Raith WW1 strip ensures ‘Kirkcaldy never forgets’

MacCraes Battalion - WW1 footballers from Raith Rovers'Standing: James Todd (killed), James W.M. Gourlay.'Sitting: George McLay (killed), William Lavery, James Scott (killed), and'James H. Logan
MacCraes Battalion - WW1 footballers from Raith Rovers'Standing: James Todd (killed), James W.M. Gourlay.'Sitting: George McLay (killed), William Lavery, James Scott (killed), and'James H. Logan

‘‘Kirkcaldy never forgets’’ - the words of Gordon Brown MP as he formally launched Raith Rovers’ new strip which will honour the players who signed up for the McCrae Battalion and gave their lives in World War One.

The top is black and green - the colours of the Hunting Stewart tartan - and it has no sponsor’s name or logo on the front.

Instead the space normally given over to commercial interest has just one word. Remember.

It was launched at Stark’s Park on Saturday, just a short walk from Volunteers’ Green on the Esplanade where young men signed up to go to war. One in four Fife miners answered the call to serve their country. Many never returned.

For the relatives of those who served, who fought, and who died, the club’s decision to honour their memory has been deeply appreciated.

Janice Todd never knew her uncle, Jimmy. He was the first member of the McCrae Battalion to be killed in action, but his story was one which remained part of her family history, and one that links the past with the present.

‘’I knew I had an uncle who had played football,‘‘ she said, ‘‘but I hadn’t really looked into his story until one day I came home from bridge and opened The Scotsman and saw a picture of the McCrae Battalion, and there was my uncle. I’d never seen the picture before.’’

The article sparked family discussions, and then a TV show - Kirsty Wark’s ‘Supreme Sacrifices’ - took it to another level.

‘’My uncle appeared on screen,’’ she said, ‘‘and this time I went online and emailed the Battalion’s Trust.

‘‘I got a reply immediately - amazing, an email from me writing to ‘info@’ and the man told me that he had been at my uncle’s grave in France the day before. I couldn’t take it in.’’

That connection led Janice, who served 14 years with the WRAC, to joining the annual trip to France where she became - to the best of her knowledge - the first member of her family to visit Jimmy Todd’s grave.

She plans to wear the Raith strip on her next journey.

‘‘I was invited to Hearts when they unveiled a bronze of the team, and today this strip launch - it is amazing how these wonderful invitations continue. It is mind blowing. It never stops.’’

For Gordon Brown, the strip launch was important for the club, the battalion, and the town.

‘‘The thread that links 1914 to today is strong,’’ he said. ‘‘ It goes across generations and links many, many families.

‘‘Credit has to go to Raith Rovers in launching this strip and ensuring the club, the town and community are all remembering and acknowledging those who gave their lives.

‘‘It ensures the continuity - that no-one ever forgets the sacrifices they made’’

>> The McCrae Battalion was named after Sir George McCrae gathered sportsmen to fight for King and country.

Seven Raith players enlisted -James H. Logan, George McLay, Willie Porter, Willie Lavery, Jimmy Todd, Jimmy Scott and Jock Rattray alongside players from Heart of Midlothian and several other clubs.

The battalion, the 16th Royal Scots, took part in actions including the Battle of the Somme, and the push for Passchendale.

Three Raith players - Todd, Scott and McLay - paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The strip launch was attended by Janice along with Alvin Scott, plus Jack Alexanderof the McCrae Battalion Trust.