HEART Of Midlothian supporters gathered at Haymarket yesterday to pay tribute to players killed during the First World War and to mark the restoration of the clock tower memorial that was removed to make way for tram works four years ago.
Manager Gary Locke said the annual memorial service took on an “extra poignancy” as supporters paid their respects at the newly returned war memorial.
The Heart of Midlothian War Memorial was removed from Haymarket junction in the city’s west end and placed into storage in May 2009.
Fans had feared the memorial would never been returned to that part of the city. But yesterday, hundreds of football supporters and club members surrounded the monument, erected in 1922 to remember the seven players who died and those who fought in the First World War, and all soldiers who have served their country.
The Hearts team signed up en masse in 1914 to the 16th Royal Scots, known as McCrae’s Battalion. They were the first football team to join up together, while players from Hibs, Falkirk, Dunfermline Athletic, Raith Rovers and East Fife also served.
Locke, who was there with the full squad and staff, told The Scotsman: “Today was a poignant reminder for everybody at the club. There is so much to look up to today and be proud of.
“Everybody at the club was there to pay their respects, from the players and the managers to the chief executive.
“I’d say there was an extra poignancy to today now that the memorial is back where it belongs. For the last couple of years it’s [the Remembrance service] been across the road, but today we’ve all gathered together in the original place to show our respects and remember the players.”
About a thousand people gathered to listen to the service.
Hearts managing director David Southern laid the first wreath, and captain Danny Wilson delivered a reading as the club honoured the seven players – Duncan Currie, John Allan, James Boyd, Tom Gracie, Ernest Ellis, James Speedie and Harry Wattie – who did not come back from the war.
“They earned their stripes on the football field. And they earned their stripes on the battlefield,” Wilson told the crowd.
After the service, many fans, friends, family and servicemen gathered around the clock tower to read the tributes on the dozens of wreaths that were laid at the foot of the monument, including those from Hearts supporters clubs across the land – from local groups to further afield in Glasgow and Manchester. There were also wreaths from other football clubs, one bearing the Hibernian badge and colours.
Many had handwritten messages that simply said: lest we forget.
Jack Douglas, 68, from Tranent, said: “A lot of footballers fought in the war – Hibs, Raith Rovers, Falkirk, so many.
“The Hearts players did an incredible thing. The whole team put themselves forward. They trained at the [Edinburgh] castle and then they fought without thinking of themselves.”
Fergus Shepherd, 49, who served in the Royal Scots between 1980 and 1986, added: “It brings it back. These guys didn’t even train as soldiers. They were playing football, then suddenly they were out there, fighting for our lives.
“It’s humbling. They gave up what could have been a cushy job totally selflessly.”
Mr Douglas added: “Today the clock tower is in its rightful place, and it is great to see it back. We feel like we can pay our respects properly.”