Jeremy Paxman tells story of Hearts team at war

: Broadcaster Jeremy Paxman at Tynecastle. Picture: BBC
: Broadcaster Jeremy Paxman at Tynecastle. Picture: BBC
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The sacrifice made by the players and supporters of Hearts during the First World War will be featured in a BBC documentary series presented by Jeremy Paxman.

The story of the formation of the 16th Royal Scots battalion, headed by Sir George McCrae and referred to as McCrae’s Battalion, will feature in the first episode of Britain’s Great War, to be broadcast on BBC One later this month.

Series producer Julian Birkett said: “There was growing public resentment over the exemption of professional sportsmen from the fighting, with a cartoon in Punch magazine specifically singling out footballers as cowards.

“Many players then came forward to sign up, and one of the reasons we decided to feature Hearts in particular was that their story really illustrates the strong emotional pull and sense of identity that fans took from their team, which was then grafted on to the battalion.”

By December 1914, less than a month after an emotional appeal for volunteers which saw 11 first team Hearts players join the battalion, 800 recruits, predominantly Hearts supporters but also players from Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Dunfermline and roughly 150 Hibernian supporters, had answered their country’s call to arms.

Seven players from Hibs also registered to fight before conscription was introduced in 1916.

Hearts historian David Speed, 61, said: “The bravery of these men is something we have always been proud of.

“Seven first team players died during the war, including centre forward Tom Gracie, who hid a diagnosis of leukaemia so he could continue training for battle.

“The team, which at the beginning of 1914 had been poised to take the Scottish Cup, took over two decades to recover, both emotionally and in terms of strength.”

The first episode of Britain’s Great War, in which Newsnight presenter Paxman visits the club’s Tynecastle ground, will be broadcast on Monday
January 27.