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Those lads had joined up en masse at 2pm on Wednesday, 25 November after Sir George Mc Rae, one of Edinburgh’s leading men, was given permission to raise a battalion.Five were turned down for health reasons but, having met the requirements of being aged between 19 and 38, over 5ft 3in and with a chest of at least 34in, 11 became soldiers.
One Saturday they returned from a night march to catch the train to Greenock and that afternoon lost 2-0 to Morton.
It was an impossible juggling act and they won only eight of their 17 games post-mobilisation.
There were public rumblings of discontent.“The young men who play football and those who look on have better work to do,” declared the published a letter from a “Soldier’s Daughter”. They must now be known, demanded the writer, as “the White Feathers of Midlothian”. Under Mc Cartney’s innovative direction they galloped clear of Celtic, winning 19 of their first 21 matches. In between matches the players attended drill sessions led by Annan Ness, the reserve team’s half-back and once a soldier.
Speedie was the first to join up and the first to France, arriving in the summer of 1915. By then most of his team-mates were in khaki too and undergoing training in the Yorkshire town of Ripon.
The new battalion’s football team had just won their brigade championships when news of Speedie’s death reached them.
It was followed three weeks later by his last letter, enquiring after the health of the “Hearts lads”.
Of the 11 Hearts men who played that August afternoon, two survived the First World War unscathed.
They formed part of C Company, 16th Royal Scots, Mc Crae’s battalion, and alongside butchers, bakers, gamekeepers, miners, librarians and the rest, the footballers from Hearts went to war.
I am certain we would do them.”On 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany.
Eleven days later a full house at Tynecastle cheered Heart of Midlothian to victory over Celtic, the defending champions beaten by the young pretenders of the Scottish game.
The Hearts board promised to send comforts from home; the players requested mouthorgans, socks, cigarettes, sweets, soap, candles and writing paper.