McCrae’s Battalion


Remembrance crosses – photo courtesy Owen Benson, Flickr

Hearts, Hearts Glorious Hearts,

It’s Down At Tynecastle They Bide

 In Scotland, nothing gets the blood of the public flowing like football. It’s something so engrained into our mind-set that come the weekend a large portion of Scots can be found filling out drafty terraces or sat in front of their TV, eyes glued to the game. The beautiful game they call it but they beautiful game hasn’t always been so beautiful.

One hundred years have passed since the first soldiers made their way to Mons to try and slow the advancing Germans, and every year we gather to remember the four years of sacrifice from young men all across the country. As the services take place, a small group meet at a memorial in Haymarket to remember McCrae’s battalion; the sporting battalion, the young boys in maroon.

The Talk O’ The Toun Are The Boys In Maroon,

And Auld Reekie Supports Them With Pride

When the First World War broke out in 1914 Heart OF Midlothian Football Club were an unstoppable force in the First Division but all of that was about to change. In November of 1914 George McCrae, a local Edinburgh business man, gave a call to arms to the young men of the city to rally sign up for the war. Little did McCrae know the massive effect his speech would have on the sporting scene.

The men of Hearts Football club answered the call with sixteen of Hearts paid players enlisting along with a five hundred strong following from the supporters. With McCrae at the head, the 16th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Scots became McCrae’s battalion. McCrae and his footballing boys went off to war, serving through the horrific events of trench warfare and the bloody destruction at the Somme, most of them never made it home.

This Is My Story, This Is My Song,

Follow The Hearts And You Can’t Go Wrong

Until very recently, the ultimate sacrifice of many of these men was largely forgotten by the general public. It was the Hearts fans that gathered every year around the memorial at Haymarket to remember their fallen brothers. It was the team that commissioned and paid for the memorial back in 1922 and it is still the Hearts fans that gather there today.

In this, the centenary year of the anniversary of remembrance, a crowd once again gathered in Haymarket, thousands of football fans coming together to remember those we’ve lost. Football has the power to bring people together and this year it has done just that. Thousands lined the streets around the memorial to pay their respects. Although a sombre occasion, Remembrance Day can also be a day of hope. The loud chorus of the hymns and the voices joined in prayer remind us that we can move on despite the losses. The poppies laid by the current team represent more than just sacrifice. Each poppy is a pledge, a pledge that the living will remember the dead.

For a little football team from the east of Scotland, Remembrance Day will always cast a shadow over the pitch at Gorgie, putting sadness in the hearts of many. One thing we all learned from those weekends in the terraces is that blood doesn’t show up on a maroon jersey. The lost boys of the McCrae’s battalion will always be with the team and the memorial is a fitting way to remember, so as the ball is kicked into play at the next home fixture those lost boys will be at the forefront of our minds. Lest We Forget.

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