The Main Stand - state of the art in 1914
The Main Stand - state of the art in 1914

Hearts, Hearts, Glorious Hearts

The Hearts squad in season 1914-15 was one of its finest, although the players' exploits off the field would eventually earn more fame. On 4 August 1914, Britain had entered what would become the Great War and the club immediately lost to the forces, George Sinclair and Neil Moreland who were Army Reservists. Accordingly, when the season commenced against Celtic, there was a low-key opening of the new Main Stand (the present structure). The estimated cost had almost doubled and when the impressive 4,000-seat structure was completed in October, it was £12,780 a sum that would severely strain the club when income crashed during the War.

Hearts opened the campaign with eight successive League wins, starting with a 2-0 home victory over the defending Champions, Celtic, before 18,500 spectators. The run was broken against Dumbarton, but the team bounced back and by late November only one defeat had been suffered from sixteen League games, despite the loss of imperious Bob Mercer who required knee surgery. At that time, the British Army was suffering great loss of life in holding the German advance in northern France and Belgium and Jimmy Speedie decided to volunteer.

Hearts now had three players in the forces, but general recruitment was slowing and public opinion was firmly moving against the playing of football while men suffered on the battlefields. When legislation had been passed for enlistment, "professionals" were not included and that covered football players. Ultimately, that situation led to questions in Parliament and many complaints in the newspapers about young athletes being exempt from service.

Sir George McCrae then obtained permission to raise and command a new battalion in Edinburgh, the 16th Royal Scots, and his recruitment drive was given special impetus when thirteen Hearts players signed up. The club now had sixteen men in service, while others were rejected on medical grounds. Hearts' minute book recorded that, "the lead established by these gallant youths reverberated through the length of the land". The good name of football was restored and in a record six days, some 600 supporters also helped to form "McCrae's Battalion" of 1,350 officers and men.

Hearts in 1914
A group of Hearts heroes in November 1914
Back: John MCartney, Ernie Ellis, Tom Gracie, Duncan Currie, Jimmy Duckworth
Middle: Willie Wilson, Norman Findlay, Bob Preston, Harry Wattie
Front: Alfie Briggs, Jimmy Frew, Annan Ness

The Title Slips Away

At first, enlistment had no great effect on the team's performance and although there were three draws in January 1915, this included a 1-1 result at Celtic Park, after which Hearts looked good for the Championship. However, the team's flair and energy began to fade due to intensive military training, inoculations and non-availability of regular players.

Hearts' main fitness coach, James Duckworth, suffered a nervous breakdown and the players subsequently cracked under the strain with some vital points being lost, most notably in a 4-3 home defeat against Rangers. Celtic then overhauled Hearts in the title race as the maroons drew with Aberdeen and then lost to Morton and St.Mirren in the final three games. Hearts had led the League for 35 weeks out of 37, but ended four points behind Celtic when they would have been popular Champions.

The Scottish Cup was cancelled during the Great War and Hearts had to rest content with a 6-0 victory over Hibs in the Dunedin Cup Final and further wins over the Leith team in the Wilson Cup Final and the Shield Final. The supporters were particularly delighted by the prowess of Tom Gracie who was the top scorer with a new club record of 29 League goals.

Ace striker Tom Gracie
Ace striker Tom Gracie

Hearts Struggle Through

Hearts players, staff and supporters served with distinction during the Great War and right from the start, the club was also active on the home front, a recruitment station being established in the ground. The club supplied relief parcels to servicemen and women, and raised funds to assist distressed areas. In this regard, Bobby Walker appeared in the Belgian Relief Fund Match in April 1915 when 18,000 supporters saw his International XI beat an Edinburgh & Leith Select by 2-0.

When season 1915-16 commenced, the War was affecting everyone and crowds declined. The club was severely hurt in September 1915 when Jimmy Speedie was killed in action at Loos in France. The following month, while in military service, Tom Gracie died of leukaemia in Stobhill Army Hospital. In addition, "McCrae's Battalion" left for France in January 1916 and the Tynecastle team would thereafter be made up from guest players, servicemen on leave, youngsters and players engaged in vital war work, with everyone earning a reduced minimum wage of £1/10/- (£1.50p) per week.

