Scottish Footballers
in the Great War
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Lochnagar crater. To the right of this massive crater the Hearts players fell, 
shortly after the beginning of the Somme offensive.
At 7.28 a.m. 60,000lbs of amonal explosive sent the earth hundreds of feet into the air two minutes later the troops went 'over the top' to their fate.
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McCrae's Battalion


Jack Alexander's book reveals this was more than a 'Hearts' battalion, but a regiment comprising men from many clubs and walks of life. While deserving the name 'Footballers battalion' it was much more. This is a story of  ordinary men doing extraordinary things during the Great War.
Visitors So Far
Scottish Footballers in the Great War' is a memorial to the men of  the Heart of Midlothian Football Club who enlisted, mostly in the 16th Royal Scots, in 1914.  Also remembered are players from other Scots clubs. All endured those years of comradeship, anxiety, terror and suffering.  Many  were to be crippled for life, both in body and mind, many still lie somewhere under the soil of  France.  It is wrong to allow their memory to fade.
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Patriotism was at an all time high when war was declared in August 1914.  Throughout Europe men  ran to enlist and in Edinburgh as in Scotland as a whole men flocked to the colours. Kitchener, who had frightened the war cabinet with his knowledge that the war would last three years, called for 100,000 men to enlist, and around half a million came forward. There was a strong belief through the whole of Europe that the war would be over by Christmas, only senior army men, like Haig and Kitchener, understood the reality of the coming war of attrition. This was to be a class of Empires both of whom were powered by a strong industrial base. In November of 1914 Sir George McCrae  approached the Heart of Midlothian players concerning the raising of a new battalion of the Royal Scots. He persuaded them to be the bedrock of the 16th Battalion of the Royal Scots. With this news hundreds of Hearts supporters, students from the university and many players from other clubs also enlisted and quickly over a thousand men filled the ranks. Jack Alexander's classic work,
'McCrae's Battalion.' has done much to prevent the history of these men being forgotten. Naturally much here is taken from that excellent book that is a 'must read' for all interested,not only in a football team but in Scotland and in particular Edinburgh's reaction to the war. This is a story of a team ready to claim the Scottish League Championship putting that aside to serve a greater purpose, and it is a tale that touched the hearts of the nation. In doing so prevented home based patriots, the worst of all types, causing the suspension of all sporting activities. The army training of course hindered the footballing side and the league was lost to a Celtic team who, as yet, sent none to the front. Theirs is a story of poignancy and heroism, but they would not claim it any more so than that of other players and men from all walks of life who served, suffered and gave up their lives for their friends during those long years of endurance. These were ordinary men who took part in extraordinary events.
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Heart of Midlothian players who died
S/116102 Pte James Hodge Speedie. Born 17 November 1893, St.George's,Edinburgh. Worked as an insurance clerk and played as an amateur at inside left for Hearts. Played eight games in season 1914-15, including the first game where goals from Wattie and Gracie gave Hearts a 2-0 win over Celtic before an 18,000 crowd. A significant win as Celtic were to be unbeaten until well into the next season! Hearts themselves took first place for 35 out of 37 weeks of the season, finishing a mere four points behind the winners in spite of military training.  Training which Celtic, and Rangers, players were not to undergo for some time. Speedie joined the 7th battalion the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders soon after the outbreak of war. He was also early in action and took part in the first 'Big Push' at Loos on the 25th of September 1915. Though his regiment swept past Loos and reached as far as Hill 70 he himself fell somewhere during the advance. He was twenty one. His body was never found. He is commemorated on the Loos Memorial, panel 119 or 124. His brother, a lieutenant, was also killed in the war.
19024 Cpl Tom Gracie. Born Glasgow 1889, a meat salesman to trade, Tom had played for several clubs beginning with the Juniors and progressing through Airdrie, Hamilton and Greenock Morton before joining Everton in 1910. A year later he moved across to Liverpool from where Hearts bought him in May 1914 to replace Percy Dawson. This high scoring forward had joined Blackburn Rovers for 2500. Gracie cost Hearts a mere 400 ! Tom was to score 34 goals from a total of 39 appearances, including 29 league goals, a club record!  This in his first season, a bargain buy! His scoring skill earned him a international cap against the Irish league in 1915. He was one of those who enrolled in the 16th Royal Scots and endured military training along with his team mates. During this time he was frequently ill, yet continued to rise from his sick bed to play, and score for the Hearts. While the battalion was stationed at Ripon in 1915 Tom was sent home to Glasgow because of his ill health. He died in Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow on 23rd October 1915. He was twenty six, and had the football world at his feet. His great goalscoring success was even more remarkable when the truth came out, Gracie had been suffering from leukaemia! No one but manager John McCartney knew.                                                                     When people speak of 'hero's' or 'brave men' surely Tom Gracie must be mentioned here. To play so well and score so frequently when enduring army life and serious disease must rank as one of the bravest acts found among men.

