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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

The Contalmaison Cairn

Guest heiland laddie

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Guest heiland laddie

Hello chaps and chapesses

Has anyone been to the Somme lately in the Contalmaison sector ? A memorial cairn has been unveiled recently, with monies donated by private donation, to remember the soldiers of the 16th Royal Scots (part of the New Army's 34th Division) who died there on 1st July 1916. An unusual thing about this memorial is that it has been built to fulfil a promise undertaken just after the end of WW1 to built 2 monuments, one in Edinburgh and one at Contalmaison. The other unusual thing is the battallion itself. It went under different names:- 2nd Edinburgh City, McCrae's Battalion, 16th Royal Scots, 'The Sixteen'. It was raised in December 1914 by patriotic gesture of Sir George McCrae MP, an active powerhouse of a man in his 50's, who would later lead his men into battle on the Somme. Following a lull in army recruiting throughout Britain in the Autumn of 1914, the tragedy of Ypres provided a push for more volunteering and McCrae's enthusiastic recruitment drive, with pipe bands marching down Princes Street and public speechmaking, brought in the recruits.

Among those who flooded in were the prfeesional players of Heart of Midlothian Football Club. Hearts had embarked on a sensational start to the new season and by early December, were firmly on top of the Scottish league, comfortably ahead of Celtic and Rangers. However, the fact that Britain still continued to play football nationwide, with big crowd attendances, whilst a war was being fought, rankled with the powers that be, especially parliament, who debated the issue. Professional footballers were well paid and under firm contracts, so the vast majority of Britain's players stayed at their clubs after the war started. Mounting criticism caused much unpleasantness, often a bit unfairly.

So, in December 1914, virtually the whole of Hearts FC playing staff, followed by back-room staff etc, went to a recruitment centre in Edinburgh's West End and joined up en masse. Most of them went into McCrae's Battalion. Many fans, not yet joined up, joined soon after this. As news spread of the Hearts actions, footballers of other professional clubs such as Raith Rovers and Falkirk and even Hearts arch-rivals Hibs, joined too. Soon, McCrae's battalion was over-subscribed and could form a reserve unit. Designated 2nd Edinburgh City Battalion, it was adopted by the Army as 16th (Service) Batt, Royal Scots.

Meanwhile in Parliament, these events did not go un-noticed. It was of gobsmacking proportions when our Westminster elders and betters learned that not only had some footballers enlisted at last - but an entire top-flight football club with a real chance of winning all that season's top honours !

Winston Churchill, in a speech in the House, publically thanked Heart of Midlothian for their actions. Not long after, other clubs in Britain started to see groups of players donning khaki.

The 16th Royal Scots took on the mantle of the 'Scottish Sportsmen's Battalion' and indeed were very fit enthusiastic soldiers. Not surpisingly, they lifted all the army football trophies going. Their fitness, enthusiasm, smartness and martial bearing attracted praise from many sources and the top-brass. Ironically, back home, the sorely depleted Hearts team, now filled with low-key players and amateurs, hung on at the top of the league, but was losing ground. They would go on to narrowly lose the league title at the very end of the season.

The 16th would first go into the line in early 1916, brigaded in 101 Bde, 34th Division with the 10th Lincolns (Grimsby Chums), 11th Suffolks (Cambridge Pals) and 15th Royal Scots (1st Edinburgh City). The other two brigades were 102 Bde (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Tyneside Scottish) and 103 Bde (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Tyneside Irish).

The 34th Div went into action on 1st July 1916 in the areas of Sausage and Mash Valleys and the heavily-fortified ruins in the heights beyond. The 'Sixteen' was led by their CO - George McCrae MP. The 34th Division ended the day with 2 statistics - they suffered the most casualties of any attacking division that day and they reached the furthest into enemy lines that day. The 16th Royal Scots lost over 500 of their 800 men. Lt Col Sir George McCrae was badly wounded, but organised defences behind German lines. After evacuation, he would take no further part in the war. The Hearts lost 3 of their best players dead that day and others wounded. By war's end, Hearts lost 7 players dead and more injured, some permanently who would never kick a ball again.

The Contalmaison Cairn was erected by the efforts of Heart of Midlothian Football Club and donations by fans. However, the cairn doesn't only remember Hearts' losses. but those of the other clubs who died with their Hearts colleagues, plus supporters and the others from many walks of life, who sacrificed themselves in McCrae's battalion.

Every 11 November, all the Hearts players, plus management and fans, pay homage and lay wreaths at the Hearts memorial at Haymarket in Edinburgh's West End.

The author Jack Alexander has written an excellent account of McCrae's Battalion (book of same name).

If you go to Hearts FC website (Google for 'Hearts' or 'Hearts FC' to reach the site) you will see the story of the Sixteen and also see how much Hearts spirit and that of its fans in 2005 is aimed toward the memory of these young talented players who died or were maimed in WW1. It makes you proud to see the sacrifice of a generation wasn't in vain and that not all football fans are thuggish hooligans.


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thanks for that lachlan

it would be good to see a picture of the cairn

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  • 2 weeks later...

y,check out the hearts f.c website for info on the cairn.i donated some cash recently before the hearts v rangers match for further development of the cairn

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There are some pictures on the first of the links below. There have been far more visitors than expected, hence the current appeal which is to raise funds to extend the paved area round the cairn & to erect an orientation stone displaying a map of the situation on 1/7/16. A payment must also be made to the Commonwealth War Graves Commision to add it to their list of monitored sites.

Contalmaison photos

Hearts Great War Memorial Committee website

Great War Memorial on Hearts web site

The collection at the Hearts v. Rangers match raised £3,500, which the club is making up to £5,000, but more is needed.

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looks like gibbo has the same good taste as me(avatar)...........has jack and co got any ceremonies lined up for the cairn m8.ive mailed them but got nothin back yet


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great stuff m8,il be there........i missed the inaugural ceremony when i missed the chunnel connection in my motor(im in london) should have went on the previous day...will get ther at sum stage ,cheers

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