George McCrae (politician)

Colonel Sir George McCrae DSO DL VD (28 August 1860 – 27 December 1928) was a Scottish textile merchant and Liberal Party politician. In Scotland he is best remembered for the creation of McCrae's Battalion, also known as the Second Edinburgh Pals Battalion and (officially) the 16th Battalion Royal Scots.

George McCrae by fellow MP, John Benjamin Stone
The grave of Sir George McCrae, Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh

Early lifeEdit

Born in poor circumstances in Aberdeen, the illegitimate son of a housemaid, George McCrae was educated at the Lancasterian School, Edinburgh, having been raised by his maternal uncle. He never knew the identity of his father.


McCrae made his mark in the textile trade. He was described variously as a draper[1] or a merchant hosier and mercer.[2] In 1909, after a successful career as MP for Edinburgh East, he resigned from the House of Commons to take up a position in Scottish government service, accepting the appointment of Vice-President of the Scottish Local Government Board.[3] From 1919 to 1922 he served as Chairman of the Scottish Board of Health.[2] He was knighted in 1908.[4]

First World War serviceEdit

McCrae was a former officer in the Volunteer Force, having been commanding officer of the 4th Volunteer Battalion, Royal Scots.[5] In November 1914,[6] during the enthusiasm for Kitchener's Army, he raised the 16th Battalion the Royal Scots.[7] Among the first recruits were 16 members of the Hearts playing squad & staff. At the time Hearts were top of the Scottish League.[6] The battalion was raised in Edinburgh and McCrae commanded it on the Western Front. After what was seen as the battalion's failure in action in August 1916, however, the divisional commander removed McCrae from command and assigned him to a reserve unit. He was judged to be popular with his men and personally brave but he was thought to have deficiencies as a leader, probably an unwillingness to incur casualties.[8] Despite this judgment of their chief, McCrae's Own, as the battalion was known, had managed to penetrate deeper into the enemy line than any other regiment during the 'big push' of July 1916.[9] A memorial cairn, the McCrae's Battalion Great War Memorial was erected in the French village of Contalmaison, a commune in the Somme département where many of its soldiers fell in 1916.[10][11]

McCrae ended the war with the rank of Colonel and was awarded the DSO.[12]


Local politicsEdit

McCrae became a member of Edinburgh Town Council in 1889. He was a City Treasurer and Chairman of the Finance Committee from 1891 to 1899 and also served as a Justice of the Peace in Edinburgh.[13]

Edinburgh East by-election 1899Edit

In 1899, Robert Wallace, the sitting Liberal MP for Edinburgh East, died causing a Parliamentary by-election. McCrae was selected as Liberal candidate and held the seat over his Liberal Unionist challenger with a majority of 1,980 votes.[14]

1899 Edinburgh East by-election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal George McCrae 4,891 62.3
Liberal Unionist Harry G. Younger 2,961 37.7
Majority 1,930 24.6
Turnout 73.2
Liberal hold Swing


McCrae fought Edinburgh East again in 1900, holding the seat with a majority of 1,291 and he successfully defended the constituency again at the 1906 general election, this time increasing his majority to 4,174.[15]

General election 1900: Edinburgh East[16]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal George McCrae 4,461 58.5 -3.8
Liberal Unionist R. Scott-Brown 3,170 41.5 +3.8
Majority 1,291 17.0
Turnout 69.2 -4.0
Liberal hold Swing -3.8
General election 1906: Edinburgh East[17]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal George McCrae 6,606 73.1
Liberal Unionist Rankin Dawson 2,432 26.9
Majority 4,174 46.2
Turnout 78.1
Liberal hold Swing

In 1909 he resigned from the House of Commons to take up a position in Scottish government service, accepting the appointment of Vice-President of the Scottish Local Government Board.[3]


McCrae sought a return to politics as a supporter of the Coalition Government of Lloyd George. In 1917, the Chief Liberal Whip of the Coalition government, Neil Primrose was standing down from parliament from his seat in England. If a seat could be found for McCrae in Scotland, then it was likely the position of Chief Whip would be offered to him.[18] A vacancy occurred in Edinburgh South but on 19 April 1917, the executive committee of South Edinburgh Liberals, who remained loyal to H. H. Asquith, selected Sir Edward Parrott, the chairman of their Association and of the Edinburgh United Liberal Committee,[19] as their candidate.[20]

