The niece of a footballer who perished while serving in McCrae’s Battalion during the First World War has commemorated her uncle’s sacrifice by organising a poignant remembrance ceremony.
Jimmy Todd was just 20 when he answered the call of Sir George McCrae to sign up with the 16th Royal Scots Battalion in 1914.
Jimmy was a stand-out performer at Raith Rovers at the time and was being scouted by Hearts.
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But he decided to hang up his boots and pick up arms along with dozens of other players from Hearts, Hibs, Falkirk and Dunfermline.
More than 650 supporters followed their example and headed off to war following a stoic procession from the Usher Hall to Castle Street that would prove one of the Capital’s most iconic wartime memories.
Through their valiant acts of bravery, Todd and his unit were able to stifle calls to ban the “morally corrupt” sport of football – yet few players would ever return from the war.
Jimmy was the famous Edinburgh battalion’s first professional casualty, after being hit by an artillery shell before the Battle of the Somme.
Now, a century after the charismatic McCrae, pictured below, convinced hundreds of the Capital’s men to take to the killing fields of France, Jimmy’s niece Janice has arranged a memorial ceremony.
“My uncle was killed just a few weeks after arriving in France,” she said. “He didn’t even make it to the Battle of the Somme, where the 16th Royal Scots made a name for themselves and for the city as among the bravest of the brave.
“But very few survived in the end. They had no idea what they were being led off to – and that most of them would be mowed down by machine gun fire.”
Janice had never even seen a photo of her uncle until she came across his image on a TV show charting the rise of Britain’s first sporting battalion. “It’s incredibly emotional to think what those men endured, and to imagine how they would respond to seeing their photos in articles and documentaries,” she said.
“There were 1345 men in that battalion – and so there must be thousands of families in Edinburgh who had a relative that served in the unit. We want to bring those people together so that they can learn about the men’s sacrifice.”
The ceremony will take place next Thursday at St Cuthbert’s Church, Lothian Road – which McCrae’s men filed past on their sombre march across the city and into the unknown.
Author and historian Jack Alexander, who wrote the first all-encompassing chronicle of the 16th Royal Scots’ adventures, will be at the 12.45pm service. “They inspired Edinburgh, and it’s crucial McCrae’s Battalion be remembered,” he said.
The ceremony will be followed by an evening of music, dance and drama at the Usher Hall on the Friday, with profits divided between military charities.