Remembrance Sunday: Commemoration of McCrae’s Battalion at Heart of Midlothian clock was a most moving event – Angus Robertson

Remembrance Sunday ceremonies are special wherever they are marked, but in Edinburgh few are as poignant as the commemoration at Haymarket where hundreds gather around the Heart of Midlothian memorial clock.

Members of McCrae's battalion, of the 16th Royal Scots, pictured in October 1915
Members of McCrae's battalion, of the 16th Royal Scots, pictured in October 1915

Here at 11am, the assembled crowd and the current Hearts squad fell silent to remember the dead and injured from McCrae’s Battalion, the first of the ‘footballer’ pals units which served on the western front in the Great War.

In 1914, 16 players and hundreds of supporters of Scottish league leaders Hearts enlisted together with players from Hibs, Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Dunfermline Athletic, East Fife and St Bernard’s FC. They were joined in the 16th Battalion of the Royal Scots by Edinburgh sportsmen who played rugby for Edinburgh Wanderers and Stewart’s Melville, cricket for the Grange Club, and many others.

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Almost three-quarters of the battalion were to become casualties, mostly at the Somme where on the opening day of the battle 20,000 British and Commonwealth troops died. Present-day Hearts captain Craig Gordon read the names of the Hearts first-team fatalities at the Remembrance Sunday commemoration in a moving dedication to all who served.

In addition to the Haymarket memorial clock, the McCrae’s Battalion is commemorated in France at the memorial cairn in the village of Contalmaison and by the outstanding work of the McCrae’s Battalion Trust, and by Jack Alexander in particular who wrote the seminal work: McCrae’s Battalion. Major thanks to everyone at Hearts FC for the Haymarket commemoration. It was an honour to take part and lay a wreath as the MSP for Tynecastle and as a Hearts fan.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary