1st July 1916
On 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the 34th Division was sent into attack astride the Albert-Bapaume road towards La Boisselle. Despite the British detonating two huge mines beneath German positions on either side of the village, the Germans showed great resistance and as the infantry launched its attack, many of the men were caught in the relentless machine gun fire coming from the ruined cellars of the village. Although some small parties managed to fight on continuing their advance beyond La Boisselle towards Contalmaison, few of these troops survived. A handful of men from 16th Royal Scots and 27th Northumberland Fusiliers did manage to enter the village but were forced to withdraw soon afterwards. This was the deepest penetration of the German position on the front that morning. The 34th Division suffered almost 7,000 casulaties on that day and the 16th Royal Scots (known as McCrae’s Battalion) lost 12 officers and 573 men.
The 16th Royal Scots Battalion was raised from volunteers in 1914 and affectionately known as McCrae’s Battalion after its charismatic colonel Sir George Mcrae. The battalion was composed essentially of professional and amateur sportsman, including sixteen players from the Heart of Midlothian football team who enlisted along with 500 of their supporters. McCrae’s battalion was the first of the ‘Footballers’ battalions and the Hearts lads were joined by players from Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Dunfermline, Hibernian, St Bernard’s and East Fife, supporters and other sportsmen and athletes.
Every year on the 1st July, a commemoration is held at the McCrae's Battalion Memorial in remembrance of the men who fought and died in the Battle of the Somme. Please click here for information about the ceremony taking place on 1st July 2018.
The Scottish Cairn
In 2004, a memorial to McCrae’s Battalion was unveiled at Contalmaison. This Scottish cairn was erected by the Great War Memorial Committee and built by Scottish craftsmen from Morayshire stone upon a plot of land gifted by the village.
More information about McCrae's Battalion and the memorial can be found on the McCrae Battalion Trust website