Thursday, 17 January 2008

The Heart of Midlothian War Memorial

One notable reaction to the losses incurred during the Great War was the deeply held need for a place to mourn the dead. The war had to be fought as a war of attrition, a huge siege war, and this resulted in vast numbers of dead on all sides. This is not the time to argue whether these methods were correct, or who was to blame. Suffice to say the men of the British Army left the war believing they had won a great victory, and they were right! The disillusion with the war was to come later, after the promise of 'Homes for heroes,' and the promise of a job 'kept open' failed. The reaction to this failing led to a new world after the second war. In the years immediately after fighting had ceased the nation was gripped by a wide variety of emotions. Large numbers of the dead lay in cemeteries throughout France, many still lay in hospitals, others were to die slow agonising deaths before another conflict broke out. Some three hundred thousand British and Empire troops still lie missing under the old battlefields.

It was the desperate need to find a spot to mourn the dead that led to many memorials being erected throughout the nineteen twenties. Every town and village, however small, had a war memorial, even if it was just a bronze plaque in a church somewhere. Six men in one village, several hundred in a major railway station would be remembered as heroes for their 'Sacrifice,' and their willingness to serve 'God King and Country.'
The sense of loss shook the nation. The 'Unknown Warrior,' buried in Westminster Abbey in 1920, the same year a temporary cenotaph was erected in Whitehall, was visited by millions. Mothers, wives and sisters passed by, many attempting to believe that this was 'their' man. Such was the response that the Cenotaph became permanent.

In Edinburgh the reaction of the city to the announcement in November 1914 that the Heart of Midlothian football players had voluntarily enlisted in George McCrae's 16th Battalion of the Royal Scots, caused over a thousand men, many footballers from other clubs, fans, students and men not yet enrolled to join in. This at a time when the chattering classes, those unable to enlist themselves, were demanding football and other sports should stop while the war continued. So strong were these cries that a major debate was about to take place in Parliament the next day. The actions of the Hearts men saved the day,encouraged recruitment, shut the mouths of the ignorant and cost them their careers, their limbs and their lives! Six men died in action, one died of disease, several were severely disabled, a few returned to playing. Two were to die from the effects of the war long before Hitler came to power.

It is no wonder then that a grateful city erected a monument to these men at the Haymarket. This busy junction was where the road led to Tynecastle Park, the home of the Heart of Midlothian. Traffic heading to all points passed by daily, this was a memorial for the nation to see how such men were remembered. The pride of Edinburgh in such men was demonstrated for all to see! They were of course not alone. There are many memorials including one at the City Chambers, various churches have individuals commemorated, Waverley Station remembers the railmen who died, several hundred of them, and individual factories and places of work commemorated those who did not return. But the Hearts memorial meant a great deal to many people, and not just the many thousand who attended the unveiling. The whole of Edinburgh, and I may say Scotland also, shared the pride in what the action of these players.

Now however, the City intends to remove this memorial and tuck it away out of sight. Why? Because a new development of tramcars is being rushed through at great cost, and the memorial is in the way! The trams may well be a great investment in the long run for the city, and no doubt will be worth the expense, but need the planners move the memorial away from the area? For one thing, it was to those members of this, and many other battalions, who survived a type of 'holy ground,' given by the city in gratitude for their work. Today, while the Heart of Midlothian fans have begun to remember their actions, mostly through Jack Alexander's excellent work 'McCrae's Battalion,' and people in general are once again understanding the nature of the Great War, the council and those responsible for the trams development appear to be belittling our history. Surely, when the memorial first was erected the trams were running, and in a much more complicated pattern than the new development will, surely it is possible to find a way to keep the memorial honoured? This memorial, like so many others, does not glorify war, few of those who return do that, but it does ensure people and their actions often truly heroic, are not forgotten. Our history is important!

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