McCrae’s Battalion at heart of Somme commemoration

The McCrae’s Battalion that included the Hearts football team who fought in the Battle of the Somme are to play a major role in a government campaign to encourage the public to join in next year’s centenary commemorations.

McCraes Battalion was formed in 1915 and most of the Hearts team, which at the time was leading the Scottish league, joined up. Picture: Contributed

Some 8,000 free tickets will be allocated in a ballot, in pairs, for the event which is taking place on 1 July 2016 at Thiepval in northern France, where a memorial stands to more than 72,000 men who died in the battle and have no known grave.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale highlighted the famous Scottish battalion, which also featured players from Raith Rovers and Dunfermline Athletic, as he unveils his department’s plans.

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Members of the public will have the chance to go to the site of the Somme in Belgium to be part of the centenary commemorations and the government hopes that those who have a connection to McCrae’s battalion and the many regiments that suffered heavy losses there will put their names forward.

The McCrae’s Battalion was formed in 1915 and most of the Hearts team, which at the time was leading the Scottish league, joined up. Many of the players and other members of the Battalion were then killed or injured at the Somme.

Richard McBrearty, from the Scottish Football Museum, said: “At the time [in 1915] there was a campaign among Scottish newspapers for players to go to the front and the football league to be suspended, so it was a difficult question for the Scottish Football Association and teams.

“But when the players from Hearts and the other teams joined up it had an enormous impact not just in Scotland but around the whole of the UK in encouraging men to enlist.”

Mr Whittingdale told The Scotsman: “I’m delighted that Heritage Lottery Fund money is supporting organisations like the Scottish Football Museum so that they can explore their local heritage and commemorate the First World War.

“We must never forget the sacrifices of the brave young men who served in the McCrae’s Battalion at the Battle of the Somme. Through these projects and our wider programme of commemorations we will keep their memory alive for years to come.

“The Somme centenary event in Thiepval next year will be another opportunity to pay tribute to these soldiers.”