The bond between Hearts and Leyton Orient (previously known as Clapton Orient) was forged during the early period of the Great War (1914-1918) when a group of players from each team responded to Lord Kitchener’s call for volunteers to form a New Army. This Army would support the nation’s regular force that had already suffered heavy casualties.
Professional footballers taking up arms inspired their loyal supporters to do the same and proved an enormous boost to recruitment. It also addressed complaints that “hundreds of thousands of able-bodied young roughs were watching hirelings playing football" while others faced carnage in the fields of France.
Players of the Hearts and the Orient led the way as the first professional footballers to volunteer en-masse for what became known as the “Pals’ Battalions”.
In November 1914, Hearts already had three men in service, but that month, thirteen more and also hundreds of supporters enlisted with the 16th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Scots, affectionately known as McCrae’s Battalion. They were joined by brave players and supporters of other local clubs, in particular Hibernian, Raith Rovers, Dunfermline Athletic, Falkirk and East Fife.
In December 1914, events in Edinburgh encouraged the Football Association to raise a Battalion, specifically for footballers, club officials and supporters: the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, the Footballers Battalion. The players, staff and supporters of Clapton Orient became the first to join the Regiment en masse with a remarkable total of 41 joining up to serve King and Country.
Both Battalions suffered terrible losses and heavy casualties, with three Orient players and three Hearts players killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme alone.
Both teams remain united in respect and remembrance of the fallen and are grateful for the enduring support of the McCrae’s Battalion Trust and the O’s Somme Memorial Fund who have been unswerving in their commitment to honour the fallen of each battalion. Annual pilgrimages are made to the McCrae’s Memorial Cairn in Contalmaison and the O’s Memorial in nearby Flers to honour the Pals who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Today, Saturday 29 July 2023 will see 150 Orient Supporters bedecked in the original strip of the Club visit the McCrae’s Memorial Cairn. The announcement of next year’s friendly match is a tribute to their steadfast support and that of the McCrae’s Battalion Trust.
The match on 13 July 2024 will pay homage to the fallen and will be played in the true spirit of friendship and respect.