City square to be renamed after Sir George McCrae

Sir George McCrae. Pic: comp
Sir George McCrae. Pic: comp
8
Have your say

IT was said to be one of the most rousing speeches ever delivered in the Capital.

First World War hero Sir George McCrae delivered his “eve of battle” speech that convinced 1400 men – including 16 Hearts players – to join him and fight for their country on the Western Front.

PIC PHIL WILKINSON.TSPL / JOHNSTON PRESS''VIEWS OF THE USHER HALL , EDINBURGH.

PIC PHIL WILKINSON.TSPL / JOHNSTON PRESS''VIEWS OF THE USHER HALL , EDINBURGH.

Now the Edinburgh hero is to be immortalised at the scene of the patriotic outburst thanks to advanced plans to rename Cambridge Street plaza, outside the Usher Hall, McCrae’s Place.

Today city figures welcomed steps to celebrate the former lord provost and Westminster MP with the name honour.

Current Lord Provost Donald Wilson said it would be a fitting nod to his illustrious predecessor – and the battalion he raised – in the centenary year of the venue and the First World War.

He said: “This important and well-used space in front of the Usher Hall is of particular significance as this is where he raised the battalion.

“As Lord Provost and veterans champion, I am determined that we should continue to show our support and 
gratitude for the enormous sacrifices made by McCrae’s Battalion and the other courageous men and women in service of this country.”

Thousands packed into the Usher Hall, which had opened just months previously, in 1914 in what was hailed the largest and most significant rally of Lord Kitchener’s “Your Country Needs You” campaign during the Great War. It made headlines across the world.

Jack Alexander, historian and author of McCrae’s Battalion: The Story of the 16th Royal Scots, said a gesture to remember the great man was long overdue.

He said: “Sir George McCrae is one of the most significant figures in modern Edinburgh history and he’s not been commemorated anywhere.

“He has been utterly forgotten and people now maybe find it hard to imagine how someone like him could be so respected.

“There are some who have contributed far less to Edinburgh that have streets named after them – like Cranston Street and McLeod Street.

“He was probably one of the most respected and well-known public figures in the country at the time but didn’t stand on a [war] recruiting platform until November 1914 because he did not feel he had the right to ask young men to go and serve and be killed unless he could serve with them.”

That was until he secured permission from the War Office to raise his own battalion – known as the “Sporting Battalion” – later leading hundreds of Edinburgh soldiers into many battles including The Somme.

Mr Alexander, who also runs McCrae’s Battalion Trust, said: “The Usher Hall event was the biggest recruiting event in the UK – there was nothing else like it. I have spoken to people who were there that night. It was a huge story across the UK.

“And it took place in the newly opened Usher Hall. I’m told they actually used the weight of the battalion to test the strength of the balcony.”

Around 1000 of the eager men who signed up to fight in the 16th Royal Scots never returned home. McCrae himself was said to have been profoundly changed by the war.

“The same man didn’t come back,” said Mr Alexander. “The modern council is being very proactive and McCrae’s Place is a nice touch.”

With few homes in the area – and the Usher Hall keen to retain its current Lothian Road address – the Cambridge Street swathe of land near the Shakespeare pub has been deemed the most suitable spot for the name change.

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com