Scotland’s veterans minister has paid tribute to the “incredible bravery” of professional footballers who fought in a First World War battle which resulted in more than one million casualties.
Players from Edinburgh’s Heart of Midlothian and city rivals Hibernian were amongst those who were involved in the fighting at the Battle of the Somme.
The footballers were part of the 1,350-strong McCrae’s Battalion, led by Sir George McCrae, which fought there.
Graeme Dey paid tribute to them as he took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the McCrae’s Battalion cairn in Contalmaison, France, as part of memorial events taking place more than a century on from the first day of the battle on July 1 1916.
While the battle lasted 141 days the first day of fighting resulted in British forces suffering 57,470 casualties, with 19,240 men killed.
In total more than a million men were killed in the battle from both sides.
Mr Dey said men from McCrae’s Battalion were amongst those who had made the “ultimate sacrifice”.
As well as volunteers from Hearts and Hibs, the battalion included men from Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Dunfermline, and East Fife, with around 75 clubs of all levels represented, along with other athletes and some football supporters.
Mr Dey said: “At the start of WW1 a campaign was launched against professional footballers who were labelled ‘shirkers’ and ‘cowards’ who were happy to stay at home while better men risked their lives at the front.
“The players who joined McCrae’s Battalion proved the critics wrong and demonstrated incredible bravery. Indeed, many of them made the ultimate sacrifice.
“They went from being called shirkers and cowards to become known as ‘Edinburgh’s finest – Scotland’s Sporting Battalion’.
“Today we honour the bravery of those young men and all those who fought and died on the Somme.”
During his visit Mr Dey also met the Mayor of Arras, Frederique Leturque, as part of the Scottish Government’s European engagement work, which aims to strengthen ties with priority EU countries and their regions.