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A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Football Team That Fought the Great War

288 pages5 hours


Each November, about a hundred people with paper poppies pinned to their coats gather around a memorial near a commuter rail station in Edinburgh to listen to a Salvation Army band and remember how more than a dozen members of the local football team, Heart of Midlothian—almost every member of its starting lineup and many of its backup players—went to war. The Edinburgh Evening News ran pages of splendid photos of the Hearts players in McCrae's Battalion when they enlisted in November 1914. "Clever Forwards for the Army," one headline read, but the report barely acknowledged the carnage of the Battle of the Somme that cost the battalion 80 percent of its men within a few days. On July 3, 1916, two days after the action began, the newspaper raved about its "Magnificent Opening," and mentioned only "Light Allied Casualties." The newspapers doled out news of the players' deaths slowly.

After the war, surviving soldiers, many of them wounded, gassed, and suffering from what was then called "shell shock," returned home to a public that had only the weakest grasp of what had happened. Perhaps the pointlessness of so much suffering and death was too awful to contemplate. All of Edinburgh threw a parade for the men of McCrae's Battalion when they marched off to war, but no one wanted to be reminded that their commanders later traded their lives and health for a few yards of French mud.

A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Football Team That Fought the Great War tells the little-known but poignant story of a group of Scottish athletes and their fans who went to war together—and the stories of the few who made it home. The saga of McCrae's Battalion brings much-needed human scale to World War I and explains why a group of young men from a small country with almost no direct connection to the conflict would end up sacrificing their careers, their homes, their health, and in many cases their lives to an abstract cause. Their sacrifices illuminate the dark corners of this war that history's lights rarely reach.

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