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The Vote Road Trip Day 14 Edinburgh


Bessie Watson


8/9 In Edinburgh,

I had to crane my neck to see the plaque to Elizabeth “Bessie” Watson, a 9-year-old suffragette bagpiper that Linda had finally spotted after we had walked up seemingly endless steps on both sides of the road opposite Edinburgh Castle. In 1909, Bessie and her mother saw an ad for a Great Procession and Women’s Demonstration on October 9th, organized by suffragettes to celebrate “What women have done and can and will do.” Bessie rode on a float and played her pipes. In 1911 she led a contingent of “lady pipers” in the Great Procession in London. When suffragettes were arrested and put on a train to Holloway Prison in London, Bessie stood on the platform and piped. She went to Calton Prison in Edinburgh and piped outside the prison in support of imprisoned suffragettes. The big bows above the plaque are WSPU’s colors: purple, white, and green. Bessie is said to have tied her pigtails with purple, white, and green ribbons. Dedicated on August 1, 2019 Bessie Watson’s plaque is at the top of the wall near where her childhood house once stood, high above the heads of pedestrians, unless they are looking for it and are as sharp-eyed as Linda! (Click on a picture to enlarge it.)

August 15, 1964–55 years ago—was my first and only visit to Edinburgh. After two years of college, I got a six-week job as an assembly line worker in a frozen food factory in Helsingborg, Sweden, bought a one-way ticket on a student ship going to Southampton, England, packed a blue & white seersucker dress, underwear, and socks in a small backpack, got my passport and international youth hostel card, and took a small amount of money. Wearing a denim skirt, white blouse, and hiking boots, I boarded the M/S Aurelia in July 24th. (My mother was apoplectic & furious I wasn’t college bound. My father was thrilled that I was living out one of his fantasies.) From Southampton, I went to London, then took a train to Holyhead and a boat to Dublin, Ireland. I hitchhiked to Belfast and took the boat to Glasgow where at the youth hostel I met Loreen and Jean from New Zealand. Together we hitchhiked the long way to Edinburgh, getting rides in—a lorry carrying Ballantine whiskey to Dumbarton; a Ferrocrete lorry to Fort Williams (We talked through the night with the driver, although his Glaswegian accent was hard to decipher.); a lorry to Loch Ness; a newspaper truck to Inverness; a lorry loaded with 15-tons of granite to Kintore, a hay truck into Aberdeen, a car to Dundee, and a series of short rides in cars to Edinburgh. Amazingly the Women’s Youth Hostel I stayed in was beside The Vennel, the steps, that Linda and I walked up to find Bessie Watson’s plaque! Across the square were

the steps I took, all those many years ago, to get to the castle esplanade to watch The Royal Military Tattoo. (The first steps Linda and I had tried.) We got last-minute tickets to the Tattoo, a much greater event than

what I saw in 1964. We saw military bands, singers, and dancers from Nigeria, China, Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, and a steel drum military band from Trinidad and Tobago; Welsh fiddlers and Scottish dancers; and marching bagpipers galore! Each was introduced by a narrator who provided a wonderful sense of diversity and non-militarism. It was a dignified spectacle, topped off with fireworks shot off from the Edinburgh Castle. We didn’t even mind the rain storm that now seems a daily occurrence  in Scotland. The Tattoo proudly endures every weather condition.

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