McCrae’s Battalion inspires new BBC online drama

Sixteen Hearts footballers were called up to fight in World War I. Picture: Contributed
Sixteen Hearts footballers were called up to fight in World War I. Picture: Contributed
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THE story of how World War I destroyed the core of Heart of Midlothian football club has inspired a new BBC online drama.

Footballers United will use a mixture of archive footage and drama to tell the story of McCrae’s Battalion, focusing on two young Hearts players and the women they left behind when they went to fight.

The Tynecastle club sent 16 players to the trenches after war broke out, with seven first-team members killed in action and many others so badly wounded that they never kicked a ball again.

Along with the Hearts players were professionals from Hibernian and Raith Rovers.

Lost Edinburgh: McCrae’s Battalion

The hour-long programme is told over five chapters, with Scotland Women captain Gemma Fay presenting the archive footage, which includes letters from the footballers at the front, old newspaper reports and film of women’s football matches.

Ms Fay said: “This global war had a huge and devastating effect on men, women and a whole generation.

“What I find really interesting is the culture change that happened in everyday life, with women gaining a new sense of freedom and new responsibilities; from starting to work in factories to things that for us today feels obvious, like being allowed to play football.

“I can’t imagine what it was like when the war ended and society was meant to somehow revert ‘back to normal’.

“I think Footballers United tells the story of this very important change of a young generation then, in a way that a young generation can relate to, now.”

McCrae’s Battalion inducted into SFA Hall of Fame

And Sinead Rocks, head of BBC Learning - who commissioned and produced the programme - explained that it was part of ‘new and innovative ways’ to tell stories, adding: “This interactive drama blends high quality video with archived content in a way we’ve never done before; which not only gives the story depth but brings an important topic like WW1 to a new and contemporary audience.”

The programme can be watched online at