Saturday, 10 November 2007

Haymarket Remembrance of Heart of Midlothian Players

On Sunday we see many Remembrance services throughout the UK, but one I wish I could attend is the short service at the Haymarket in Edinburgh.
This memorial was erected in 1922 to commemorate the action of the Heart of Midlothian players who enlisted in 'McCrae's Battalion.' This battalion, the 16th Royal Scots, was founded and led by Sir George McCrae. By persuading the Hearts men to join the battalion he brought credit to the football world, many were determined to force football, and many other sports, to close for the duration of the war. The actions of these men ended this, and persuaded a great many more to enlist at a time when recruitment was falling away after the early rush.

This was no easy task for these men. Football wise they were about to win the League Championship for the first time for years, this team was the best in the country and had started the season with a resounding two nil victory over their main rivals Celtic. By the time McCrae arrived the war had begun to go badly for the allies. After the victory at Mons, the retreat to the Marne, and the beginning of trench warfare, folk had realised the war would not 'be over by Christmas.' The dangers to life and limb were becoming obvious, and the opportunity of football glory was near, yet many enlisted in the Royal Scots. Others had already joined up, one a reservist and another a territorial. James Speedie and John Allan both enlisted when the first call for volunteers was heard.

Speedie was one of the seven players were did not return from France. He enlisted in the 7th Queens Own Cameron Highlanders and died during the advance on Loos. The regiment then successfully took most of their objectives although they were then held up after a decent advance. Somewhere along the way Speedie was killed, his body never found. The 16th were to suffer badly on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Three men. Wattie, Ellis and Currie died, others were wounded. But the survivors did make a stand and some progressed further than any others that day, to the edge of the village of Contalmaison, although they ended up as POW's! In August, during a quite day, young Boyd was killed. Tom Graicie however died while on service. This man had become the Hearts leading scorer with 29 goals in the season that preceded the war, yet he had begun to suffer his illness by then. This however not only did not stop him enlisting with the rest he continued to score goals. The Hearts men had to endure military training, often involving long route marches, and as a result often found themselves playing league matches with injured feet. Blisters were often bad, tiredness was keen, but by the end of the season 1914/15 the Heart of Midlothian finished second and only by a few points, points that would have been won had military training not interfered! Graicie would often be in his bed but would rise to play his part, and continued his military training. In October 1915 he died. he had been suffering from Leukemia but had managed to keep the nature of his illness from everyone. In 1917, while serving with the only kilted Royal Scots Battalion, the 9th, John Allan was killed near Rouex. His patrol was caught in crossfire, he was the last to die during the war.

Paddy Crossan and Bob Mercer were to die from the effects of the war during the next twenty years, along with many thousands of others who do not have their names on war memorials. But maybe their names ought to be remembered also? Several players resumed their football careers, many were unable to, some leaving the army 'severely disabled' in one way or other. the welfare for these men would be slim at that time. In another war yet more men died, men and fans serving for a cause beyond football. Many endured during the years of 'peace' since the war. Today fans from the club are in the armed forces and brave the dangers of Iraq or even Afghanistan. War memorials are no longer about the distant past, they are with us, unfortunately, for ever.

No comments: