Friday, 20 April 2012

Pride and Shame in a Book

While tidying up my book shelves I came across a book I had read a few years ago. It was a book which managed to raise an enormous amount of pride and an equally sized proportion of shame in myself.

On the surface it is a simple story of some footballers who joined the army and most of them were killed. Beneath the surface there is a tremendous tale of glory, sacrifice and shame. A football team who challenged and beat the best clubs in the country, they were the best in the country and then shamed by society for their apparant indifference to the Great War raging overseas. Many answered the call and paid the ultimate sacrifice alongside many of their countrymen.

After the war their story slipped in oblivion until a young local author many years after the events tackled their story and highlighted the shame of those in authority who chose not to remember.

The story is one of football, of soldiering, of war and of sacrifice. When I was reading the book I started to recognise the locales, I am born and bred in Edinburgh. I also started to recognise the characters, the families and the men, the jobs that they did and the society in which the story lives. My mothers father would have recognised much more, he was one of that generation although he had joined up before the outbreak of hostilities and was a regular in the Royal Scots serving in India and Palestine before doing his bit in the trenches. He left many of his chums behind in Flanders.

From The Scotsman, Friday, 28 December 1928:

McCrae. - At Turluish, North Berwick, on 27th December, Colonel Sir George McCrae, DSO. Service in Lady Glenorchy's Established Church, Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh, on Saturday 29th December at 2 p.m.; thereafter funeral, with military honours, to Grange Cemetery. Those desirous of attending, kindly accept this (the only) intimation and invitation.

A great many people were 'desirous of attending' - as friends, mark you, not just respectful strangers. The turn-out for Sir George McCrae's funeral remains the largest ever seen in Scotland. Businesses closed, traffic was suspended, the streets of the capital's old southside were so crowded that in the words of one was there, 'you might have thought the King had passed away'. Yet today the memory of the man, and of the brilliant battalion that he raised and later commanded on the Western Front, has dimmed to the point of extinction.

This, at long last, is their story.

I can strongly recommend that you read this story!


  1. I too was Edinburgh born and bred. I am a former season ticket holder @ Tynecastle.
    I was always moved by the parade and wreath laying at the War Memorial at Haymarket. I remember the players of the current generation lay wreaths to those who had gone before...

  2. Hi Alan

    You belong to a very small subset of the population then. I know it is easy to criticise past generations but I do wish that more had been done by those who could have done so all those years ago.

    Thanks for speaking up!


  3. Visited Edinburgh numerous times, started when I did a rugby tour with a Flemish team. Made some friends on the opposing side at a Preston Pans match, and we did a number of visits to each others countries. One of the guys is a Hunter of Clan MacLeod and related to half the town, it seemed.

    1. Yes, families down the Pans are a close knit bunch, I daren't muck them about.