James Boyd, 1894-1916: Hearts foot­baller, killed on the Somme, one of seven play­ers the club lost in the Great War

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Boxing -

The last orig­i­nal me­mo­rial of the Great War can be found in the French vil­lage of Con­tal­mai­son and, ev­ery year af­ter it was fi­nally un­veiled in 2004 un­til her death just a few years ago, a woman called Jeanie Heron would lay a wreath.

She wanted to hon­our her un­cle, James Boyd, who died on the Somme in Au­gust 1916. “I re­mem­ber sit­ting on his knee and him telling me that he would come home – but he never did.”

It is a story she would tell those who an­nu­ally hon­our what has be­come known as Mccrae’s Bat­tal­ion, a group who be­came no­table for their high pro­por­tion of sports­men. Boyd was a foot­baller for Heart of Mid­loth­ian, a club whose im­me­di­ate fate and per­haps en­tire his­tory be­came de­fined by the First World War. Hearts had be­gun the 1914-15 sea­son with eight straight wins, in­clud­ing a 2-0 vic­tory against Celtic, but 15 of their play­ers would en­list for an Ed­in­burgh unit that was formed by Sir Ge­orge Mccrae, a 54-year-old who was him­self vol­un­teer­ing for ac­tive ser­vice.

It was a time when foot­ball it­self was un­der at­tack and, ac­cord­ing to the his­to­rian Jack Alexan­der, their mass en­list­ment – which in­spired hun­dreds of oth­ers – may just have saved the na­tional game.

“It was timed with a ques­tion in Par­lia­ment to have pro­fes­sional foot­ball sus­pended; there were peo­ple try­ing to crush foot­ball com­pletely,” he says.

Alexan­der would ul­ti­mately write the book Mccrae’s Bat­tal­ion, de­tail­ing sto­ries which are of­ten, at once, “too hor­ri­ble and too in­spir­ing to con­tem­plate”. Such as Tommy Philp, who lost his life and whose child­hood sweet­heart would never marry and al­ways slept with his pho­to­graph be­side her bed.

Seven Hearts play­ers did not sur­vive the war and the team would ul­ti­mately lose the Scot­tish league to Celtic in the fi­nal mo­ments of the 1914-15 sea­son. “I don’t think the club re­ally re­cov­ered,” says Alexan­der. “It was po­ten­tially one of the big­gest in the UK. But for the war, I sus­pect the ob­vi­ous bal­ance in Scot­tish foot­ball would have been east and west: a suc­cess­ful Hearts team and a suc­cess­ful Celtic team. I feel very proud of them, but I also feel it was a ter­ri­ble tragedy.”

Mccrae him­self lived un­til 1928 and, five weeks be­fore his death, out­lined an en­dur­ing hope that the sac­ri­fices would never be for­got­ten.

“In the flames I still see the faces of my boys,” he said. “We must find some way to jus­tify our own lives so when we meet our com­rades in that bet­ter place we are able to say with a brave heart that we did not let them down.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.