Unesco hope for town that honours soldier footballers

Members of the McCrae's Battalion Trust with the memorial
Members of the McCrae's Battalion Trust with the memorial
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A FRENCH village which commemorates the sacrifice made by Hearts players and supporters during the First World War is set to receive World Heritage status.

hirteen footballers volunteered for service under city soldier Sir George McCrae – prompting hundreds of fans and other men to do likewise.

Now Patricia Leroy, the mayor of Contalmaison, is in the process of securing the UNESCO honour.

A new plaque donated by the charity McCrae’s Battalion Trust is also set to be unveiled in the village’s “Scottish memorial garden” to those killed in the Battle of the Somme.

Mounted on a five-tonne piece of Elgin sandstone, topped by a bronze map of the area as it was in 1916, the plaque will be unveiled by Lord Provost Donald Wilson and Mrs Leroy on July 1 at an annual remembrance service.

The remembrance service commemorates the first day of the Battle of the Somme at a cairn built in memory of the thousands who lost their lives.

Jack Alexander, author of the book McCrae’s Battalion and member of the charity, arranged the creation of the Edinburgh cairn, a monument to the battalion in Contalmaison, in 2004.

He said: “The mayor is in the process of securing Unesco World Heritage status for her ‘village of a hundred souls’. All indications are that it will probably go through some time later this year.

“The Scottish connection and the unique story of the Edinburgh footballers feature prominently in her letters of application.”

On July 1, 1916, 20,000 soldiers died, including three Hearts players, although that number rose to seven as the battle raged on.

Mrs Leroy said: “We are so proud of the young Scotsmen who died trying to liberate us. Their memory has a home here in France and we will never forget them.”

The sandstone memorial was installed by the trust last weekend. Mr Alexander said: “When we arrived in the village, two football scarves were tied together across the plaque.

“Three weeks after a momentous cup final, supporters of Hearts and Hibs had come to Contalmaison to remember the great deeds of their grandfathers’ generation.

“I think it is symbolic of a certain amount of comradeship in the Edinburgh football community.”

Around 400 people are expected to attend the ceremony of remembrance at Contalmaison on July 1.

Four sixth-year school pupils will be among wreath-layers, including two from West Calder and two from Falkirk.

A group from Edinburgh will travel to Contalmaison for the event and there are still a small number of places available. Contact Alan Owenson, on 01875-812 455 for details.