McCrae’s Battalion was the affectionate name given by the people of Edinburgh to the 16th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Scots, raised from volunteers in 1914 as part of the New Armies called to the Colours by Lord Kitchener. Largely composed of professional and amateur sportsmen, “McCrae’s” was the first of the so-called ‘footballers’ battalions to be raised during the war and was the main inspiration behind the creation of the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment in 1915. Heart of Midlothian comfortably led the First Division at the time the war broke out. Sixteen players from Heart of Midlothian enlisted along with 500 Hearts supporters and ticket-holders, players and 150 followers of Hibernian, seven Raith Rovers players,and a number of professional footballers from Falkirk, Dunfermline, East Fife and St Bernard’s, fans being encouraged to follow in their heroes’ footsteps and fight alongside the men they cheered on every Saturday afternoon. Rugby players, athletes and a variety of other sportsmen also joined the battalion.
The unit was named after its charismatic colonel, Sir George McCrae, and was the subject of a detailed historical account published in 2003 by Jack Alexander. Shortly after the publication of this book, a memorial cairn was constructed in the village of Contalmaison on the Somme. Designed by Alexander, the McCrae’s Battalion Great War Memorial cairn now attracts hundreds of visitors every year to the village
McCrae’s Battalion Resources
Primarily taken from the Battalion website please take time to look through this range of resources which demonstrates the wide reaching nature of the Battalion’s legacy.
They called them – Scotland’s ‘Sporting Battalion’ and the first of the so-called ‘Footballers’ battalions. But most folk knew them simply as ‘McCrae’s’.
McCrae’s Battalion – Jack Alexander
Raised in Edinburgh shortly after the start of the Great War, it was perhaps the finest unit in Lord Kitchener’s volunteer army – a brotherhood of sportsmen, bound together by their extraordinary colonel and their loyalty to a quaintly named Association Football club, the famous Gorgie ‘Hearts’. McCrae’s were blooded in the Battle of the Somme, losing three-quarters of their strength on the first day alone. The Colonel himself was invalided home. In time the battalion recovered. It came of age at Arras, endured the muddy horror of Passchendaele, and held the line unbroken in the face of furious German attacks on the Lys in 1918. For almost a century their story remained untold. It was all but lost forever. Now, after 12 years of exacting historical detective work, Jack Alexander has reclaimed the 16th Royal Scots for posterity. In this stirring book he draws upon interviews with veterans and a unique archive of letters, diaries and photographs, assembled from the families of more than 1,000 of Sir George McCrae’s men.
Footballers United is a unique interactive online drama – a narrative with an accompanying archive of images, text and video – set in Edinburgh and revolving around two young men and two young women as they cope with their new reality.
Jack and Gib enlist and become part of the McCrae’s – so-called because of its founder, Sir George McCrae, an Aberdonian raised in the slums of Edinburgh, a bootmaker’s message boy who left school at nine but who rose to prominence in later life and became the nation’s most powerful civil servant.
The supreme sacrifice
BBC’s The Supreme Sacrifice: Documentary on how the Hearts team became ‘C’ Company of the 16th Battalion of The Royal Scots in WW I