoo. The stories of Fort George from 1746-1778 and the 100th anniversary of the start of the World War I were told by re-enactors. Military bands from all services, local youth bands and dancers, Gaelic Singer Fiona J Mackenzie, and The Hellcats all took the stage to tell the history of West Point, which would later turn into the United States Military Academy. I couldn’t wait to see it again; I knew that every night I would see something that I missed the night before and capture unique photos each evening.
After the tattoo, we were humbled to have the opportunity to meet Vietnam veteran David McKelvie. He served as a medic with the US Navy and took part in several operations, including the evacuation of Saigon and the setting up of a refugee centre at Eglin Air Base in Florida for Southeast Asian refugees who escaped the war.