Although McCrae remained a supporter of Lloyd George, he was unable to secure a seat for the 1918 General Election in which he could be an endorsed candidate of the Coalition Government. Later, he fought the 1922 general election as a Lloyd George National Liberal at Edinburgh Central. In a straight fight with Labour he trailed sitting MP, William Graham by 3,505 votes.[21]

General election 1922 : Edinburgh Central
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour William Graham 12,876 57.9 +6.6
National Liberal Sir George McCrae 9,371 42.1 -6.6
Majority 3,505 15.8 +13.2
Turnout 71.8 +26.6
Labour hold Swing +6.6


Following Liberal re-union between the supporters of Asquith and Lloyd George, for the 1923 general election McCrae switched his attention to the Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. Standing as a Liberal, McCrae defeated the sitting Labour MP, Hugh Murnin by the narrow margin of 156 votes (which was less than 1% of the total poll).[22] In 1924 he was unable to hold to his gain and Murnin won back the seat with a majority of 1,924 votes.[23]

General election 1923: Stirling and Falkirk[24]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Sir George McCrae 10,721 50.4 +3.7
Labour Hugh Murnin 10,565 49.6 -3.7
Turnout 71.7 0.0
Majority 156 0.8 7.4
Liberal gain from Labour Swing +3.7
General election 1924: Stirling and Falkirk[24]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Hugh Murnin 13,436 53.9 +4.3
Liberal Sir George McCrae 11,512 46.1 -4.3
Turnout 81.6
Majority 1,924 7.8 8.6
Labour gain from Liberal Swing +4.3


In later life he lived at 61 Grange Loan, in the southern Edinburgh suburbs.[25] The house was demolished to build flats in the 1990s.

McCrae died on 27 December 1928, aged 68 years.[26] He is buried in Grange Cemetery in southern Edinburgh. The grave lies on the eastern path close to the main entrance.


In 1890 he married Eliza Cameron Russell (d. 1913).[13]

His eldest son, Captain George McCrae, joined the Royal Scots but not in his father's battalion. He died at Gallipoli on 28 June 1915.

His daughter Fiona McCrae MBE (1905–1948) was a Senior Commander.

His son Major William Russell McCrae won the Military Cross.


  1. ^ The Times, 24 June 1899, p. 12.
  2. ^ a b Cameron Hazlehurst & Christine Woodland (eds.),A Liberal Chronicle: Journals and Papers of J A Pease, 1908–1910; The Historians Press, 1994, p. 242.
  3. ^ a b Edmund Burke, The Annual Register of World Events: A Review of the Year; Longmans, Green, 1910.
  4. ^ The Times, 22 July 1908, p. 15.
  5. ^ Army List.
  6. ^ a b "Online Exhibitions". Archived from the original on 6 October 2007.
  7. ^ Michael S. Neiberg, The World War I Reader; New York University Press, 2006, p. 145.
  8. ^ G. D. Sheffield, Leadership in the trenches: officer-man relations, morale and discipline in the British Army in the era of the First World War; Palgrave Macmillan, 2000, p. 95.
  9. ^ "DocumentsOnline".
  10. ^ "Contalmaison". Hearts Great War Memorial.
  11. ^ "World War One Battlefields : The Somme : Contalmaison".
  12. ^ International Union against Tuberculosis, Transactions of second international conference: London, 26–28 July 1921; Adlard & Newman, 1921, p. xxii.
  13. ^ a b National Liberal Federation, Liberal Central Association (Great Britain), The Liberal Year Book for 1909; Harvester Press, 1909, p. 62.
  14. ^ The Times, 24 June 1899.
  15. ^ The Times, 5 April 1909, p. 10.
  16. ^ Debrett's House of Commons and the Judicial Bench, 1901.
  17. ^ Whitaker's Almanack, 1907.
  18. ^ The Times, 30 March 1917, p. 7.
  19. ^ Who was Who, OUP online 2007.
  20. ^ The Times, 20 April 1917, p. 3.
  21. ^ F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results, 1918–1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow, 1949, p. 580.
  22. ^ F. W. S. Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results, 1918–1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow, 1949, p. 607.
  23. ^ F. W. S. Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results, 1918–1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow, 1949, p. 607.
  24. ^ a b British Parliamentary Election Results 1918–1949, FWS Craig
  25. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1911–12.
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Edinburgh East
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs
Succeeded by