As a miner, McCrae was exempt from military service, and turned out for Hearts throughout the remaining war years. An inside-left, he made 156 appearances for the club, scoring 62 goals and laying on countless others for team-mates.
His best season in a maroon jersey was probably 1944-45, when he scored 12 goals in 18 wartime league games. In June 1946 he was a member of the Hearts team which visited Germany and beat the British Army of the Rhine 3-2.
At the end of the 1946-47 season he was sold to Charlton for £7,500 plus the proceeds from a friendly - a record fee for Hearts. There was some disquiet at his departure among the club's supporters, but manager Davie McLean was confident Jimmy Wardhaugh, who went on to form the Terrible Trio with Alfie Conn and Willie Bauld, was ready to take his place.
After less than two years with Charlton, McCrae moved on to Middlesbrough for £10,000. He enjoyed more success there than he had in London, having a particularly purple patch in the 1951-52 season, when he scored 21 times from 32 starts, including three hat-tricks before Christmas.
He returned to Scotland in 1952, and although already a veteran by the standards of those days, went on to enjoy several successful seasons at Brockville. He was Falkirk's joint-top scorer in 1955-56 and played in every game that season. In all, he turned out in 116 games for Falkirk, scoring 43 goals.
He left in 1957 to become player- manager with Ballymena United, and won the Irish Cup in his first season. By the time Ballymena reached the final the following season - they eventually lost following a replay - his burgeoning reputation had brought him to the attention of potential employers back home.
He was appointed manager of Stirling Albion in January, but had been at Annfield for little more than two months when Falkirk came calling. He took over a club which was struggling in the old Second Division, and achieved promotion in his first season.
He was in charge for 230 league and cup games in all, and remained in post until 1965. He then renewed his association with Middlesbrough, becoming their chief scout in Scotland.
McCrae's knowledge of players extended well beyond the borders of his own country, however. Besides his own contribution as a player, he is fondly remembered at the Riverside as the man who recommended Northern Irishman Jim Platt to the club - the goalkeeper went on to play almost 500 times for Boro.