George McCrae (politician)

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George McCrae

Colonel Sir George McCrae DSO MP (28 August 1860 – 27 December 1928) was a Scottish textile merchant Liberal Party politician.

Family and education[edit]

Born 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. In 1890 he married Eliza Cameron Russell.[1]


McCrae made his mark in the textile trade. He was described variously as a draper [2] or a merchant hosier and mercer [3] 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.[4] From 1919-1922 he served as Chairman of the Scottish Board of Health.[3] He was knighted in 1908.[5]

First World War service[edit]

McCrae was a volunteer soldier. In November 1914,[6] before the introduction of conscription, he raised the 16th Battalion the Royal Scots.[7] Among the first recruits were 13 members of the Heart of Midlothian playing squad. 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 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.[10][11]

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


Local politics[edit]

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 [1]

Edinburgh East by-election[edit]

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.[13]


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 [14]


After he stepped down from Scottish public service, McCrae tried to resurrect his Parliamentary career. 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.[15]

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).[16]

However in 1924 he was unable to hold to his gain and Murnin won back the seat with a majority of 1,924 votes.[17]


McCrae died on 27 December 1928 aged 68 years.[18]


  1. ^ a b National Liberal Federation, Liberal Central Association (Great Britain), The Liberal Year Book for 1909; Harvester Press, 1909 p62
  2. ^ The Times, 24 June 1899 p12
  3. ^ a b Cameron Hazlehurst & Christine Woodland (eds.),A Liberal Chronicle: Journals and Papers of J A Pease, 1908-1910; The Historians Press, 1994 p242
  4. ^ Edmund Burke, The Annual Register of World Events: A Review of the Year; Longmans, Green, 1910
  5. ^ The Times, 22 July 1908 p15
  6. ^ a b "Online Exhibitions". 
  7. ^ Michael S. Neiberg, The World War I Reader; NYU Press, 2006 p145
  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 p95
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "World War One Battlefields : The Somme : Contalmaison". 
  12. ^ International Union against Tuberculosis, Transactions of second international conference: London, 26th-28 July 1921; Adlard & Newman, 1921 p xxii
  13. ^ The Times, 24 June 1899
  14. ^ The Times, 5 April 1909 p10
  15. ^ F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results, 1918-1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow, 1949 p580
  16. ^ F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results, 1918-1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow, 1949 p607
  17. ^ F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results, 1918-1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow, 1949 p607
  18. ^

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Robert Wallace
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh East
Succeeded by
Sir James Puckering Gibson
Preceded by
Hugh Murnin
Member of Parliament for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs
Succeeded by
Hugh Murnin