McCrae’s Battalion piper to be honoured at long last

Some of McCrae's Battalion pictured in October 1915. Picture: Contributed

Some of McCrae's Battalion pictured in October 1915. Picture: Contributed

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THE MAN who piped McCrae’s Battalion out of Edinburgh on their way to fight in the First World War is to be honoured on the centenary of the soldiers’ departure.

Sergeant William Duguid played his pipes as the 16th Royal Scots, which included 11 footballers from Hearts, Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Hibernian and Dunfermline, left Southampton docks for France in January 1916.

Sir George McCrae, who founded the 16th Royal Scots, dubbed 'McCrae's Battalion'. Picture: Contributed

Sir George McCrae, who founded the 16th Royal Scots, dubbed 'McCrae's Battalion'. Picture: Contributed

The 16th Royal Scots was decimated on the battlefields, with around three quarters failing to return home. On the first day of the Somme, more than 600 men in the 810-strong battalion were wounded or killed.

Sergeant Duguid, along with many other pipers, was employed as a stretcher-bearer on the first day of the Somme and dodged German machine gun fire to help rescue the wounded.

READ MORE - McCrae’s Battalion at heart of Somme commemoration

But the pipe-major, who went on to have a lengthy military career, was buried in an unmarked grave in an Edinburgh cemetery for nearly 90 years.

The piper died at the age of 53 in 1929, with his family unable to afford a headstone for the grave in Piershill Cemetery.

And now, the McCrae’s Battalion Trust will unveil a new memorial to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 16th Royal Scots’ departure.

A stone plaque will mark Sergeant Duguid’s resting place in Piershill, and will commemorate the battalion’s canine mascot, a great dane named Jock.

Historian James Alexander, who designed the new memorial, described it as ‘another piece of the jigsaw puzzle,’ adding: “We need to keep the tradition of remembrance alive among young people.”

Mr Alexander told The Times newspaper: “McCrae’s Battalion were very idealistic, optimistic young men and it all ended in tragedy.

READ MORE - Ceremony unveils McCrae’s Battalion memorial

“This commemorates the gravestone of the man who led them to France. He was an older man who suffered watching his younger comrades wiped out.”

Sergeant Duguid was 40 years old at the start of the war, and had spent 12 years with the Gordon Highlanders.

He served in Pakistan in 1897 and fought the Boers in South Africa in 1899.

Sergeant Duguid joined McCrae’s Battalion after an honourable discharge in 1905 from the Gordon Highlanders.

He died in January 1929 at Bangour Hospital.

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