The Battle of the Somme which began on the 1st July 1916, saw the greatest disaster in the history of the British army during the first few moments of the attack. In spite of massive preparations, including a bombardment of over one and a half million shells, when the troops 'went over the top' at 7:30 hours in bright morning sunshine the enemy were waiting. For the most part the shells used were inefficient at destroying the enemy wire and the Germans, deep underground in well made shelters, had been well protected from the worst of the shelling. 'Shaken but not stirred' they emerged gratefully from their lairs and took up their defensive positions. By the time the attackers began to make their way through their own wire German artillery opened up and  accompanied by heavy machine gun fire destroyed the attacking forces in most parts of the line. Of the 57,000 casualties that day, including approximately 20,000 dead, most probably became casualties within the first ten minutes of the action!

The 34th Division, of which 'C' Company, the 16th Royal Scots were part of this suffering.  The Brigade of which they formed a part  suffered 80% casualties. The 'Tyneside Irish being obliterated by enemy fire before they reached their objective! However despite the devastation the survivors pushed on. 'Bent double as walking through heavy rain,' the remnants of the 16th eventually joined with the survivors of the 11th Suffolk's, 10th Lincoln's and 15th Royal Scots, some 100 men, and managed to keep control of the 'Scots redoubt' some way into the enemy line for the next 24 hours. During the night they were joined by McCrae himself and held the position in spite of constant enemy attempts at counter attack. These for the most part were the men who had volunteered so eagerly in 1914. 'Kitchener's Army,' which had eagerly answered the call was almost destroyed in a day!
19112 Pte Henry Wattie who was born in Edinburgh on 2nd June 1893 was the youngest of five brothers. His brother John was to become chaplain to the fleet. Henry himself became one of 'The Sixteen.' Wattie was considered by some to be capable of replacing the great Bobby Walker, some compliment as Walker had played against England eleven times. As an inside forward Henry managed to score against all comers including a double at Ibrox in a two goals to one victory. Later a tackle on him by two Aberdeen players left one with a broken leg and the other unable to continue until half time! On the first day of the Somme Wattie attacked with his comrades and was sen by Annan Ness to fall. His body, like so many others that day, was never recovered. His was a great loss for all of Scottish football.
18999 Serjeant Duncan Currie. Born Kilwinning, Ayrshire 13th August 1892. Born into a football family, his father being a goalkeeper and his brother Robert playing for Hearts and Bury, while another brother played for Leicester Fosse. He himself played as a full back. His name is found among too many others on the Kilwinning Memorial
19009 Pte Ernest Edgar Ellis. Born at Sprowston, Norwich, on the 30th November 1885 on St. Andrews Day. His parents were Harry and Marie Ellis, who lived at 236 Sprowston Road, Norwich, and by trade Ernie was a boot operator. Having played for Norwich and Barnsley he signed in time to join Hearts on their successful summer 1914 tour of Denmark. His regiment left for France on 8th January 1916 which meant that he was never to see the daughter born to him after his embarkation. On the first day of the Somme he advanced with the remnants of 'C' company to the edge of Contalmaison itself. As they attacked he was killed near the enemy wire. Sometime later his body was discovered and buried. His wife Isabel lived at 25, Tarvit Street, Edinburgh. She, being ignorant of the reality of the fighting, wished to 'see his grave,' an impossibility at that time, and later his burial place was lost. He is commemorated on the Theipval monument. Ellis was thirty years old.
18976 Lance Cpl James Boyd. He was the final Hearts man to die on the Somme. James was born in the small mining village of Seafield in West Lothian. After being educated at West Calder Public School he became an underground oncost worker in the shale mines. His brother Archie had been the Hearts goalkeeper for some time and James signed for the club on 24th August 1914. Another who joined the 16th Royal Scots. He was killed on a 'quiet day' on 3rd of August 1916, following yet another failed attempt to take an enemy trench in full daylight. A not uncommon tactic. He was twenty one years of age. Boyd's Home town memorial is found on an excellent 'must see' site, visit it now :-
www.westcalder.co.uk The burial place of these men is unclear and their names are engraved on the Thiepval Memorial Pier or face 6D or 7D.
  
This famous memorial contains the names of over 72,000 missing men.
The Battle of Arras in 1917 has for some unknown reason been seen as less important than either the Somme or Paschendale, nevertheless it ranks alongside these great military events as one of the major moments of the war. Here in 1917 saw the death of the last Hearts player to be killed in action,
351268 Serjeant John Allan. Born at Greenlaw in Berwickshire on 2nd March 1887 John Allan and his family joined the huge movement of peoples from the land to the towns and cities searching for a better life. He became a joiner by trade with J. Duncan & Sons of Grove Street, Edinburgh, and enlisted early in the war with the 9th Royal Scots. This was a distinctive battalion in that is was the only Royal Scots . 'Kiltie' battalion. Thus he found himself as part of the 51st Highland Division, the 'Shock Troops' of the British army. As always, casualties during the infantryman's battle that was the battle of Arras were very high, with a great deal of hard fighting through the many tunnels found in that region. The early stages went well, some 13,000 German prisoners being taken, nevertheless it soon became the usual prolonged slog, slowly making headway against a determined enemy. During the battle a patrol of the 9th Royal Scots, including John Allan were sent to reconnoitre a wood near Rouex. Following a path further than intended they were caught in deadly crossfire and John became another name on the Arras memorial to the missing. He was thirty years of age.
                   The other Hearts players in the Great War
                                         
