A LABOUR peer has launched a bid to put the Hearts XI, which was the only British football team to sign up en masse for the Great War, in the forefront of the events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict.
Former Hearts chairman Lord Foulkes has written to the politicians in charge of the 2014 commemorations asking that the sacrifice made by the famous Hearts team should be remembered as part of the series of events planned by Prime Minister David Cameron.
The team was regarded as one of the Edinburgh club’s greatest ever and was top of the league in the 1914-15 season. But the team set aside championship glory when it answered General Kitchener’s call for volunteers to fight the Germans. The players’ gallantry was to come at a heavy price with more than half the team dying in the Battle of the Somme.
The players joined the 16th Battalion the Royal Scots, a unit that became known as “McCrae’s Own” after its leader Sir George McCrae. In the end, many footballers joined McCrae’s Own, which also became known as the “Sportsmen’s Battalion”, including players from other clubs.
Yesterday, Lord Foulkes said he had written to the Conservative defence minister Andrew Murrison and the Lib Dem peer Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the politicians looking after the commemorations. “I have asked for a special commemoration in Edinburgh involving Heart of Midlothian Football Club and others,” Lord Foulkes said. “It is an astonishing story. They were top of the league before they signed up and I think this has to be recognised. It was not just Hearts: there were players from other clubs, including Hibs.”
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister said £50 million would be spent on a “truly national commemoration” to mark the centenary of the First World War.
Mr Cameron said there would be events in 2014 to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the war, in 2018 for the centenary of Armistice Day, and also on the dates of major battles in between. There will also be a £5m educational programme for schoolchildren, including trips to the battlefields.
Lord Foulkes hopes that part of that will be devoted to remembering the Hearts players who signed up one fateful Saturday night in November, after a hard-fought battle at Tynecastle. After the game, the players duly presented themselves to a recruiting office at Haymarket.