Ceremony unveils McCrae’s Battalion memorial

Lord Provost Donald Wilson lays a wreath at the flagstone tribute in McCrae's Place. Picture: Jane Barlow

Lord Provost Donald Wilson lays a wreath at the flagstone tribute in McCrae's Place. Picture: Jane Barlow

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Straight-backed soldiers stood to attention yesterday as solemn crowds watched a single poppy wreath being placed on the city’s first memorial to the famous McCrae’s Battalion.

A special afternoon ceremony outside the Usher Hall saw the venue’s forecourt officially renamed McCrae’s Place in honour of the First World War soldiers, with around 200 people gathering to watch as a flagstone tribute was unveiled outside the main entrance.

Flanked by flag-bearing representatives of the Royal Scots Regiment, Lord Provost Donald Wilson said the stone marker would “right a wrong” by finally giving the battalion – which formed on the final Friday of November 100 years ago – its own memorial.

And relatives of men who joined the so-called “Sportsman’s Battalion” – many of them footballers for Hearts – watched as a representative from the club laid a poppy wreath beside the new flagstone in an act of poignant remembrance.

Abbeyhill resident Brian Irving, whose mother’s uncle, Duncan Currie, was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 after signing up as a young Hearts player, said the day had been an “emotional” tribute to the fallen.

The 57-year-old said: “I’ve been brought up with the story of the McCrae’s Battalion all my life. This is important – it’s good to commemorate your history. You have to remember. It was a great sacrifice they made.”

The 16th Battalion of the Royal Scots was formed by self-made Edinburgh businessman Sir George McCrae, left, after his rousing speech at the Usher Hall on November 27, 1914 encouraged 800 men to enlist as volunteers.

Led by Sir George, the battalion included 16 Hearts players and a number of footballers from Hibs, Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Dunfermline, as well as hundreds of fans inspired to sign up by their footballing heroes. Many of them would die on the battlefield during some of the war’s most ferocious conflicts, including seven of Hearts’ first-team members.

Councillor Wilson said the memorial would honour the “bravery” of the men who fought and died.

He said: “It’s a really important thing for the city – the battalion was raised here at the Usher Hall. It’s significant that a public place in Edinburgh now commemorates McCrae’s Battalion.

“And perhaps the most poignant thing about this is that it’s exactly 100 years to the evening since the battalion was raised. It’s about recognising and raising a tribute to the tremendous sacrifice and bravery of these men.”

Major Gary Tait, chairman of the McCrae’s Battalion Trust, said the memorial would keep memories alive for future generations. He said: “Anybody that comes to Edinburgh will want to know what this is about. It’s about having somewhere to come and engage with the history.”

Tribute to VC winner Ritchie

A tribute to Commander Henry Peel Ritchie – the first member of the Royal Navy to receive the Victoria Cross during the First World War – was unveiled at Melville Crescent in the Capital yesterday afternoon.

Commander Ritchie, who was born on the street, is remembered for his bravery in completing allied naval search and demolition operations off the east coast of Africa during the height of the war – all while he was severely wounded. He died at his Silverknowes home in 1958 and his medal has since gone missing.

Lord Provost Donald Wilson said: “One hundred years on from the First World War, it is crucial that Edinburgh continues to commemorate its war-time heroes. I am delighted that Commander Henry Ritchie’s life and story is being commemorated in this way. His medal may be lost, but at least his story won’t be.”