September 2014 Dinner
Our guest speaker for the evening was Tom Purdie who has a long connection with Hearts and is the author of several books on Scottish football and recently published a book titled Hearts at War 1914-1919.
Tom began his presentation of what happened at Tynecastle during the First World War when players were away fighting on the Western Front while those at home kept the Club alive.
Much of the credit for Hearts keeping going during the war years goes to the then Manager, John McCartney. John played for various Clubs before joining Hearts in 1910.
During the war years John felt as if he was working with two hands tied behind his back. He restricted his wage from Hearts to £1 per week. In addition he did a lot of fund raising for the Club. John encountered things in Scottish football which no other manager has ever had to deal with, injuries and fatalities from the battle front. The last player John McCartney bought for the Club was Tom Gracie who was leading goal scorer in the 1914-15 season. Tom Purdie told us how moved he was whilst speaking at a dinner at Ibrox recently when upon showing a photograph of the Hearts players who volunteered to fight in 1914 received a standing ovation. This photograph is the one that is on the cover of his new book.
As an anecdote Tom mentioned that Bill Struth, the famous Rangers manager, had applied for the job as Hearts trainer which was given to Jimmy Duckworth. How different would that period of Scottish football have been if Struth had been given the job?
In the first game of the season 1914-15 Hearts played reigning champions Celtic at Tynecastle and secured a deserved victory with a 2 0 score line. McCartney believed that he had a team capable of winning the league that season and his confidence was justified as Hearts continued to win most of their games and went to the top of the league. However, following the majority of the first team volunteering to fight in November 1914 and the subsequent arduous trench warfare training that took place in the Pentland Hills for the army, the players performances on the football pitch became jaded. A key game that season took place against Rangers in February 1915. Losing 2 0 at half time, the players vomiting in the dressing room as a result of their army training, the team went on to lose a further two goals in the second half before a Hearts fight back late in the game to bring the scoreline to 4 3, missing a sitter in the last seconds. Despite astonishing resilience and fortitude from the players, the army training took its toll, results started to tail off but the team still managed to finish a very creditable second at the end of the season. We will never know but the team that McCartney started with in 1914 could have been the best Hearts team ever. Without question it was the bravest and they certainly won the hearts of the nation.
John McCartney continued to look after the families of the players who did not come back and often he would stand in the home dressing room with tears in his eyes fondly remembering the players who gave their lives and wondering what might have been had the team had stayed togeth
What became of the players who went to war. The first player to die was James Speedie. He was killed at Loos on 25th September 1915 aged 21. His body was never found.. The other fatalities were Thomas Gracie, Duncan Currie, Ernest Ellis, Henry Wattie, James Boyd and finally John Allan on 27th April 1917. John Allan’s body was never found and recently our John Robertson laid a wreath at Aras in his memory.
Of those who returned many were injured and were never the same again. Bob Mercer, severely gassed in 1918, returned to football but collapsed and died while playing for Hearts in 1926 aged 36. Paddy Crossan died of tuberculosis( a disease of the lungs) in April 1933. Two more casualties of injuries received while fighting for their country.
It is often said that in the quietness of the old stand the voices of the Hearts players who paid the supreme sacrifice could be heard. Maybe it is the old stand’s wood and iron creaking in the silence of an empty stadium but is it fanciful to believe it is the ghosts of the Hearts players who volunteered to fight for their country and never returned.
Tom’s presentation was listened to by those present in absolute silence mesmerised by the descriptions and stories narrated in wonderful detail and inimitable style. It was a night that will be remembered by those lucky enough to be present for a very long time.