16th Battalion Royal Scots                                                                           Pte. Patrick James 'Paddy' Crossan. 'The handsomest man in the world' known as 'Pat' to his friends, was wounded at the Somme and later gassed. This native of Addiewell was a powerful defender unable, some said, to pass a mirror, though he could pass the ball! Paddy's wholehearted attitude would have been of great encouragement to all those around him in the trenches.This robust and popular player returned to play for three more seasons, earning two testimonials and later opened a pub 'Paddy's Bar,' in Rose Street Edinburgh. Died suddenly in 1933 not yet forty years of age! His bar survived under his name until the nineties.
Pte. Willie R. Wilson. Returned to playing until 1923 though constantly troubled with a problem shoulder. This suffered with the recoil of the rifle but while it limited his active service, as did trench fever, it probably saved his life. He was the first, but not the last, Hearts player to score three goals at Ibrox in the 4-0 win over the Rangers. He died in 1956, another great year for the Hearts.
Lieutenant A.B. Ness. Twice wounded, refused a commission at the beginning to remain with the Hearts players. However he was promoted from C.S.M. in the field. He died in 1942
Wattie Scott. He was twice turned down by the Battalion Doctor because of Rheumatic fever. Was hailed as Heart of Midlothian's oldest surviving player in 1974. He died the following year.
Pte. J. Hazeldean. Severely wounded by an explosive bullet in his thigh, discharged.                           Cpl. N. Findlay. Carpenter, released from army in 1916 to work in shipyards.                                      Cpl Alfie Briggs. Recovered from wounds but never played again. Scouted for Partick Thistle occasionally. Suffered 'Black depression' around July 1st and Remembrance Day. Died in 1950 still with two machine gun bullets in his back!                                                                                                            Pte. E. M. M'Guire. Wounded in arm.                                                                                                     Pte. R. Preston. Survived and moved to Northern Ireland
                                
Other Regiments where Hearts men served                                                      Pte. Jock Wilson. Twice wounded, returned to the Hearts side after the war.                                    Sgnt N. Moreland. Territorial with the 8th H.L.I. Was three times wounded.
Pte. J. Martin. Wounded and discharged.
Lieutenant Jimmy Low. Seaforth Highlanders.Twice wounded, discharged. Turned down by the Hearts directors in 1919 Jimmy played instead for the great Newcastle team of the twenties, alongside Hughie Gallagher amongst others. The Tynecastle board has never been the abode of intellectuals! He died in 1960.
Pte. R. Malcolm. Machine Gun Corps.  Bob played for Airdrie for a while and then returned to mining. He died 1979.
Sapper. C. Hallwood. Royal Engineers.
Pte. Harry Graham. R.A.M.C. Dentist. Gloucester Regiment. As a dentist he he could have avoided service, but enlisted to serve in France and Russia. Afterwards returned to Tynecastle but failed to hold down a regular place. Went on to play for Leicester City and Reading.
Pte. J. Whyte. Gloucester Regiment.
Driver George L. Sinclair. Royal Field Artillery. Quickly into the fray as he was a reservist. Thought to have served at Mons, the first great battle the British army fought. Continued playing after the war and was running a pub in Abbeyhill in 1958 the year the Hearts won the league scoring a record 132 league goals. For George and the remnants of the Great War this was a welcome result, but it had taken the team forty four years to get their just reward!                                                                              Serjeant. G.P. Miller. No information as yet.                                                                                      Lance Cpl. J. MacDonald.    
                                               
Royal Garrison Artillery:
Staff Serjeant J. H. Frew. Farrier. Played for Leeds United after the war Became a coach and helped Jack Charlton and many others in their career. He died in 1967.                                                                 Bombardier J. Gilbert. Only played four games for the Hearts but did score once v Hibs!
Gunner C. D. Blackhall. No information as yet.
Gunner J. Mackenzie. No information as yet.
Gunner Robert Mercer. Big Bob Mercer was a centre half of distinction before the war and famed for his 'scientific' football. A 'stalwart' of the Hearts side. As a gunner he saw action at the Somme and was gassed there. Bob returned to hearts at the end of the war but was discovered to have a weakened heart. Played instead for Dunfermline for two years. Joined Hearts for a friendly at Selkirk, his first club, and sadly collapsed with a shriek and died after only ten minutes due to heart failure. He was 37 years of age.

It is impossible to say how many other men died long after the war because of the physical suffering and mental trauma they had endured. In those days there was little help for those who suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and for some medical help was also limited, each was left to just get on with their life ! How many men even today carry the effects of the wars they have participated in? Do we really care any better for ex-servicemen today?

League Positions During War Years
Played - Goals For - Against - Points - Position
  14/15 38 83; 32 61 2
15/16 37 66 45 46 6
16/17 38 44 59 32 14
17/18 34 41 58 32 10
18/19 34 59 52 37 6

                                       
Heart of Midlothian Official site
Ernie Ellis
Henry Wattie
Tom Gracie
James Speedie
Duncan Currie
James Boyd
John Allan
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