I am deeply disappointed to learn that the 16th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Scots has been associated in social media and the press with the pseudonymous Mr Tommy Robinson and his credulous followers. A photograph has appeared online and in print which sullies the reputation of what was arguably the finest infantry unit in all of Lord Kitchener’s New Armies.
I have spent many years studying the battalion and I was privileged to know many of the original members, and many more of their descendants. They would be saddened by today’s developments and by the recent upsurge in offensive behaviour around Tynecastle and beyond.
Ever since the inauguration of the memorial cairn in the Somme village of Contalmaison, it has attracted the attention of a small cadre of intensely stupid individuals who like to think themselves keepers of some mythical tradition of Heart of Midlothian FC as a Protestant “Loyalist” club. It’s as if they imagine they can better guard old Derry’s walls from the breastworks of Ypres, Arras and Albert. They come to the Western Front, meet up with their equally bigoted cohorts from Lanarkshire and Northern Ireland and sing their dubious songs of hate.
They have no business drawing McCrae’s Battalion into their petty little world. As the Loyalist community in Scotland slides deeper into the mire of racism and right-wing sentiment, they risk dragging the reputation of McCrae’s down with them.
The men of Sir George’s battalion (who actually stood behind the breastworks) were members of the broadest possible church – footballers, rugby men, cricketers and golfers; supporters of Hearts, Hibs, Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Dunfermline; Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Church of England, Methodist and Jewish; Scottish, English, Irish, Welsh, American, Canadian and Maori.
They were all pals together: religion and nationality meant nothing compared to the trust generated by friendship in the greatest of adversity.
McCrae’s was Scotland’s sporting battalion. They represented their mother country with courage and pride.
All Scots should return that pride and resist at every opportunity any attempt to politicise or desecrate their memory.
Jack Alexander, Edinburgh
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