100 days – Day 58: McCrae’s Own
The new fixture list for the Scottish Champions League was unveiled yesterday. For a while, in order to commemorate the selfless and sacrificial contribution of players from Hearts and Raith Rovers to the First World War, there has been a campaign to have the two current sides meet this year in November.
For once, the powers- that- be have listened and, at Tynecastle, on 8 November this year, the two sides will play each other
Saturday 8th November 2014
Hearts v Raith Rovers
Do not ask where Hearts are playing and then look at me askance. If it’s football that you’re wanting, you must come with us to France!
Sir George McCrae
16th Bn. Royal Scots (McCrae’s Battallion) Memorial at Contalmaison, Somme, France
When war was declared in August 1914, the football season was already under way. As men rushed to arms, many questioned why football was continuing.
In Scotland, the bulk of this wrath was reserved for the top team in the country, and as fate would have it, in 1914 that team was Heart of Midlothian.
Letters were written to the press – the Edinburgh Evening News published one, signed ‘A soldier’s daughter’, which suggested that ‘while Hearts continue to play football, enabled thus to pursue their peaceful play by the sacrifice of the lives of thousands of their countrymen, they might accept, temporarily, a nom de plume, say “The White Feathers of Midlothian”.’
Hearts had made the most emphatic start to a season by winning their first eight league fixtures, attracting criticism for continuing the ‘awful farce of football’
In November 1914 the well-respected local businessman and former MP Sir George McCrae launched an appeal to the young men of Edinburgh to join his own battalion for active duty in the field. McCrae’s ambitious aim to source a full unit within just 7 days sounded fanciful, but his confidence was justified as thirteen professional players contracted to Heart of Midlothian answered his call. They were the first football club in Britain to do so.
Within days, hundreds of the club’s supporters began to follow the example of their team.
McCrae’s Battalion quickly managed to attract a full complement of 1,350 recruits – including a great number of football players and supporters of rival clubs such as Hibernian, Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Dunfermline. The example set by the Hearts players had proved pivotal. McCrae’s Own – the original sportsmen’s battalion was born.
Disappointingly for the men in maroon, the 1914/15 league title would head westwards to a Celtic side free from the rigours of military training. Missing out on silverware, however, would pale in comparison to Hearts’ true sacrifice .
The Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916 saw McCrae’s Own suffering massive losses as they battled bravely to try and capture the ruined village of Contalmaison.
Hearts players Harry Wattie, Duncan Currie, Ernie Ellis, Jimmy Speedie, Jimmy Body, Tom Gracie and John Allan all perished during the Great War. Paddy Crossan and Robert Mercer eventually suffered from the effects of wartime gassing, while Alfie Briggs was crippled in action and never played again.
Seven Raith Rovers players (James H Logan, George McLay, Willie Porter, Willie Lavery, Jimmy Todd, Jimmy Scott and Jock Rattray) also joined up, and three players (Todd, Scott and McLay) paid the ultimate sacrifice. . Ten other Raith players also enlisted for service in other regiments during the Great War.
Over 100 lads from Dunfermline also answered the call of King and Country, and joined the battalion at the outset of the First World War.