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Remembered Today:

'McCrae's Battalion' book


Mark Hone

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Following on from the 'footballers' threads, there was a very nice article in the Boxing Day 'Daily Telegraph' by Roddy Forsyth detailing the current travails of Hearts football club and reviewing the book 'MCCrae's Battalion' by Jack Alexander. This was 16th Royal Scots, which apparently included the entire Hearts playing staff, 600 fans plus supporters and players from Hibs, Raith Rovers and other clubs. Seven of the Hearts players died in the war, including four in the battalion's attack at Contalmaison on 1st July 1916. There are apparently plans for a battalion memorial to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the Somme(the article doesn't say where it is to be located). Sounds a very good book-£15-99 from Mainstream Publishing.

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Can you tell us why the battalion was known as 'McCrae's Battalion'?

I have studied this surname extensively over the years and have never heard a reference to this. I'm intrigued.

Ken

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Ken,

Sorry to be noisy but have you studied the variants of the name ie McRae if so I would be interested in your study- part of my husbands elusive family are the McRae's of Liverpool originally, we think, from Skye.

Regards

Ali

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The battalion was founded by Sir George McCrae. Having not read the book, I don't exactly know who he was. He appears in uniform in a photograph of the battalion football team accompanying the 'Telegraph' article.

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Ali,

I'd like to help with your McRae question, but I recently had a disaster of catastrophic proportions with my PC. To cut a long story short I deleted both my backup data and the original, losing over 15 years of McCrae genealogy research. To say I was a little cross with myself is an understatement :angry:

My Great War research is now on two hard disks and lots of CDs - I won't be making that mistake again.

Most of my research centred around the south west of Scotland, Ayrshire etc. but I had done some research into the north west (the traditional 'Clan' area).

Contact me off-line and I will happily discuss what remains of my data and perhaps give you some leads/contacts, etc.

Just to keep this thread on-topic, I did discover that my wife (who still hasn't forgiven me for robbing her of her McCrae surname when we married!) is distantly related to Lt.-Col John McCrae, of 'In Flanders Fields' fame. And does my 11 yr old son get some mileage out of that fact when we visit Newfoundland Park or Vimy Ridge!

Regards,

Ken

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  • 2 weeks later...
George Armstrong Custer

Ken,

Colonel Sir Gerorge McCrae, MP, was born in Aberdeen on 29 August, 1861. He was the illegitimate son of Jane Buchan, housemaid at the home of James Nicol, Professor of Natural History at Aberdeen University. The unmarried Jane Buchan registered her child and named the father as 'George McCrae, mason'. As the author of McCrae's Battalion puts it, 'there is no evidence that such a gentleman ever existed.' From this inauspicious start in life, McCrae became a classic case of a man 'pulling himself up by his own bootstraps', rising to respected political, business, civil, and military office. He died on 28 December, 1928, at his country seat of 'Torluish', North Berwick. Apparently his funeral from Lady Glenorchy's Established church in Edinburgh to Grange Cemetery remains 'the largest ever seen in Scotland.' An eyewitness recalled that 'you might have thought that the King had passed away.'

The book is probably one of the best Great War reads of 2003, and is into its second printing - the jacket blurb of this second printing reproduces part of the 'Times' review:

'What is so compelling about this magnificent book is its narrative thread. Alexander knew full well that the genesis for a readable work was already present purely through the fact of the battalion's history; his achievement is to add the colour; the detail; the human interest that raise this book far above an ordinary military record.

'Alexander says that his ambition was "to write something that was simply excellent, to be consistent with the battalion's fighting record". He need have no fears on that score; this book is of wider interest than just to Hearts fans or students of Edinburgh's history. Anyone who wants to see how a team of footballers can translate that familiar sporting cliche of "taking the fight to the opposition" into reality should read it. This is, quite simply, the best football-related book of the year.'

Having just read the book, I would associate myself with all of the above review, and would reiterate that it is also one of the best Great War books of last year.

Ciao,

GAC

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  • 1 month later...

As a good friend alone, and knowing the huge extent of the detailed research over a 12 year period that Jack Alexander has completed with this book I would highly recommend 'McCrae's Battalion' alone, but now having read it myself I would say it has regained something of the fine spirit of the men of this battalion exactly.

Jack was the unrecognised researcher who uncovered the identity of the remains of the soldier, William Gunn of the 15th Royal Scots a while ago. He is one of the most professional and dedicated researchers I have ever met, I do not need to wish the book well as it already a success. I Hope that it gets to either the large or small screen - I am sure it will. There is a Memorial Cairn project aiming to errect a monument to the 15th & 16th Royal Scots at the village of Contalmaison, Somme of which Jack is one of the driving forces.

The plaques for this monument will also include mention of the Manchester Scottish Contingent to the 15th Battalion.

If you want to be taken to the Western Front of 1916 onwards, with one of the finest 'Kitchener' battalions there was and get a feel of what it was really like there, then this is the book to take you there.

Well Done Jack

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I was fortunate enough to receive this book as a Christmas present.

And although I follow another team from the SPL, the military interest held my concentration powerfully.

The dedication to detail Jack Alexander has transformed into manuscript is inspirational for any amateur researcher/historian. Ten years of dedicated investigation makes for some riveting results.

I for one could not put this down until read from beginning to end. And I have to admit…there was a tear in the final chapters. Something I am not ashamed to admit to and something that does not happen too often.

James

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