With a constantly changing team, Hearts form fluctuated, but the maroons were occasionally superb and the Champions, Celtic, were beaten 2-0 in November 1915. At this point, top scorer, Willie Wilson, left for the Army and in early 1916, Hearts began to slip down the League. Availability of players became a real problem and in April 1916 (for the first and only time), Hearts could not fulfill a League fixture. This was due to both travel problems and not being able to raise a side, "worthy of the club", to face Morton at Greenock. Both sides ended with 37 games played as against 38 for the other clubs. All things considered, Hearts did well to finish fifth equal and to win the Charity Cup.

A Tragic Summer

The summer brought terrible news to Tynecastle, particularly after the great allied offensive on the River Somme started on 1 July 1916. This was the blackest day in the history of the British Army when nearly 20,000 were killed and 40,000 wounded. Three Hearts players were lost in the carnage, Ernie Ellis, Harry Wattie and Duncan Currie. Bullets or shrapnel wounded several others and Hearts also lost James Boyd who was killed in August 1916.

The general depression caused by these tragic events was reflected in the team's performance in 1916-17, and Hearts struggled through the campaign using 46 players and eventually finishing fourteenth in the League. Hearts never recovered from a dreadful start that saw the team lose nine of the first twelve games, including a 6-1 reverse at home to Falkirk. Despite this, Hearts' reputation was at its highest ever level due to the club's War effort.

After recovering from his knee injury, big Bob Mercer, was called into the Army, as was schemer Harry Graham. The manager never knew who was available until match day and his side was regularly completed with guests and juniors drafted in at the last minute. The highlight of the League campaign was a double over Hibs and the guest appearances of Chelsea's England International striker, George Hilsden. The season also ended with Hearts winning the Charity Cup following a 5-3 victory over Armadale at Tynecastle, but now a seventh player, John Allan, had been killed in action on the Western Front.

Hearts Hold On

Season 1917-18 was another difficult one, but the club's War effort was recognized and among many appreciative letters was one from the King of the Belgians. The club was indebted to guest players, including ace goal scorer, Andy Wilson of Middlesbrough, but it was difficult to fully appreciate their displays with continuing bad news from the battlefields, where several more players were wounded or gassed.

Bob Mercer, "the mastermind of modern soccer", was now in action in France and deprived of his leadership, Hearts made little progress finishing a disappointing tenth in the League. The first eight away games were lost and after a home defeat by Celtic on 29 September, the team's form at Tynecastle also declined. At the end of November, Hearts were second from the bottom of the League and with falling crowds, the club was heavily in debt.

Quality of performance was just impossible to achieve due to the unavailability of players. Hearts were even omitted from a War fund-raising tournament and there were genuine fears that the club would be excluded from the League due to travel restrictions. Form in the local competitions was also poor with defeats in all four events.

Victory Cup Finalists

At the start of season 1918-19, the War was going well for Britain, but casualties were still high and Tynecastle stars, Paddy Crossan and Neil Moreland were again wounded. On the playing field, Andy Wilson was magnificent and the on loan striker scored 29 League goals, despite carrying an arm injury suffered on the battlefield at Arras. However, a poor start in which the team gained only two points from five games took Hearts right out of the League race.

Nevertheless, everyone was in buoyant mood when the Great War ended in November 1918. Hearts celebrated with a 5-0 win over Falkirk in which Andy Wilson scored a hat trick. Then with players returning from the War, it was hoped that the team would quickly improve, but it actually took some time before these men gained full fitness and Hearts finished seventh in the League.

In the spring of 1919, the SFA staged a Victory Cup competition and in view of their sacrifices, Hearts would have been popular winners. The maroons beat Third Lanark and Partick Thistle and with George Sinclair, Paddy Crossan, Willie Wilson and Bob Mercer back, Hearts were looking good. In the Semi Final, a Tynecastle record attendance of 42,500 saw Hearts crush Airdrieonians by 7-1 with Andy Wilson scoring four goals. However, in the Final at Celtic Park before 60,000 fans, the maroons ran out of steam and went down 3-0 to St.Mirren after extra time.

The Victory Cup Final team was: Willie Black, Bob Birrell, John Wilson, Bob Preston, Bob Mercer, John Sharp, George Sinclair, George Miller, Andy Wilson, Alex McCulloch and Willie Wilson.

