Contalmaison, France | Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day, should have dawned with football scarves draped over the cairn honoring those who fell during the Battle of the Somme, including players from Edinburgh side Heart of Midlothian.
Village mayor and farmer Bernard Sénéchal says that the structure, erected last year, “has given our village new life.” On the impetus of Hearts supporters and historian Jack Alexander, author of McCrae’s Battalion: The Story of the 16th Royal Scots, Edinburgh stonemasons erected the memorial from a lorry of Elgin sandstone. At least 13 Hearts players and other sporting figures had enlisted on the call of Sir George McCrae in 1914; their sacrifices on 1 July 1916 shattered an enduring mythology of athletes’ invulnerability.
“[T]he people at home and the battalion itself didn’t understand the sheer killing power of the war,” says Alexander.
They saw a group of athletes, brave men, well led, that the Germans wouldn’t be able to stand up against. But it wasn’t anything to do with bravery or athleticism or leadership, it was men versus machine guns.
In fact, Alexander writes, the German fortification in Contalmaison dispatched the Scottish battalion’s initial advance: “There was nothing left but a crater and some khaki.”