Ceremony to unveil WWI heroes' cairn

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THE final pieces of a memorial to Edinburgh’s "forgotten" footballing soldiers killed in the First World War will be put in place in France this weekend.

The memorial will honour 550 soldiers from two city battalions when it is officially unveiled on November 7.

Among the soldiers commemorated will be players from Hearts as well as Hibs supporters who were killed on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.

Today, organisers behind the memorial will attach four bronze plaques to a 40-tonne Scottish sandstone cairn which has been built only metres from where many of the soldiers were killed. The memorial is the biggest and most important to be built on the former Western Front for more than 80 years.

The memorial was originally planned by surviving members of the 16th Battalion of the Royal Scots in 1919, but was abandoned due to lack of resources. The 15th Royal Scots, known as the Provost’s Battalion, will also be remembered on the cairn.

For the past year, Edinburgh historian Jack Alexander, who is heading the project, has worked to rally volunteers helping to raise 40,000 towards the 60,000 cost of the project. Fundraising will continue even after the official unveiling. The principle plaque commemorates the 16th Battalion and is a version of the original cairn plan.

It includes the Royal Scots’ badge, the Edinburgh City crest, a portrait of Colonel Sir George McCrae and an image of a cartoon drawn by Captain DM Sutherland in the Christmas of 1916.

The other plaques commemorate the 15th Battalion, half of which came from Manchester, and include the Manchester City crest, as well as a plaque dedicated to Hearts players and supporters who died.

Mr Alexander, speaking before leaving for France yesterday, said: "This is the end of 14 years of work trying to persuade people that this memorial was a worthwhile idea.

"The work on this important and tragic story has consumed my life for 14 years and it will be a very satisfying moment to see these men recognised in a way they deserve when it is officially unveiled."

The 16th Royal Scots were the famous McCrae’s Battalion who died in the French village of Contalmaison during the Somme.

In total 13 Hearts players, some from the first-team and some from the reserves, enlisted for the battalion, being promoted in Edinburgh by Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George McCrae, in November 1914. But four Hearts players died in the battle - Duncan Currie, Harry Wattie, Jimmy Boyd and Ernest Ellis - while a substantial number of other sporting stars were wounded in what was the bloodiest battle of the war.

Hundreds of people are expected to attend the unveiling ceremony next weekend, including surviving family members, representatives from both Hibs and Hearts as well as dignitaries such as Lord Provost Leslie Hinds, Health Minister Andy Kerr MSP and George Foulkes MP, chairman of Hearts.

The ceremony will see guests led from the front line across the battlefield by Lothian and Borders Police piper Kenny McBride. A colour party from the Royal Scots will also carry the actual battalion colour used at the Somme.

The cairn will be unveiled by Lt-Col McCrae’s grandson George McCrae, who is travelling from western Canada and will wear his grandfather’s glengarry.

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