McCrae’s Battalion Centenaries

EMBARKATION FOR FRANCE – A NEW MEMORIAL AND AN OLD WRONG RIGHTED

PIERSHILL CEMETERY, EDINBURGH – THURSDAY 7 JANUARY 2016 – 12.30 FOR 13.00

Towards the end of 2014 McCrae’s Battalion Trust started raising funds to right an old wrong. Thanks to the kindness of local businessmen and relatives of the battalion, a handsome stone tablet has been placed on a previously anonymous grave in Edinburgh. Designed by historian Jack Alexander, it commemorates Sergeant William Duguid, pipe-major of the 16th Royal Scots along with McCrae’s enormous Great Dane mascot, Jock, who was said to have died of a broken heart when so many of his friends were killed on the Somme.

It is fitting that the formal dedication of this new memorial should coincide with the centenary of the departure of McCrae’s Battalion from these shores. Willie piped them out of Edinburgh and he piped them off to France. His great sorrow was that he was unable to pipe them all safely home.

Everyone is welcome to attend our ceremony of commemoration on 7 January at Piershill.

Southampton Docks, 8 January 1916

Willie Duguid tuned his pipes and prepared to play his battalion onto the paddle steamer, Empress Queen, as it waited for yet another trip across the Channel to the French port of Le Havre.

Willie was pipe-major of McCrae’s Battalion, the famous 16th Royal Scots. “McCrae’s” was the pride of Scotland – a sporting elite which boasted among its ranks some of the finest footballers in the country. The first volunteers included 13 members of the Heart of Midlothian playing squad, along with contemporaries from Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Hibernian and Dunfermline. It was the first of the so-called ‘Footballers’ battalions and was destined to reach the Western Front just in time to be blooded in the Battle of the Somme. On 1 July 1916 McCrae’s lost three quarters of their rifle strength during an assault on the village of Contalmaison, where today a magnificent Scottish cairn stands in memory of their sacrifice.

Willie survived the war. In fact he survived more than one. He was 40 in 1914, a 12-year veteran of the Gordon Highlanders. In 1897 he led his battalion up the Heights of Dargai, on the North-West Frontier; and in 1899 he took on the Boers in South Africa.

Honourable discharge was followed by a number of commissionaire appointments until finally, in 1914, he landed a plum position in Edinburgh as head porter of Chalmers Hospital. The job came with a cottage, a good salary and free fuel. But the Kaiser spoilt it all. In November Willie joined the Hearts lads in McCrae’s and his family was evicted from their home. He exchanged security and certainty for four years of unrelenting misery.

Pipers in Scottish battalions were employed as stretcher bearers. On that blistering first day of the Somme Willie braved the German machine guns to rescue his wounded pals from No Man’s Land. He saw McCrae’s destroyed on the German wire and he never recovered. In 1928 he died at Bangour Hospital, aged only 53. He was broken by the war – one dreadful war too many. His family, unable to afford a headstone, laid him to rest in an unmarked grave at Piershill Cemetery in Edinburgh.

McCrae’s Battalion Trust
29 December 1915
Thursday 7 January 2016 – Seven till Late!

McCrae’s Battalion Trust – Commemorative Evening at ScotchHop

Centenary of the departure of McCrae’s Battalion to France in January 1916

Good beer, good company and good music from international folk legend, Craig Herbertson.

No tickets needed! All welcome!

Come along and support Scotland’s Sporting Battalion
ScotchHop – 114 Causewayside, Edinburgh EH9 1PU

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The Story of McCrae’s Battalion

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The Contalmaison Cairn memorial

Ceremony at Contalmaison Cairn

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