Heroes of McCrae’s Battalion remembered 100 years on from Somme

McCrae's Battalion.
McCrae's Battalion.
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The sacrifice of two Edinburgh battalions at the Battle of the Somme will be remembered at a special centenary service in the Capital on Friday.

Members of the 15th and 16th Royal Scots went into action on the first day of the battle, July 1 1916 when a total of 20,000 British troops were killed and another 40,000 wounded in the space of an hour.

Sir George McCrae.

Sir George McCrae.

The death toll included 500 soldiers from Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife and another 800 local men were among the wounded.

The 16th Royal Scots was famously called McCrae’s battalion after the charismatic Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George McCrae, who rallied men from the Capital, including a group of Hearts players who were followed by professionals from other football clubs and their supporters.

During their advance on German defensive positions on the opening day of the Somme they lost more than three quarters of their strength.

The service at St Cuthbert’s Church, Lothian Road, is being organised by the McCrae’s Battalion Trust and will be attended by dignitaries including representatives from Hearts, Hibs, Raith Rovers, Dunfermline Athletic and Falkirk. The service will be led by Rev Cole Maynard, Deputy Assistant Chaplain General.

It will also include highlights from a memorial service taking place earlier the same day in the French village of Contalmaison, where those soldiers who survived the battle and where a Scottish cairn was erected in 2004.

One of the organisers of the service is Janice Todd, an elder at St Cuthbert’s, whose uncle, Jimmy Todd, was one of the sportsmen who signed up.

The Raith Rovers player was the first footballer in the battalion to be killed, falling in action before the Somme. She said: “I think this event is important because in a few years the immediate family members of the men who served and made the supreme sacrifice won’t be here to remember them and First World War will inevitably be relegated to the history books. We in St Cuthbert’s Church and McCrae’s Battalion Trust want people to know about this unique service so that they can come along and remember the fallen with us.”

Around 250 people from McCrae’s Battalion Trust are going the service in France, expected to be attended by around 1000.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com