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Corporal Thomas Gracie - 'Hearts Hero'
First World War Army United Kingdom Pre-war sportsman/woman
Corporal Thomas Gracie
View record on CWGC
Corporal Thomas Gracie (Public Domain)

Thomas was born in Dennistoun, Glasgow on 12 June 1889 to parents Robert and Harriet Gracie.

Leaving school, James studied bookkeeping before finding work as a meat salesmen. At this time, he was playing Junior football for Shawfield, essentially amateur football, but was offered the chance to go pro in 1907.

That year, Thomas was approached by third-place Airdrieonians. Following that, Thomas had spells for Hamilton Academical and Arthurlie before joining Morton in 1910.

Thomas’ career took him south of the border when, after an England-Scotland match at Goodison Park, he was signed by Everton. He stayed for one year with the Toffees before moving across to Anfield to play for Liverpool.

After only making sporadic appearances for the Reds, and feeling underappreciated, Thomas moved back to Scotland. He was signed by Hearts manager John McCartney for £400.

The Edinburgh side started the 1914-1915 well with Thomas at Centre Forward, winning their first eight league games. Thoams scored in a 2-0 victory over champions Celtic that season.

However, with the approach of the First World War, many thought it inappropriate for professional football to carry on in wartime.

Despite Hearts looking like real title contenders, they were the target of public scrutiny. Thomas, being top scorer for Scotland’s leading side, was targeted, something which weighed on him heavily.

When Liberal politician and business Sir John McCrae announced the formation of his own sportsman-oriented battalion, Thomas and 10 of his Hearts teammates instantly enlisted.

Balancing military training and football, Hearts were seemingly still unstoppable. With league games still going ahead in Scotland, Hearts were on a 20-game unbeaten run between October 1914-February 1915.

Eventually, the effects of military duties and competitive football saw Hearts’ form drop off, only to pipped to the Celtic by four points.

Thomas ended the season as the league’s joint top scorer, sharing the honours with Ayr United’s James Richardson with 29 goals apiece. 

Sporting tragedy aside, Thomas was soon facing a serious personal struggle.

In March 1915, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Sharing his condition with Hearts’ manage McCartney, Thomas continued with both his playing career and military service. He even scored four goals in the same month he received his diagnosis.

Thomas was still with his battalion when they were sent south to England for training in June 1915. Within weeks, Thomas began to feel serious fatigue. At first he was moved to a Leeds hospital for treatment but was soon transferred back to Glasgow.

Thomas died on 23 October 1915 in Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow. He is buried at Craigton Cemetery.

Thomas was one of seven Hearts players to lose their lives in the First World War in military service. Many more were so badly injured by their wartime experiences they never played football professionally again.