Movie plan to remember McCrae’s Hearts war heroes

The men of the 16th Royal Scots Battalion, better known as McCrae's battalion.
The men of the 16th Royal Scots Battalion, better known as McCrae's battalion.
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THE sacrifice of Hearts players in the trenches of the First World War is set to be immortalised on the big screen amid plans by movie producers to honour McCrae’s Battalion.

A London-based producer has thrashed out a plot for a feature film bringing to life the true story of 16 Hearts players who swapped the maroon jerseys of Tynecastle for the khaki of the King’s uniform.

Filmmaker Jon Pettigrew said he grew fascinated with the “footballers’ battalion” – or McCrae’s Battalion as the 16th Royal Scots was affectionately known – after hearing about the tragic tale through his father, who was educated at Fettes.

Hearts have welcomed the project, insisting the movie would help to share the story with new audiences.

“We are thrilled that the heroic contribution Hearts players made to the First World War may be remembered in this way,” said a club spokesman. “A film about McCrae’s Battalion will not only preserve their legacy but ensure the story is heard more widely.”

When horror stories from the trenches began filtering through to Scotland in 1914, the entire Hearts first team decided to join the war effort having dominated the league with eight successive victories.

Three Hearts players were killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, and within a month another three had died fighting the Kaiser.

By the end of hostilities in 1918, the club had lost seven first team players.

Speaking about what inspired the movie bid, Mr Pettigrew said: “My father used to mention Hearts a lot because he went to Fettes and he was heavily involved in sport in Edinburgh.

“The tale of war footballers is such a fantastic story, and with the right backers and the right investment it will transform into a great movie.”

It comes months after plans were unveiled to christen the plaza outside the Usher Hall McCrae’s Place in memory of Sir George McCrae, who delivered a rousing “eve of battle” speech urging hundreds of Edinburgh men to join the war effort.

Former Hearts chairman Lord George Foulkes hailed the timing of the film, with centenary events to mark the start of the First World War taking place later this year.

He said: “Although Bill Shankly famously said football is more important than life and death, he was just exaggerating to make a point.

“It is one of the most moving and heroic stories of the war, and it is a mystery why this real-life drama has not yet been transferred to stage or screen.”

But Jack Alexander, director of the McCrae’s Battalion Trust, was opposed to it being made into a blockbuster.

He said: “I’m firmly against someone making a Hollywood-style film. But if the story was given to the likes of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks to so something with as they did with Band of Brothers, then it would work well.”

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com