From today's Edinburgh Evening News
Hearts and Hibs back at war . . on a French battleground
Published Date: 12 April 2011
By SUE GYFORD
IT was one of the most poignant scenes of Edinburgh's war years - the derby at which the entire Hearts team signed up to serve in the First World War, followed by supporters from both sides.
Now the match at Tynecastle, which gave birth to McCrae's Battalion, is to be re-enacted on the French battlefields.
The event will be at the heart of commemorations at the village of Pozières, close to where the battalion, 16th Royal Scots, fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
For the past five years, the anniversary of the start of the battle, July 1, has been marked by a Son-et-Lumière show at the village, with a different theme each year.
This year's events will honour Edinburgh and the role played by the 16th Royal Scots and their founder and commander, Sir George McCrae.
Jack Alexander is the author of the book McCrae's Battalion, and was part of the group that arranged the creation of the Edinburgh Cairn, a monument to the battalion in nearby Contalmaison in 2004.
He said the re-enactment of the December 1914 derby - which Hearts won 3-1 - would be organised by the authorities in Pozières. The game famously saw Sir George parade the players to encourage others to join.
Mr Alexander said: "This year (the French authorities] have chosen us as their central theme and it's quite an honour. We've worked very hard to make friends with the locals.
"They don't know a great deal about the details of the match, so they've been asking me questions about things like what colour strips, so I'm talking to Hearts and will be talking to Hibs about finding old-style kits. It's going to be the portion of the football match with the reciting of a speech from Sir George.
"A local will make his speech and then people depicting the players and supporters will all join together and enlist together.
"From an Edinburgh point of view, it's something we should be very proud of."
The day will also include a re-enactment of the bravery of Edinburgh Corporation greenkeeper Corporal Michael Kelly, who single-handedly overcame a group of German signalmen.
Mr Alexander said: "The production values are quite spectacular. It's quite a rural area but it's a little bit like one of the re-enactments at Edinburgh Tattoo."
Although the battalion is closely associated with Hearts, Mr Alexander said he was keen to stress the contribution of other teams, including Hibs.
He said: "The heart of the battalion was the Hearts players, but once they made the gesture of joining up they became a footballers' battalion.
"There were substantial contingents from people who followed Hibs, there were Falkirk players, Raith Rovers players, it was a very broad church."
A group from Edinburgh will travel to Pozières by coach for the event and there are still a small number of places available - contact Mr Alexander on 07876 106 509 for further details.
DECEMBER DERBY DAY ROLL CALL
BY December 1914, football players were being criticised for not signing up for the war effort while other young men went off to fight. Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George McCrae announced that he would raise a battalion of men and pledged to fill it within seven days.
At Tynecastle on December 5, during the Edinburgh derby, he paraded the Hearts team members who had already enlisted and gave a speech, inviting anyone else in the stadium who wanted to follow their lead to join the parade. The entire Hearts first team signed up, followed by 500 of their supporters and 150 Hibs supporters. By the end of that day, 980 men had enlisted at the recruiting office in Castle Street.
Sir George commanded the battalion on the Western Front, where it was credited with achieving the deepest penetration of the enemy line anywhere on the battlefront at the Somme. The battalion suffered massive losses, including seven of the Hearts players.