Hearts did win the Shield, the Wilson Cup, and the Charity Cup, and in recognition of his efforts in keeping the football club operating during the Great War, manager, John McCartney, was offered and accepted another five year contract.

The Heart of Midlothian FC Players Roll of Honour

Pte. James Speedie, 7th Cameron Highlanders killed in action 25 September 1915

Cpl. Thomas Gracie, 16th Royal Scots died in service 23 October 1915

Sergt. Duncan Currie, 16th Royal Scots killed in action 1 July 1916

Pte. Ernest Ellis, 16th Royal Scots killed in action 1 July 1916

Pte. Henry Wattie, 16th Royal Scots killed in action 1 July 1916

L-Cpl. James Boyd, 16th Royal Scots killed in action 3 August 1916

Sergt. John Allan, 9th Royal Scots killed in action 22 April 1917

Gunner Colin Blackhall, RGA 1st Lowland

Cpl. Alfred Briggs, 16th Royal Scots severely wounded

Pte. Patrick Crossan, 16th Royal Scots severely wounded

Cpl. Norman Findlay, 16th Royal Scots

Farrier Sergt. James Frew, 16th Royal Scots and RGA 1st Lowland

Bombardier James Gilbert, RGA 1st Lowland

Pte. Harry Graham, Gloucester Regiment and RAMC

Sapper Charles Hallwood, Royal Engineers

Pte. James Hazeldean, 16th Royal Scots twice wounded

Lieut. James Low, 16th Royal Scots and 6th Seaforth Highlanders twice wounded

L-Cpl James Macdonald, 13th Royal Scots

Pte. Edward McGuire, 18th Royal Scots wounded

Gunner John Mackenzie, RGA 1st Lowland

Pte. James Martin, 5th Royal Scots wounded

Bombardier Robert Mercer, RGA 1st Lowland severely gassed

Sergt. George Miller, 9th Royal Scots

Sergt. Neil Moreland, 8th HLI and 7th Royal Scots twice wounded

Lieut. Annan Ness, 16th Royal Scots and 9th Royal Scots twice wounded

Pte. Robert Preston, 18th Royal Scots wounded

Driver George Sinclair, Royal Field Artillery

Pte. Philip Whyte, Gloucester Regiment

Pte. John Wilson, 9th Royal Scots twice wounded

L-Cpl William Wilson, 18th and 16th Royal Scots injured on service

Hearts squad in 1920
John McCartney (second from the left) and his Hearts squad in 1920. Bob Mercer has the ball at his feet.

A Managerial Shock

Season 1919-20 was another poor campaign, as some of the old soldiers proved to be past their best. Paddy Crossan, Harry Graham, George Sinclair, Willie Wilson, Peter Nellies, Bob Preston, and Bob Mercer had all reached the veteran stage and new recruits required time to settle. Rebuilding the squad became much more difficult in October 1919 when despite his prodigious efforts during the War, John McCartney resigned as manager, due to a policy difference with the directors over player recruitment. In November 1919, his son William, who worked with the thread makers J & P Coats and was a senior referee, surprisingly succeeded him.

With turbulence off and on the field it was hardly surprising that Hearts finished fifteenth equal in the League. The team actually made a promising start with four straight wins and on 13 September 1919, a record League crowd of 40,700 came out to Gorgie for a Championship crunch match against Celtic. Hearts lost to a last minute goal by Gallagher and this started a slide down the table, principally due to a suspect defence. Despite this situation, the supporters were backing the team in increasing numbers with a new record average of 16,223 for League matches. With the basic price of admission rising to 1/-(5p) the club quickly cleared its grandstand and other war debts.

Hearts players trained at Gullane for the Scottish Cup matches and enjoyed wins over Nithsdale Wanderers and Falkirk before going down in the Third Round, 1-0 against Aberdeen in front of 21,000 at Pittodrie. The season then fell flat until the final weeks of the campaign brought success in the Shield, the Wilson Cup and the Charity Cup.

On 22 May 1920, Celtic beat Hearts 2-0 in a Scottish War Memorial Fund-Raising Match at Tynecastle before a crowd of 15,000. Not long before this game was played wooden steps had been inserted into the ash banking at the Gorgie Road end of the ground to provide the first real terraces. Bobby Walker was also elected to the board of directors, this being regarded as a positive move to revive the club's fortunes.

