Colonel Sir George McCrae, DSO, MP, born on 28 August 1860 at 82 Bon Accord Street, Aberdeen, was the son of Jane Buchan, a Domestic Servant.


He was raised by his uncle, a stonemason, on the southside of Edinburgh’s Old Town, and was educated at the Lancasterian School, Edinburgh, leaving at the age of 9 years to work as a bootmaker’s message boy, then an apprentice hatter. At 16 he was in charge of the firm’s Dunfermline branch and by the age of 21 he had opened his own business in Edinburgh, making his mark in the textile trade. He was described variously as a draper or a merchant hosier and mercer.  


On 13 July 1880 at Dunfermline, he married Eliza Cameron Russell, and they had nine children - Kate, George, William, Kenneth, Gladys, Flora, Grace, Eliza and Hector.


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. From 1919-1922 he served as Chairman of the Scottish Board of Health. He was knighted in 1908.


His wife died in December 1913.


In November 1914, before the introduction of conscription, he raised the 16th Battalion, Royal Scots. Among the first recruits were members of the Heart of Midlothian playing squad. At the time Hearts were top of the Scottish League. The Hearts players were joined by players from Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Dunfermline, Hibernian, St Bernard’s and East Fife. Volunteers came from Edinburgh, the Lothians, Linlithgowshire and Fife and from around 75 clubs.


McCrae commanded the Battalion on the Western Front. McCrae's Own, as it was known, had managed to penetrate deeper into the enemy line than any other regiment during the ‘big push’ of July 1916. A memorial cairn dedicated to McCrae’s Battalion was erected in the French village of Contalmaison, a commune in the Somme département where so many of its soldiers fell in 1916.


McCrae suffered from typhus, and was sent home, ending the war with the rank of Colonel and being awarded the DSO.


McCrae became a member of Edinburgh Town Council in 1889. He was a City Treasurer and Chairman of the Finance Committee from 1891–1899 and also served as a Justice of the Peace in Edinburgh. 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. He fought Edinburgh East again in 1900, holding the seat with a majority of 1,291 and successfully defended the constituency again at the 1906 general election this time increasing his majority to 4,174. 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.


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. 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, as their candidate.

 

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.


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). In 1924 he was unable to hold to his gain and Murnin won back the seat with a majority of 1,924 votes.


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


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. Another son, Major William Russell McCrae, won the Military Cross.

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