Tynecastle Park after the War
Scottish War Memorial Fund-Raising Match - 22 May 1920

A False Dawn at Tynecastle

For season 1920-21, due to Jimmy Duckworth's advanced age, William McCartney, appointed a new trainer, Charles Durning from St.Mirren. Fitness and teamwork improved dramatically and after a slow start in the League, Hearts beat Hibs 5-1 at Tynecastle before a handsome crowd of 27,500. Freddie Forbes scored two goals and the former Leith Benburb man was to finish as the club's top League marksman with 23 goals. Hopes that Hearts could match the power of Rangers were dashed in late September when 34,000 watched the Glasgow side win 4-0 at Tynecastle. The team was inconsistent after this setback, partly due to Mercer's retirement that forced Hearts to pay a club record of £1,000 for a replacement, Willie Porter of Raith Rovers.

Hearts eventually finished a creditable third in the League but were never in real contention for the title, being 26 points behind Rangers. Nevertheless, the supporters reckoned that if the centre-half position could be adequately filled, then honours might at long last come to the club.

As always the Scottish Cup brought fresh hopes of success and Hearts beat Clyde and Hamilton before travelling to Parkhead in the Quarter Finals. The men in maroon earned a £10 bonus after recording a famous 2-1 victory over Celtic, with goals from Willie Wilson and Arthur Lochhead. This sparked great excitement, but the Semi Final opponents, Partick Thistle, after two 0-0 draws, defeated Hearts 2-0 at Ibrox before a crowd of 33,000.

In the local competitions, Hearts won the Dunedin Cup and the Charity Cup while the Reserves won the Second XI Cup. Testimonials were played for Paddy Crossan, Willie Wilson and Peter Nellies, while the average home gate for League games reached a new high of 17,928.

John White Paddy Crossan
Twenties style - John White and Paddy Crossan

Relegation Worries

Hearts could not build upon their achievements, as many of the older players were nearing the end of their careers. Willie McCartney's rebuilding job was made even more difficult with the introduction of automatic promotion and relegation in season 1921-22. Three clubs went down from twenty-two and unfortunately, in a transitional year, the club had one of its worst ever campaigns. Hearts avoided relegation by only two points, finishing nineteenth, the club's lowest ever ranking.

The maroons made a terrible start in the League recording their first victory in the tenth match (4-1 v Falkirk). The team then had a sensational 2-0 win over Rangers at Ibrox but this proved an isolated success and Hearts fell quickly into the relegation zone. Hibs even recorded a League double for the first time in twenty years. Hearts were eventually left with the task of winning the last game of the season at Aberdeen to definitely stay in the First Division. In a hale storm, the team duly won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Frank Stringfellow. The whole crowd of 8,000 cheered and Hearts were saved, although in actual fact, Dumbarton drew at Falkirk and even if defeated, the maroons would have stayed up on goal average.

The Scottish Cup brought little improvement and after struggling to beat Arthurlie, it took three matches to dispose of Broxburn United. Rangers then came to Gorgie and 40,000 fans witnessed a terrible 4-0 defeat from the Glasgow side. The team also flopped in all the local competitions.

There were a number of reasons for this dismal campaign, starting with poor discipline. In addition, too many players had reached the veteran stage at the same time and there was also an unsettling transfer deal with former International, Tom Miller, being signed from Manchester United for a club record fee of £2,850. A more promising striker, Arthur Lochhead, went in the other direction for £2,300.

The directors took immediate action and his assistant, Tom Murphy, replaced the trainer, Charles Durning. Hearts also moved decisively into the transfer market with a raft of new signings including the experienced defender, Alex Wright, from Aberdeen for £2,550. Shortly afterwards Hearts splashed out £2,700 to buy the country's most wanted striker, John White of Albion Rovers.

war memorial
The Heart of Midlothian War Memorial

The War Memorial

On 9 April 1922, the club's War Memorial was unveiled at Haymarket before a solemn crowd of 35,000. The impressive ceremony was conducted by Mr Robert Munro, Secretary of State for Scotland, and attended by many dignitaries who heard tributes paid to the members of the Heart of Midlothian FC who joined the 16th Battalion Royal Scots in 1914. The Secretary of State said that they did not hesitate to serve their country in the early days of the Great War and their example was contagious. The Edinburgh Evening News also recorded that, "some of those lads fell in the Battle of the Somme. They fell in the morning of their days with the dew of health upon their brows". It was an extremely moving occasion.

It had been sixteen years since Hearts had been successful on the field and many more would pass before major honours were won. However, the fame of the Heart of Midlothian had never been higher and for several seasons during the twenties, the crowds at Tynecastle were the best in Scotland.

Buying Success

In season 1922-23, Hearts fans found a popular hero in the handsome, John White, who was Scotland's top marksman with 29 League goals, although some of the newspapers said 30. Unfortunately, his colleagues scored a combined total of only 22 and with teamwork generally poor, Hearts finished a disappointing twelfth in the table. White was a real live wire and thirteen of his goals helping to spark a run of fourteen unbeaten League games from September to December. When the run ended against Motherwell, Hearts lost five of the next six games and the rest of the season was mixed with the team finishing 18 points behind the Champions, Rangers.

Following the enormous investment in John White and Alex Wright, there had been further recruitment and McCartney had sixteen new men in his squad. Several required time to settle, including John's brother, Willie White (from Hamilton); Colin Dand (from Armadale); and John Johnston (from Ardeer Thistle). The manager also encountered one of those seasons when injuries and illness disrupted consistency.

Disappointment in the League was eclipsed by disaster in the Scottish Cup when Hearts lost 3-2 against Second Division, Bo'ness FC, before 8,000 fans at Newtown Park. The maroons were settling for a draw when the home side capitalised on a mistake by goalkeeper, Jock Gilfillan, who was beaten by a speculative shot that was caught in the high wind. With only nine minutes left, the capital side could not recover the situation.

In the local cups, Hearts won the Wilson Cup and the Rosebery Charity Cup. When Hearts beat Hibs 2-1 in a match for Lord Provost Hutchison's Rent Relief Fund, the fans were treated to the spectacle of the four White brothers playing in maroon, with two as guests. However, the season ended with the manager under pressure and Hearts were again forced into the transfer market.

A Step Forward

There was a noticeable improvement in season 1923-24 with a good contribution from new men, Bob King (Dalkeith Thistle), William McLean (Dundee), Tom Green (Clapton Orient), Walter Bird (Dundee) and Willie Murray (Middlesbrough). With his delightful wing play, Englishman, "Tiddler" Murray, became a great favourite and well worth his transfer fee of £500. He supplied the ammunition for John White who was presented with a gold medal to mark his scoring exploits of the previous campaign. White scored another 17 League goals but as there was no other regular marksman, Hearts finished ninth in the League, 21 points adrift of the title winners, Rangers. The team's performance away from home was erratic, but they were good at Tynecastle, where several games were filmed for use in local cinemas.

In the Scottish Cup, after Third Lanark, Galston and Clyde were disposed of, Hearts' supporters were dreaming of a Hampden appearance. However, before a Gorgie crowd of 34,500 the home side went down 2-1 to Falkirk in the Quarter Finals. Hearts were unlucky, as for most of a rather rough match, they played without Jock Ramage, who broke a bone in his foot. Overall, the media felt that Hearts main problem was a weak halfback line that could not supply decent passes. Truly great players such as Charlie Thomson and Bob Mercer had proved impossible to replace.

Hearts did win the Wilson Cup and League gates averaged 16,368, the best in Scotland, despite high unemployment. The fans certainly turned out for Paddy Crossan's second testimonial with 11,000 watching Manchester United defeat Hearts 3-0. With crowds growing, the club proposed to expand by rebuilding the Main Stand at the School End with the pitch turned to run from east to west. Unfortunately, Edinburgh Corporation rejected this plan, as the stand would block light from Tynecastle School.

The Rosebery Charity Cup: 1915-16; 1916-17; 1918-19; 1919-20; 1920-21; 1922-23
The East of Scotland Shield: 1914-15; 1918-19; 1919-20
The Wilson Cup: 1914-15; 1918-19; 1919-20; 1922-23; 1923-24
The Dunedin Cup: 1914-15; 1920-21

Bob Mercer; Peter Nellies; Willie Wilson; George Sinclair; and Bob Preston

John White

Paddy Crossan; Peter Nellies; Jimmy Low; Harry Graham; Tom Gracie; Willie Wilson; George Sinclair; Bob Birrell; John White; and Willie White

 Written by historian David Speed with archivist Alex Knight

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